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Messy Heist Reveals More Than a Body

Seven people, including a psychiatric nurse, face charges of murder, kidnapping and armed robbery in a saga that could have been cranked out by a Hollywood screenwriter, complete with a messy divorce, police corruption, armed robbery, a backwoods execution and stashed bodies.

The seven defendants went on trial Friday at the Moscow City Court in connection with the kidnapping and murder of a local businessman and an attack on an armored cash delivery van in which one security guard was killed and one seriously injured.

Defendants Ivan Sarkisyan, Archil Chitanava, Vitaly Kornilov and Sergei Burak were arrested shortly after the March 11, 2004, attack on an armored van on Tambovskaya Ulitsa in southern Moscow and charged in connection with the crime. Prosecutors said, however, that the story began almost two years before their arrest.

In summer 2002, Irina Lebedenko was battling with her former husband, Boris Lebedenko, over the fate of a home they owned in the Moscow region village of Barvikha, according to a case summary obtained from the City Prosecutor`s Office. Irina Lebedenko asked her former husband to sell the home and split the proceeds between them, but he flatly refused and beat her and their teenage son. Irina Lebedenko then hired Sarkisyan as a bodyguard and asked him to try to convince her former husband to sell the house, promising him a fee of $120,000 if he succeeded.

When negotiations with Boris Lebedenko broke down, prosecutors say Sarkisyan organized a group that included defendants Konstantin Savchenkov, Kornilov, Chitanava and Burak, a city police officer, to kidnap Boris Lebedenko and force him to sell the house.

On Aug. 1, 2002, the group, under the guise of a police operation, kidnapped Lebedenko and took him to Psychiatric Hospital No. 2 in the Moscow region, where they bribed nurse Natalya Dzhafarova to put him in a ward until he agreed to sign papers selling the house, which he did 10 days later. On Aug. 11, 2002, Lebedenko was taken to a nearby forest and shot dead.

Sarkisyan then bribed a notary public, who is still at large, to stamp the document and sold the house for $400,000, keeping $120,000 for himself and giving the remainder to Irina Lebedenko without explaining the circumstances, prosecutors said. As she was unaware of the crime, she is not a suspect, prosecutor`s office spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko said Tuesday.

Boris Lebedenko`s murder might have remained a mystery if police had not stopped Sarkisyan, Chitanava and Kornilov in the Ryazan region on March 13, 2004, and found the body of Ukrainian Igor Zyabrov in the trunk of their car, Petrenko said. Zyabrov was killed during the attack on the armored van two days earlier, and his accomplices were planning to hide his body when they were arrested, prosecutors said.

Burak is accused of supplying the weapons for the attack, and German Gurov, who was working for Sberbank`s security department, is accused of tipping off the suspects about the cash delivery.

Dzhafarova, the nurse, is charged with accepting a bribe, abuse of power and illegally placing Boris Lebedenko is a psychiatric hospital, which by law is punishable by up to three years in prison.

Sarkisyan, Kornilov, Chitanava and Savchenkov have admitted their guilt, while Gurov, Burak and Dzhafarova have not, Kommersant reported.

The trial was scheduled to resume Wednesday, a court spokeswoman said Tuesday.


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