New York, February 23, 2005—Belarusian authorities yesterday extradited to Russia two ethnic Chechens who are suspects in the July slaying of Paul Klebnikov, founding editor of Forbes Russia magazine, according to local and international press reports.
The Russian General-Prosecutor’s Office today charged one of the men, Muslim Ibragimov, with complicity in the July 2004 murder of Klebnikov, 41, a prominent investigative journalist and author. Ibragimov, who is also known as Kazbek Dukuzov, is the first person officially charged in the drive-by shooting, which occurred on a Moscow street just outside Klebnikov’s office.
The other suspect, Valid Agayev, was not charged as authorities continued to investigate his alleged involvement in the killing, the news agency Interfax said. The two men were arrested in the Belarusian capital of Minsk in November, but were not transferred to Moscow until late last night.
The developments came at a politically important time—the day before a summit in Bratislava, Slovakia, between U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Last week, Klebnikov’s family urged Bush to discuss the apparent lack of progress in the investigation when he met with the Russian leader, Agence France-Presse reported.
Russian authorities have already backtracked from one other reported breakthrough in the Klebnikov case. Last fall, Moscow police described two other Chechen men as suspects, but the two were later released and authorities backed away from their initial assertion.
From the beginning of the investigation, Russian authorities have described Klebnikov’s case as a contract murder and said they believed he was killed because of his work, according to international news reports.
Klebnikov, an American of Russian descent, was shot nine times by at least one assassin in a passing car as he left his Moscow office the night of July 9. Klebnikov had written a number of books and articles that angered his subjects. Among other topics, he wrote about organized crime in Chechnya, and the shadowy world of Russia’s business tycoons.
He was the 11th journalist to be murdered in a contract-style killing since President Putin took office in 2000. None of the cases have been resolved.
In November, CPJ honored Klebnikov with one of its 2004 International Press Freedom Awards. Receiving the award at the ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, Musa Klebnikov, widow of the slain editor called for justice.
“One great journalist has been killed,” she told the crowd of several hundred, “but I hope other journalists will pick up the banner and fight on, because the attack on one is an attack on all journalists, and in this case, on hope itself.”