Three held over killing of anti-corruption crusader

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The Independent Online

Three men have been arrested over the most high-profile contract killing of a government official since President Vladimir Putin came to power, that of the deputy head of Russia's central bank.

Andrei Kozlov, 41, who was one of Russia's most powerful anti-corruption crusaders, was murdered last month in a professional "hit". He had been shutting down "dirty" banks he believed were being used for money-laundering and tax evasion. His murder is one of four contract killings of prominent Russians in the past month.

Few expected Mr Kozlov's killers to be caught as the clear-up rate for such killings is as low as 20 per cent. But, according to the Russian media, one of the three men hired to kill him - the getaway driver - gave himself up and informed on his accomplices.

The getaway driver apparently became convinced that he had been caught on CCTV and would be identified. The gang - who are all Ukrainians - told police that they were offered just $25,000 (£13,500) to kill Mr Kozlov, but that they were never paid in full.

Nor, they claimed, did they know that he was a top government official: a middleman told them they were murdering "a crook who cheats good people". The gang said they were given a picture of Mr Kozlov, his car's licence-plate number, and his office address, and told to "take care of him".

They shadowed him for two months before murdering him, observing his movements from a car parked close to the Central Bank where he worked.

It took them two months, they said, because they had difficulty following him as Mr Kozlov was chauffeured in a powerful Mercedes while they were driving a battered Lada.

The killers are reported to be former special forces and insist they do not know the identity of the zakazchik - the person who ordered the hit - while the middleman has disappeared.