A jeweler who a police official said had been indicted in an international money-laundering case was shot in the back of the head and killed Thursday night as he walked along a crowded Midtown street near the diamond district, according to media reports.
The man was walking north on the Avenue of the Americas between 47th and 48th Streets at about 7:20 p.m. when another man approached him from behind and fired three shots with a large-caliber pistol at close range, hitting him in the head and in the back, the police told The New York Times.
The victim was identified by a law enforcement official as Eduard Nektalov, 46, a jeweler who worked in the area. He was taken to St. Vincent’s Midtown Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to media reports.
The gunman remains at large as of Friday. It was unclear whether Nektalov was robbed.
The attacker was described as a man with olive skin and long black hair in a page boy style. He was said to be wearing a long black T-shirt and black pants, the police said. He tucked his gun into his pants, and fled into the crowd, according to witnesses and the police.
“It took a second—pop, pop, pop, and then he runs,” witness Jim Koci told the Times. Koci works at 1212 Avenue of the Americas and was nearby at the time of the shooting.
The attacker did not exchange words with the victim, the police reportedly said.
This was confirmed by other eyewitness accounts. “He spoke nothing. Just shoot,” Koci told Newsday.
“The guy came up behind him and shot him in the head, I think three shots, then the guy ran away,” Matis Zahav told the New York Post. At the time of the shooting, Zahav was standing just a few feet from the victim.
Witnesses said the shooter was calm and collected as he tried to fade into the commuter crush, strutting with the gun in his waistband, the Post reports.
“He ran slowly like he meant to let people know he did it,” Alexis Genoa, a Rockefeller Center security guard, told the Post.
The attacker was pursued by a retired police officer, John Doherty, who was working as a security consultant for Fox News at 1211 Avenue of the Americas.
The ex-cop had his gun at his thigh, the Post reports.
“My idea was to get close enough to him to jump him,” Doherty told the Post.
The shooter noticed the cop on his tail, whipped out his gun again and pointed it at Doherty’s head, the newspaper reports.
“I didn’t want to engage him,” Doherty reportedly said. “I didn’t get a chance to shoot him. There were too many people in the street.
“You don’t want to start a raging gun battle in the middle of Manhattan.”
Doherty reportedly said he ducked behind a subway entrance for a moment, and when he tried to give chase, the gunman vanished into the crowd.
Detectives were investigating a range of possible motives, including that Nektalov may have been thinking of cooperating with the authorities in the federal case, called Operation Meltdown, which involved drug-money laundering for Colombian drug dealers, the Times reports.
Nektalov was indicted last summer in the case, in which diamond district businesses bought gold from Colombian drug dealers and reworked it, turning it into everyday objects. Nektalov, who was charged with fraud and money laundering, was to go to trial on July 12.
A law enforcement official told the Times it was too early to tell if that was the link.
“It may carry us that way down the road, but we’re also looking at some squabbling with acquaintances,” the official reportedly said.
There was also speculation among investigators that the hit-style shooting might have been ordered by Russian organized criminals, the Times reports.
Nektalov was from a family of prominent Bukharan Jews who had emigrated from Central Asia in the former Soviet Union, a family friend reportedly said. He said that Nektalov’s father, Roman Nektalov, hade been in the United States for 30 years.
Still, the official reportedly said of the killing, “It may not be as exotic as Russian organized crime.”
Friends outside Nektalov’s sprawling brick home in Forest Hills, Queens, said last night that the family donated generously for the construction of synagogues in New York.
“If we had any problems, we’d go straight to him,” Arkady Kataev, a friend who said he worked with Nektalov at Roman Jewelry, the family’s store in Midtown, told the Times. “This family helped everybody. That’s why it shocked everybody here.”
Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly reportedly said at a news conference Thursday night, “It’s certainly possible that it could be related to the diamond district.” But Kelly added: “I would wait and see what the motive is. It could have been a personal relationship between the individual and the victim.”
Shortly after the shooting, the victim’s father arrived at the scene in a black Mercedes sedan. He left with homicide detectives, the law enforcement official told the Times
In a strange twist, celebrities were among those at the scene last night. Both Candice Bergen and Lorraine Bracco, who were participating in the “Precinct Commander for a Day” program, arrived with police officials after the shooting, the Times reports. They were accompanying the commander of the Midtown South Precinct and the chief of Manhattan detectives.
A stunned Bergen reportedly said, “This is the first time I’ve seen brain matter.”