MOSCOW, July 16 (Reuters) - Russian investigators charged a former policeman on Monday with helping to organise the killing of journalist and Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya almost six years ago.
The case has come to symbolise the muffling of free speech and the corruption of the judiciary during Vladimir Putin's 2000-2008 presidency, and is now seen as a test for reform since Putin returned to the Kremlin in May.
At the time of her death in 2006, Politkovskaya had been investigating human rights abuses in Chechnya and high-level corruption across Russia. Some of her dispatches had sharply criticised Putin, a former KGB spy.
Investigators accused the former Moscow city policeman Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov of following the bespectacled, 58-year-old Politkovskaya in the days before she was murdered.
He was also accused of giving the gunman the weapon used to kill Politkovskaya in the hallway of her central Moscow apartment building on Oct. 7, 2006. She was shot several times in the head, chest and shoulder at point-blank range.
"The investigators have now clearly identified the role of the former Moscow policeman Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov in the crime and have presented him with charges," Russia's Investigative Committee said on Monday.
Rights groups and Politkovskaya's colleagues at the independent-minded newspaper Novaya Gazeta have criticised the slow pace of the investigation and expressed doubt it would ever reveal who was ultimately behind her killing.
Pointing to Politkovskaya's explosive articles, investigators made a rare reference to a possible motive and the person who had ordered the killing - an "unidentified person upset with publications exposing human rights violations, the stealing of state property and the overstepping of authority by officials".
According to the investigators, that person hired a Chechen native, Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, to arrange Politkovskaya's murder by creating a six-man team that staked out her apartment and followed her back from the grocery store on the day of the murder. Pavlyuchenkov was a member of that team, the investigators said.
"Each member of the group has now been presented with charges in regard to the murdering of Politkovskaya, depending on their role in the crime," the committee also said, adding Pavlyuchenkov's case would be considered separately because of his agreement to collaborate with police.
The case is one of at least a dozen Russian journalists whose politically charged murders have gone unsolved. (Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Thomas Grove and Alessandra Rizzo)