DUBAI // Even as the two men convicted of taking part in the assassination of the former Chechen warlord Sulim Yamadayev in Dubai have languished in jail until their recent good fortune, other players alleged to have had a greater role in the murder have remained free men with very public lives.
MH, a horse groom for the Chechen president, Ramzan Kadyrov, and MJ, 32, a Tajik national, had their life sentences reduced to three years following a pardon by the dead man's family.
The entire story reads like Dubai's own John le Carre mystery and opens with Yamadayev being shot to death in the basement car park of his Jumeirah Beach Residence building on March 28 last year in an assassination that was thought to have been politically motivated.
Jumping forward to testimonies presented in court during the trial and to prosecutors, police officers claimed the defendants revealed the involvement of Mr Kadyrov and Adam Delimkhanov, a deputy of the Russian state parliament, or Duma.
Dubai Police have flagged seven red Interpol warrants for the remaining suspects, who include Mr Delimkhanov, still a key suspect.
More damning still are the words of one police investigator who told prosecutors that MH had confessed that he had full knowledge of the plot after he said he heard Adam Delimkhanov speak ill of Yamadayev, saying: "He must die."
The Yamadayev family's pardons throw open the question of who might still be brought to justice for the assassination, but Dubai Police are adamant that justice be done.
Presiding Judge Mahmood al Shinawi, of the Dubai Court of Appeals, and his co-chairs, Judge Saeed Salim Bin Sarm and Judge Abdallah al Motawa, said yesterday the decision to reduce the sentences was reached after the family presented their pardon to them. "The court upheld the convictions of the two defendants but took into account the pardon," Judge al Shinawi said.
MH and MJ had been sentenced to life by the lower court in April for aiding and abetting the premeditated murder of Yamadayev. They were also convicted of possessing an unlicensed weapon, a gold-plated 9mm Stechkin APS, thought to be the weapon that killed the victim.
In the courtroom, MH's wife prayed and thanked God after the verdict. She told The National: "I'm very happy. I cannot say anything right now to express my feelings."
The evidence against her husband and his accomplice was strong. A Dubai police first lieutenant told prosecutors that MJ confessed to agreeing to aid and abet the murder when in early March he was offered $100,000 (Dh367,000) by two men named Salman and Torpal. According to court documents, MJ told officers that he was requested by Salman to rent a car in order to tail Yamadayev. After a few days, MJ claimed that he was introduced to a person named Ramzan - believed to be Mr Kadyrov - and a second person named Zulimkhan.
He told officers that on the day of the murder, he and Salman went to the Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) block where Yamadayev lived and scouted the location for a few hours. The two then went to a cafe and waited. MJ told officers that Salman spotted Yamadayev's car passing and informed Ramzan.
After his return to his flat, MJ said that he received a call from Salman instructing him to take Zulimkhan to the airport. He claims to have spoken with Zulimkhan on the way and asked him if the operation was successful, which Zulimkhan confirmed. MJ then claimed to have driven Ramzan and Torpal to the airport later that day.
Investigators said MH told them that he participated in tailing Yamadayev on the day of his arrival in Dubai to his house in JBR with Adam Delimkhanov and a Chechen man.
He said that he, Mr Delimkhanov and his Chechen partner, surveyed the basement parking of JBR for 45 minutes, noting the space that was provided for Yamadayev's car. Investigators said MH said that later that day Mr Delimkhanov took a briefcase from him and returned it the next day, telling him to hold on to it until he contacted him again. Investigators testified that MH claimed to open the case out of curiosity and found the golden 9mm Stechkin APS pistol with a full magazine.
Later, MH claimed that he received a call from Mr Delimkhanov, who asked him to send a text message giving the location of Yamadayev's building. He also claimed that he was told by Mr Delimkhanov that he would receive a call from someone to whom he would deliver the gun. MH said that when he received the call from Mr Delimkhanov's associate, a Russian man, he retrieved the gun from a hiding place and handed it over to the Russian.
The Yamadayev family presented to court on November 10 their letter of pardon. The National was given a copy of the letter, which stated "the family relinquished their right to retributive punishment in any criminal or civil claim related to the case, and are not pursuing any financial compensation or blood money from anyone involved, including suspects still sought by Interpol".
December 2008 -January 2009 Sulim Yamadayev moves to Dubai and lives with his wife and six children at the Jumeirah Beach Residence Complex.
January 2009 High-profile Chechen delegation, including the Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov and wanted suspect Adam Delimkhanov, are in Dubai.
March 28, 2009 Sulim Yamadayev is shot three times and killed in the basement of his JBR apartment building.
April 2009 M H and M J are arrested by Dubai Police.
August 31, 2009 M H and M J appear in the Dubai Criminal Court of First Instance and deny the charges of aiding and abetting a premeditated murder, and illegal gun possession before presiding Judge Hamad Abdel Latif.
April 12, 2010 M H and M J are convicted of aiding and abetting the murder, and illegal gun possession.
May 25, 2010 M H appears before the Dubai Court of Appeal and denies the charges.
June 22 2010 M J appears before the Dubai Court of Appeal and also denies the charges against him.
August-September 2010 Yamadayev family signs pardon letter after negotiations with the defendant's lawyers.
November 10 2010 Court is informed and presented with pardon.
December 22 2010 Court reduces sentence from life to three years after it takes into account family pardon.