A Russian jury has found five men guilty of organising and carrying out the contract killing of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov two years ago, after a trial his allies say failed to unmask the masterminds.
Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and fierce Kremlin critic, was shot dead in central Moscow as he walked home with his girlfriend late in the evening of February 27, 2015.
The murder just steps from the Kremlin in the Russian capital was the most high-profile political killing in the capital since President Vladimir Putin rose to power some 17 years ago.
The 12-person jury ruled after the third day of deliberations that defendants Zaur Dadayev, Shadid and Anzor Gubashev, Temirlan Eskerkhanov and Khamzat Bakhayev – all ethnic Chechens from Russia’s volatile North Caucasus – carried out the hit as part of an organised gang.
Dadayev, a former officer in an interior ministry battalion in Chechnya, was found guilty of firing the four fatal shots.
The Gubashev brothers, Eskerkhanov and Bakhayev were found guilty of helping to organise and carry out the killing.
The jury’s decision was reached by majority vote after they first failed to come to unanimous decisions on the long list of charges against the defendants at the end of ten months of hearings.
Nemtsov’s supporters welcomed the verdict, but said Dadayev and the others were low-level operatives. The case remained unsolved, they said, because those who had ordered, financed and organised the hit had not been caught.
“It’s the biggest crime of the century and yet they haven’t identified the real organisers or those who ordered it,” Vadim Prokhorov, a lawyer for the late politician’s daughter, told reporters after the verdict.
“The Russian government was not prepared to look into the entourage of [Chechen leader Ramzan] Kadyrov,” he said, despite his view that one of the masterminds was a close associate of Chechnya’s president.
Zhanna Nemtsova, the slain politician’s daughter, has repeatedly said she wanted Kremlin-backed Kadyrov to be questioned about what he knew about the case.
Kadyrov has previously praised Dadayev, the trigger man, as a “true patriot of Russia”, referring to his military service.
But Kadyrov, who has denied allegations that he was personally involved, never appeared before the court.
“The criticism that a lot of people are making, not just Nemtsov’s family, is that this crime really couldn’t have been okayed and carried our without some higher-level green light, certainly in the Chechen Republic,” Moscow-based journalist Fred Weir told Al Jazeera.
“So this all remains hanging, but as far as the five low-level guys, the actual small fry who carried out the crime are concerned, they have been found guilty and not one of them is able for leniency.”