Court hands down 22-year sentence for murder of hired killer

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MOSCOW, September 27 (RIA Novosti) - A Moscow court handed down Wednesday a 22-year sentence for a gang leader, Andrei Pylev, accused of murdering a hired killer and his girlfriend.

On September 21, a jury unanimously found Pylev guilty of the murder of contract killer Alexander Solonik and his girlfriend, Svetlana Kotova.

The prosecutor in the case had requested a 23-year sentence.

Investigators said the so-called Orekhovo-Medvedkovo gang, a Moscow-based group formed in the early 1990s, later split into two factions as gangsters sought to reap the rewards of Russia's path to capitalism in the era of the "Wild, Wild East."

In August 2005, the Moscow City Court sentenced 10 gang members to prison terms ranging from eight and a half to 24 years after they were convicted on 14 counts of premeditated murder in which 18 people were killed, including Solonik. Eight of the defendants pleaded guilty.

Pylev told the court he has lived in Spain since 1993, seldom visited Russia and never met Solonik.

"I do not understand the charges against me," he said. "I did not personally know either Solonik or the convicted members of the Orekhovo-Medvedkovo gang. I have never heard their names, but I can recognize some by sight."

Prosecutors accused Andrei Pylev and his brother Oleg of forming the gang, but the defendant said he seldom met with his brother, and that their last meeting took place in 1999 or 2000.

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