Muslim separatists in effect control Chechnya after a 20-month war with Russian troops, and they have set up new courts based on their interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia.
In one of the first verdicts, three judges yesterday convicted Ali Khasiev of killing Yusup Akbulatov in a traffic accident and ordered him to pay 63 camels to Akbulatov's relatives.
There is only one problem: there are no camels in Chechnya.
As an alternative, Khasiev was ordered to pay $63,000 (pounds 38,000) to Akbulatov's family. The judges later reduced it to 2m roubles (about pounds 210) when the defendant said it would be impossible for anyone in the war-battered republic to raise $63,000.
The judges based the original award on a formula that equates one camel to two bulls, which Chechnya does have. A bull is worth about $500 in Chechnya.
Under some interpretations of Islamic law, people convicted of crimes are ordered to pay compensation to the family of the victim.
The Sharia judges had a two-month course in Islamic law by a Jordanian- born Chechen who spent eight years in Afghanistan. Sharia courts are presently operating alongside traditional Russian courts in Chechnya.
The presidential and parliamentary elections set for 27 January are virtually certain to bring to power Muslim separatists expected to favour Islamic traditions over Russian ones.
The local election commission yesterday registered 19 candidates for the presidential race. The candidates will be required to take an oath later this week, swearing their allegiance to the idea of an independent Chechnya.