Killing strikes fear into Russian media

Posted in Russia | 11-Jul-04 | Author: Carolynne Wheeler| Source: Guardian

The editor of Forbes Magazine's Russian edition Paul Klebnikov at a news conference in Moscow, on Thursday, May 13, 2004.
The assassination of the US-born editor of Russia's Forbes magazine, which has sent chills through an already wary media, will be personally investigated by the Prosecutor General, it was announced yesterday.

Paul Klebnikov, 41, the New York-born journalist who had been investigating organised crime among Russia's wealthy, was shot four times at point-blank range as he left his Moscow office late last Friday, in what is being treated as a contract killing.

The shooting, outside a metro station near Moscow's botanical gardens, has deeply disturbed Russian journalists. More than a dozen journalists have been killed in Russia since President Vladimir Putin's took power in 2000, and none of the killers has been caught. 'It's a message to the entire journalistic class - don't do investigative journalism in Russia,' said Savik Shuster, the former host of Svoboda Slova (Free Speech), a recently cancelled talk show on Russia's last semi-independent television channel.

Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov said he would head the investigation, and his office announced that the assailants' car - a dark-coloured Zhiguli, the ubiquitous Russian-made car - had been found, as had bullet casings of two calibres, suggesting two attackers were involved. Klebnikov, the child of emigres to the US, was among Russia's highest-profile foreign journalists. Married with three children, he was an editor with Forbes for 15 years before moving to Russia. He wrote Godfather of the Kremlin, an account of oligarch Boris Berezovsky's influence on Boris Yeltsin, and published a second book, Talking with a Barbarian ', about Chechen separatist leader Khozh Akhmed Nukhayev, last year.

He made many enemies during his short time at Forbes Russia, largely from the May publication of a list of Russia's rich and their estimated worth. Many were furious with the much-discussed list - both for the publicity and, in some cases, subsequent trouble with tax authorities.

Igor Yakovenko, general secretary of Russia's Union of Journalists, said: 'Klebnikov stepped on a minefield in trying to investigate the size and history of the personal wealth of the richest people.'

Russian Newsweek editor Alexander Gordeyev, who was at the dying man's side after he was shot, said Klebnikov didn't know why he had been targeted. 'I asked Paul several times why this might have happened. He did not know.'

Klebnikov's family issued a statement yesterday calling on American and Russian authorities to solve the murder. 'Paul was a fighter for the truth. He dedicated his entire life to studying Russian history and culture. He deeply believed in Russia's future and was the driving force behind the creation of Forbes Russia,' they said.