Killers go free 10 years after Moscow journalist’s murder

New York, October 15, 2004—Ten years after a reporter for the Moscow-based independent newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets was murdered when a booby-trapped briefcase exploded, no one has been brought to justice in the slaying and the statute of limitations is about to expire. The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed outrage today that such a heinous crime could go unpunished.

Dmitry Kholodov, 27, was killed at his office on October 17, 1994, when he opened a briefcase he received from a source. Kholodov wrote extensively about corruption in the Russian military, and had been told that the briefcase contained secret documents exposing corruption in the military’s highest ranks.

The six defendants in Kholodov’s murder case were acquitted in two separate trials in June 2002 and June 2004. The defendants were former intelligence officers Pavel Popovskikh, Vladimir Morozov, Aleksandr Soroka, and Konstantin Mirzayants; the deputy head of a security firm, Aleksandr Kapuntsov; and businessman Konstantin Barkovsky

Under the criminal code in effect at the time of Kholodov’s murder, the statute of limitations expires after 10 years and prevents authorities from punishing the perpetrators, the local press reported. Larisa Move, Barkovsky’s lawyer, told the Moscow business daily Vremya Novostey that her client would be free from responsibility after October 17.

“A full decade after Dmitry Kholodov’s brutal murder took place, his killers have gone unpunished,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Failure to solve such crimes fosters a culture of impunity for those who target journalists.”

This lawless climate continues unabated today. Eleven journalists have been slain in contract-style murders in the past four years alone.

The official investigation into Kholodov’s slaying progressed slowly and drew extensive criticism from Kholodov’s colleagues and the Russian public. Five of the defendants were arrested in 1998, four years after the murder, and the sixth, Konsantin Mirzayants, was arrested in 1999.

In the first trial, which began in November 2000 and lasted 18 months, the Moscow Military District Court acquitted the six defendants of murdering Kholodov. The verdict was overturned, but on June 10 the same court acquitted the suspects for a second time.