The Azeri suspect in a contentious thwarted plot against Israelis in Cyprus has admitted some charges essentially throwing a curve ball at the prosecution, with the defense raising serious questions over murder-for-hire conspiracy and terrorism accusations.
According to local media, Russian national Orkhan Asadov, who is facing dozens of charges in an alleged thwarted plot to kill Israeli businessmen in Cyprus, has admitted gun possession and forgery charges in a closed trial this week.
Asadov, described as an ethnic Azeri, was arrested in Nicosia on 27 September 2021 as he was approaching a rental car under surveillance in a downtown parking lot outside the Municipal Swimming Pool in Agios Andreas.
He was initially detained on a single charge of gun possession in what local media reported was a convoluted case ranging from allegations of financial dispute over unpaid Russian debts to accusations that Asadov had a contract to kill Israeli businessmen in Cyprus.
Three firearms, only one "prop gun" linked to suspect
Back in May, defense attorney Efstathios Efstathiou had stated in court that his client was prepared to plead guilty to gun possession on the condition they could first have access to the ballistic report.
This week it emerged that a gun expert, who prepared a forensic ballistic report on a firearm found inside the parked rental car on the day of the arrest, reportedly concluded that the Blow TR914-02 pistol had been modified in such a way that it was not possible to carry out the crime in question.
Back in May the defense stated in court that the client was prepared to plead guilty to gun possession on the condition they could first have access to the ballistic report
According to Philenews, the pistol lacked precision as it had a 9mm diameter that was modified in the barrel so that it could take 7.65 x 17mm SR cartridges.
“[The expert] appears to claim that the barrel fitted onto the firearm did not have spiral grooves, whereas the bullet would be unable to penetrate skin tissue,” the expert said.
Two other guns were reportedly linked to the investigation weeks after the initial arrest but Cyprus Police has kept a tight lid on the case, citing security concerns as well as safety risks to informants.
In October 2021, daily Politis wrote that a Greek Cypriot man had contacted the newspaper to ask for the organization’s help in handing the items to law enforcement authorities, including a handgun allegedly found in a Turkish Cypriot hotel in north Nicosia where Asadov was known to have stayed weeks earlier.
“When he came to know that he was arrested in the south for planning a criminal act, he searched and found a gun, a mobile phone, and two bullets inside a nylon bag,” Politis wrote, adding that the Azeri suspect’s version of events was being discredited following the discovery of this new evidence.
But a third gun also popped up during the investigation after another suspect was detained after he was linked to Asadov, with local media saying police believed the Pakistani food delivery driver had hidden the gun in Paphos as part of a larger assassination plot against Israelis in Nicosia.
Suspended sentence for suspect-turned-witness
Another suspect, a young medical student from Lebanon, has also been linked in the case on a secondary crime basis based on phone records, after investigators tied him to a Pakistani co-defendant who needed a car ride following Asadov’s detention.
The student, described as a Cypriot citizen of Lebanese background, pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the commission of a felony. In February he received a suspended sentence for “failure to disclose knowledge of a terrorist plot.”
He is expected to testify for the prosecution after reportedly reaching a plea bargain earlier this year in connection with a Combating of Terrorism and Victims' Protection law.
Knews understands the medical student is purported to have damning information about an alleged terror plot.
Main suspect's brother sees political ploy
But Asadov’s brother says his sibling has been caught in the middle of a political ploy and wonders how a father of five children -including one living with a disability- could end up killing a businessman who was being guarded by ten people.
Last year shortly after his arrest, Asadov reportedly had told police officers that a man named Mohammed had offered him forty grand in US dollars to come to Cyprus to scare Israeli businessmen who owed large sums of money and had an office in Engomi, west Nicosia.
According to unconfirmed reports, a Greek Cypriot acquaintance had referred the Azeri suspect to an address in Engomi, where the suspect ended up renting an apartment but telling the owner it was for someone else.
Initial reports said Asadov was under police surveillance when he flew to Cyprus from Russia to target Israeli billionaire Teddy Sagi and associates over his business dealings.
Mossad statement seen as clarification
Israeli politicians, who had been citing vague intelligence, had argued that Asadov was in fact taking part in an Iranian plot, a claim Tehran has vehemently denied.
But last week Mossad, which reports directly to the Israeli prime minister, publicly weighed in for the first time and stated that terror acts against Jewish interests abroad had been foiled, adding Cyprus on the list of countries that thwarted said attacks.
Based on local media reports, state prosecutors could be expected to call the suspect-turned-witness to the stand to argue that Asadov received $40,000 between April and September 2021 in order to commit an act of terror.
Efstathiou maintained that his client was ready all along to plead guilty to the single gun possession charge, but Asadov vehemently denies murder conspiracy, terror charges, and illegal gains.
As another suspect in the case has reportedly been linked to Facebook postings in favor of Liwa Zainebiyoun, a pro-government group fighting in Syria, reports suggest his social media account contained symbols of Hezbollah, a terrorist-designated organization.
The next hearing, set to take place on November 29 at the Nicosia courthouse, is expected to attract foreign attention.