New York, September 24, 2003—Investigators from the Moscow Prosecutor General’s Office searched the office of the Moscow-based independent news Web site Grani.ru on Friday, September 19.
Investigators said they wanted an original copy of an anonymous e-mail that Grani.ru had received on August 18 containing a video recording of two prosecutors working for the pro-Russian administration in the southern republic of Chechnya who were abducted by unidentified individuals on December 27, 2002, according to local press reports. Grani.ru posted the video the day it was received.
The investigators conducted a surprise two-hour search of Grani.ru‘s office on behalf of the Prosecutor General’s Office in Chechnya, which is investigating the abduction.
“The staff of the Web site voluntarily gave the original file of the e-mail for the investigators to copy,” Grani.ru editor Vladimir Korsunsky told CPJ. “Yet they spent two hours searching through our computers.”
On the video clip, one of the kidnapped prosecutors is seen asking for help from Boris Berezovsky, an exiled businessman who is a bitter opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Berezovsky is the majority shareholder in Grani.ru.
Korsunsky also said that an investigator questioned him about the hostages and about his personal conversations Berezovsky about the hostages.
CPJ obtained a copy of the search warrant, which only authorized investigators to search the office to obtain a copy of the August 18 e-mail with the video clip. Chief investigator Aleskey Galkin refused to comment when asked by CPJ why his team exceeded the limits of the search warrant.
Prosecutors questioned Grani.ru General Director Yulia Berezovskaya (no relationship to Boris Berezovsky) and military correspondent Vladimir Ermolin about the e-mail today.
Berezovksy-who recently received political asylum in the United Kingdom due to politically motivated corruption charges brought against him by Russian prosecutors-had previously controlled the influential Moscow-based independent national television channel TV-6.
Russian Press Minister Mikhail Lesin ordered the channel off the air in January 2002 after a legal battle between the television network and a minority shareholder with strong ties to the Kremlin, the oil giant LUKOIL.