Gunashev has remained in custody since he was arrested almost two weeks ago. But the question of who is holding him is as convoluted as the facts surrounding his brother-in-law's death.
According to RIA Novosti, the Dagestani police have no record of Gasanov or Gunashev's arrest. Nor was either man on a previously-reported list of suspects for the 2010 murder of the police chief.
An unnamed source within the police told RIA Novosti that the operation has been planned and carried out entirely by the special security forces of the regional Investigative Committee for the North Caucasian Federal District, which is the nation's major investigative agency, headed by president Vladimir Putin's old-time ally Alexander Bastrykin. Officials at the Investigative Committee refused to comment on the matter to RIA Novosti.
While we may never know whether a successful surgeon made the remarkable decision to take on an entire squad of special security forces with a hidden pistol his family says he never had, one thing has become gruesomely clear: Gasanov's body was eventually returned without its head. His corpse also showed signs of torture, with bruises on his torso and both of his knees destroyed by direct gunshots.
These revelations lend credence to an even more unnerving possibility suggested by Gunashev's lawyer: that Gasanov was dead before his body was brought to his home for a staged search, and there decapitated by a close-range gunshot to create a plausible cover for his death by torture.
As for Gunashev -- should he or his case ever reach trial -- it is doubtful that a court will seriously consider the testimony of his eight-year-old daughter, who maintains that she saw an officer place a small package into her drawer during the search of their home.
I have never met Marat Gunashev and will now never meet Shamil Gasanov, but both are relatives of mine through marriage. In the extended family tradition of the Caucasus, they might be might be considered my brothers-in-law once- and twice-removed, though I know very little about them other, save for the pride our relatives had for their medical gifts.
To Russia watchers, the story of Gunashev and Gasanov is disturbing, but also familiar. To my family, it has made plain the terrible reality of Russia's broadening state culture of abuse, corruption, and repression. It is a story that U.S. officials should bear in mind as they normalize trade relations with Russia. As with any deal, the final analysis must rest on whether the benefits come at too high a price.