STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Also this news, Russian investigators say they know who killed one of Russia's most prominent opposition leaders. Prosecutors indicted four men this week, though they say the alleged mastermind is still at large. Opponents of President Vladimir Putin's government are unimpressed by all of this. They call the charges a cover-up. They say the real organizers of the crime have close ties to the Kremlin. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Moscow.
COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Boris Nemtsov was gunned down in Moscow last February. It was late at night and the 55-year-old politician was walking across a bridge with his girlfriend when an assailant ran up behind him and shot him in the back. The shooting took place in plain view of the Kremlin. For most of his political career, Nemtsov was an outspoken critic of the ruling circle in the Kremlin and especially of President Vladimir Putin. Nemtsov's lawyer, Vadim Prokhorov, called the indictment of his alleged killers a new year's joke.
VADIM PROKHOROV: (Speaking Russian).
FLINTOFF: The lawyer was especially angry that investigators are charging that the killing was ordered by a man he says was only a low-level participant. After the murder, police arrested several men from the Russian Republic of Chechnya. One man allegedly confessed to pulling the trigger but later recanted and said that his confession was extracted under torture. Police say the crime was a contract killing, ordered by another Chechen man named Ruslan Mukhudinov, now believed to be hiding out in the United Arab Emirates. Mukhudinov was a former soldier in Chechnya's interior ministry. And he once worked as a driver for a top associate of Ramzan Kadyrov.
As leader of the formerly war-torn region of Chechnya, Kadyrov has kept the peace for the past nine years. But he's been accused of massive corruption and human rights violations. He proclaims himself to be fiercely loyal to Vladimir Putin. And has said that his Chechen forces are able to do things that the Russian government isn't legally able to do.
The family of Nemtsov, the slain leader, says Kadyrov and his top officials are the ones who should be questioned in the murder. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.