Trial over Russians under way in Qatar

A regular court session opened in Doha on Monday as part of the trial over two Russians accused of involvement in the murder of Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhain Yandarbiyev, who had lived in Qatar over the past few years, reported Ilya Levitov, press secretary of the "Yegorov, Puginsky, Afanasyev and Partners," the law firm that acts for the Russians in court. The Chechen leader was killed when his car exploded.

Today, the court is expected to hear a Qatari resident, the second witness for the defence who works at the Sheraton hotel. He saw the Russians far from the scene when the blast went off.

The first witness for the defence, also a Qatari resident, testified on Thursday, May 13.

He said the Russians from the embassy had come to him to arrange for the rent of quadracycles the day before the blast.

"The men masterminding a blast would not have taken care to rent quadracycles for embassy workers and their families for a weekend," said Mr Levitov.

On May 13, the court for the second time turned down the defence lawyers' request to invite Maksim Maksimov, Russian consular in Doha, to testify in court. Earlier, the court turned down the request on May 10.

"Maksimov is the only Russian national who saw the defendants after they were arrested and till March 24, when a Qatari lawyer visited them for the first time. He saw traces of tortures and his evidence could be crucial for the trial," said Mr Levitov.

The court is expected to announce a recess in court hearings, which will be followed by the hearings of arguments, according to Mr Levitov.

"Qatari courts usually adjourn for two or three weeks before the hearings of arguments begin. On May 17, the judge will announce the date of the next court meeting," said Mr Levitov.

Three Russian nationals, who were visiting Qatar on business, were arrested in the early hours of February 19 on suspicion of being part in the assassination of Mr Yandarbiyev.

One of the arrestees, the first secretary of the Russian embassy to Qatar who held a diplomatic passport, was released on March 24 and returned to Russia.

Moscow has continuously insisted on the Russian nationals' innocence and demanded that they should be freed and returned home. The Russians' sojourn in Qatar was legal. "They were gathering information and doing analysis in the country as part of efforts against international terrorism," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement in the wake of the arrest.

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