Olympic figure skater's murder trial opens in Kazakhstan

Almaty (Kazakhstan) (AFP) –


The trial of two men accused of murdering a male figure skater who won bronze at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 has begun in Kazakhstan, two local news agencies reported Thursday.

Both Arman Kudaibergenov and Nuraly Kiyasov pleaded not guilty to Denis Ten's murder at the first hearing in a court in Almaty, according to one private and one state-owned news agency.

Ten, a 25-year-old Kazakh ice-skating star, was fatally stabbed in July after apprehending men who had attempted to steal mirrors from his car in central Almaty.

The prosecution on Thursday told how one of the men held Ten, while another "stabbed Denis Ten twice in the femoral artery", according to private Kazakh news agency Tengri News.

While denying the murder charge, Kudaibergenov admitted to a charge of theft.

Kiyasov, who the prosecution says is the one who stabbed Ten, pleaded innocent to both the murder and theft charges.

Also in court was Zhanar Tolybayeva, a woman charged by the prosecution as an accomplice to the theft and failing to report a crime. She pleaded not guilty to the charges and asked to be acquitted.

"I did not know that my acquaintances had intentions of murder," Tolybayeva was quoted as saying in her court testimony by Kazinform, a state news agency.

Ten's murder caused an outpouring of grief in Kazakhstan where he was celebrated as a national hero.

It also stirred anger towards police accused of protecting petty criminals and led to unsuccessful calls for the interior minister's resignation.

Ten was of Korean origin and his great-great-grandfather was a Korean-born independence fighter, General Min Keung Ho.

He was trained by American skating coach Frank Carroll following a spell with Russia's most renowned coach, Tatiana Tarasova.

Ten won silver at the World Figure Skating Championships in 2013 and bronze in 2015. He won the 2015 Four Continents title in Seoul.

"I am ethnically Korean and I am virtually skating in my home country," he said at the time.

At Sochi in 2014, he won bronze in the men's free skating final.