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Arson charges against four men in the Russian Republic of Daghestan allegedly based on testimony gained under torture have been dropped. The four — who were accused of setting fire to the administration building in the village of Rutul — still face drugs and weapons charges.
OC Media has learnt from the lawyer of one of the accused that Russia’s Investigative Committee dropped the charges on 3 September.
A fire broke out in the building in Daghestan’s southern Rutul District on the night of 14 September 2017. Two months later, five people were detained, including one underage suspect, on suspicion of arson and illegal possession of drugs.
[Read on OC Media: Mystery fire in Daghestan mountain village: claims of torture and fabrication]
The underage suspect was later released while Akim Kuliyev (the son Rutul District’s deputy head), Suleyman Guseynov (the son of district investigator Sultan Guseynov), Efendi Alimov, and Muradin Eminov were remanded in pretrial detention in Makhachkala. Kuliyev and Eminov were also charged with ‘illegal possession of weapons’.
Relatives of the accused told OC Media in December that the case was fabricated, with weapons and drugs planted on the suspects. They also accused the authorities of torturing the detainees in pretrial detention in order to gain confessions.
Maya Ilyasova, the lawyer of Efendi Alimov, told OC Media the case was built on the basis of her client’s testimony, according to which Akim Kuliyev paid the others ₽2,000 ($30) each in order to set the fire.
According to official files on the dropping of charges obtained by OC Media, the case files claimed the group produced Molotov cocktails and at midnight left the village of Kicha towards Rutul. According to the lawyer, Alimov was forced to give this testimony under torture.
Another the suspects, Akim Kuliyev, cut his stomach open with a fragment of a floor tile in the Akhtynskiy police station in protest against his treatment.
Elada Kuliyeva, Akim’s spouse, told that he was placed on an electrified chair and told to sign a confession.
After Mixed Martial Arts fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov supported Kuliyev on his Instagram page, which has over 5.6 million followers, then acting head of Daghestan Vladimir Vasilyev announced he was taking the investigation under his personal control.
According to Ilyasova, it is possible that Vasilyev’s intervention changed the course of the investigation, forcing investigators to drop the arson charges. Nevertheless, the charges for illegal possession of drugs and weapons were not cleared.
The lawyer said that in their decision to drop the arson charges, the Investigative Committee stated that the basis for initiating a criminal case was a report by the Daghestani Centre for Countering Extremism. However, the report was about the four men’s involvement in drug trafficking and had no information about arson.
Investigators admitted that Efendi Alimov had renounced his initial confession, saying he gave it under pressure from staff at the Centre, and that no other evidence of their involvement in arson was presented.
They maintained that expert assessment of the building had concluded the fire was arson.
The weapon and drug charges were brought when after claiming to have received the information about the men’s involvement in arson, the Centre raided their houses and reported discovering illegal weapons and drugs.
Showing off in front of senior management
Relatives of the suspects told OC Media in December that the fire was probably caused because fire safety regulations were not observed in the building, and that an order was given from above to discover a crime at any cost. According to them, Artyom Magomedov, the new head of the Rutul District police department wanted to make a name for himself.
‘Taking into consideration that prior to his appointment he worked at the Centre for Combatting Extremism it becomes clear why verification was carried out by his colleagues from the Centre, and why the initial information about the involvement of the guys in arson and the detection of drugs and weapons came from the Centre. In this way, he showed himself in a good light in front of senior management’, Ilyasova said.
According to her, the drugs and weapons charges were insurance for the police in case the men were cleared of involvement in the arson.
Ilyasova said that during the entire period of their detention and house arrest, she repeatedly submitted complaints to the local prosecutor’s office and the Investigative Committee against the police officers who allegedly tortured her client, Efendi Alimov, trying to initiate criminal proceedings against them. In response, she received repeated denials. Ilyasova said it is possible that the latest developments will change this situation.