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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Berezovsky's Man Held in Yushenkov's Murder

An associate of Boris Berezovsky and co-chairman of one of Liberal Russia's quarreling factions was detained Thursday in the murder of Sergei Yushenkov, a co-chairman of the party's other wing.

In announcing the arrest of Mikhail Kodanev, Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov gave no details. Russian news agencies, however, citing unnamed sources close to the investigation, said Kodanev is suspected of ordering the hit.

A second man, Alexander Vinnik, was taken into custody with him. The arrests of two other men accused of carrying out the killing were announced Wednesday.

Kodanev's supporters denied he was involved in the killing of Yushenkov, a respected State Duma deputy who was gunned down outside his Moscow apartment on April 17, and they said his arrest was aimed at discrediting Berezovsky.

Political observers said Kodanev would seem to have little motive to kill Yushenkov, but Gryzlov told journalists the motives would become clear during the course of the investigation.

Searches conducted at Kodanov's and Vinnik's homes in Perm and at their work places "were successful," Gryzlov said, according to Interfax.

Kodanev and Vinnik were taken into custody at about 3:30 a.m. at a hotel in Kudymkar in the northern Komi-Perm autonomous district, where they were attending a conference, said Andrei Sidelnikov, head of the Moscow branch of Berezovsky's faction. Vinnik is a friend of Kodanev's, he said.

"We expected such a move against Kodanev, who headed the party's cell in Syktyvkar, after Gryzlov announced Wednesday that two people had been detained in Syktyvkar and charged with the murder of Yushenkov," he said. Syktyvkar is the capital of the Komi republic.

Just hours before his arrest, Kodanev gave a telephone interview to Vremya Novostei newspaper in which he denied any involvement in Yushenkov's murder.

"The names of the detained people [from Syktyvkar] don't ring any bells for me. Half of the city knows me there," he was quoted in Thursday's paper as saying. "I am sure they will be beaten to testify that I ordered the murder."

Kodanev's arrest provoked a new round of frenetic finger-pointing and mudslinging between the two Liberal Russia's groups, each of which calls itself the only legitimate party.

In the newspaper interview, Kodanev said his arrest would be "an utmost benefit to our opponents in Liberal Russia, to Pokhmelkin and the authorities."

Sidelnikov accused Viktor Pokhmelkin, co-chairman of the rival faction, of providing false evidence to investigators implicating Kodanev's faction in Yushenkov's death.

Pokhmelkin told NTV television on Thursday that Kodanev had a motive to kill Yushenkov because he "persistently prevented interested parties from splitting our party."

Berezovsky, who provided much of the funding for the opposition party, was expelled last fall after he proposed a tactical alliance with the Communists to challenge the pro-Kremlin parties -- an alliance that would be anathema to liberals like Yushenkov. Only after Berezovsky was gone did the Justice Ministry agree to register the party.

Berezovsky, however, kept the loyalty of the majority of the party's regional cells, and the split moved into the open earlier this month when both factions held party congresses on the same weekend. Kodanev was elected co-chairman of the faction loyal to Berezovsky.

Berezovsky, in an interview from London with Agence France Presse, promised to continue funding the party.

"I have invested more than $10 million in Liberal Russia because this is the only real opposition party to Putin," Berezovsky was quoted as saying.

"Kodanev was elected co-chairman of Liberal Russia under my initiative. He is a key member of our party, a key opposition figure in Russia."

Berezovsky said the arrest was politically motivated and part of a Kremlin-sponsored crackdown. "You have to look at the pattern: Two of our party members have been killed, and I cannot enter Russia," he said.

Berezovsky lives in London to avoid fraud charges he says are politically motivated. Another party co-chairman, Vladimir Golovlyov, was gunned down in Moscow last August.

Political analysts said it was not clear what motive Kodanev could have for killing Yushenkov. Investigators earlier had said they were concentrating on possible financial disagreements within the party.

"There could not be a financial dispute between Kodanev and Yushenkov, since the party's only sponsor, Berezovsky, would only give money to his supporters," said Yury Korgunyuk of the Indem think tank. "Also, it is hard to imagine a struggle for political power within the party, whose public standing is miserable."

Opinion polls show that less than 1 percent of eligible voters would vote for Liberal Russia.

The first two suspects arrested in the case also give cause for some skepticism, Korgunyuk said. They were known to police as minor offenders with earlier criminal records and thus not the best choice for someone planning a contract killing, he said. One of them was a convicted drug dealer, and such people are often used by crooked investigators to frame others, Korgunyuk said.

Vladimir Pribylovsky of the Panorama think tank said the arrests also benefited Gryzlov, by allowing him to claim success in the Yushenkov case. Gryzlov, one of the leaders of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, already has been accused of using the exposure earlier this week of an alleged ring of corrupt senior police officers as part of a publicity campaign ahead of the elections.

Kodanev and Vinnik were brought in Moscow early Thursday morning and placed in the Lefortovo high-security prison, where the first two suspects were also being held.

Sidelnikov said formal charges had not been filed against Kodanev and Vinnik as of Thursday afternoon.