Court acquits suspect in Togliatti editor’s murder

New York, October 12, 2004—A Russian district court judge yesterday acquitted a factory welder in the October 2003 murder of Tolyattinskoye Obozreniye Editor Aleksei Sidorov. The Committee to Protect Journalists, which questioned whether the prosecution was aimed at the true killer, called today for a new and more credible investigation.

Ruling in Komsomolsky District Court in Togliatti yesterday, Judge Andrei Kirillov found that 29-year-old Yevgeny Maininger was not involved in Sidorov’s murder and said the prosecution’s case was untenable, the independent Moscow daily Kommersant reported.

Aleksei Sidorov’s father said the family was pleased that the acquittal ended what they considered to be a flawed investigation. “The investigation, instead of seeking out the real killer of my son, tried to dump everything on this innocent person,” said Vladimir Sidorov, according to local press reports. “We will do everything possible to ensure that [authorities] start a normal investigation.”

Karen Nersisian, the defense lawyer representing the Sidorov family, said he will work to have the case transferred to a higher court in Moscow, according to local press reports.

Sidorov, 31, was the second Tolyattinskoye Obozreniye editor murdered in 18 months, following the April 2002 shooting of Valery Ivanov. No one has been convicted in either case.

“Yesterday’s acquittal reflects weaknesses in the police investigation and the evidence presented by the prosecution,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on President Vladimir Putin to ensure thorough investigations and transparent prosecutions of the true killers in the Tolyattinskoye Obozreniye slayings.”

Eleven journalists have been murdered in contract-style slayings since Russian President Vladimir Putin took office in 2000. No one has been brought to justice in any of the slayings.

Ivanov, 32, was killed on April 29, 2002 after being shot eight times in the head at point-blank range while entering his car just outside his home. Eighteen months later, on October 9, 2003, Sidorov was stabbed several times in the chest as he approached his apartment building. He died in his wife’s arms after she heard his call for help and came to the building entrance.

Local Togliatti police detained Maininger on October 12 and charged him with Sidorov’s murder on October 21 after he allegedly confessed to killing the editor because of a brief street argument. Maininger later withdrew his confession saying that police coerced him into it. Nobody has been implicated in Ivanov’s murder and no progress has been made in the investigation.

Journalists at Tolyattinskoye Obozreniye are convinced that the two killings came in retaliation for the newspaper’s investigative work.

A CPJ delegation that traveled to Togliatti in June to meet with the colleagues and families of the murdered editors, as well as with local officials investigating the crimes, found numerous weaknesses in the prosecution’s case against Maininger.

To read the August 9 CPJ letter calling for the direct intervention of the Kremlin in bringing the true killers of Sidorov and Ivanov to justice, click here: