Russian prosecutors identify alleged mastermind in Klebnikov murder

New York, June 16, 2005—
The Russian Prosecutor-General’s office said today that a Chechen separatist leader ordered the July 2004 slaying of Paul Klebnikov, editor of Forbes Russia, according to local and international press reports.

Vasily Lushchenko, spokesman for the prosecutor-general’s office, identified the suspected mastermind as Khozh Akhmed Nukhayev, the subject of Klebnikov’s 2003 Russian-language book, Conversation with a Barbarian: Interviews with a Chechen Field Commander on Banditry and Islam. Nukhayev, a former deputy prime minister in the Chechen separatist government, is not in custody and is being sought by law enforcement agencies, the prosecutor-general said.

Prosecutors allege that Nukhayev enlisted four members of a Chechen gang to kill Klebnikov in retaliation for his reporting in Conversation with a Barbarian. Two of those suspects were already in custody, while the other two were still at large today, The Associated Press said.

Klebnikov, 41, an American journalist of Russian descent, was gunned down outside his Moscow office at around 10 p.m. on July 9, 2004. From the beginning of the investigation, Russian authorities described Klebnikov’s case as a contract murder and said they believed he was killed because of his work. Klebnikov had written a number of books and articles that angered his subjects. Among other topics, he wrote about the shadowy world of Russia’s business tycoons.

Klebnikov was the 11th journalist to be murdered in a contract-style killing since Russian President Vladimir Putin took office in 2000. No one has been brought to justice in any of the killings. A list of the slain journalists is available.

“We hope the investigation into our colleague Paul Klebnikov’s slaying will, in the end, represent a change in that appalling record of impunity,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on Russian authorities to devote their full efforts to Paul Klebnikov’s murder investigation, apprehend and prosecute all those responsible for the slaying, and make public the evidence they have accumulated.”

Klebnikov’s family greeted today’s announcement in Moscow cautiously.

“It is somewhat surprising because our impression from speaking with Paul after he wrote his book was that Nukhayev was actually pleased with the book and did not react negatively to it,” Michael Klebnikov, one of Paul’s brothers, told the AP. He later told the Committee to Protect Journalists that “it is very important that due process of law be observed in all respects, and that the individual accused have his day in court.”

Another brother, Peter Klebnikov, told CPJ: “We welcome progress in the case, but given the unfortunate record of 11 unsolved murders of journalists in Russia since President Putin came to power, we think it especially important that evidence be rock solid and the case be successfully prosecuted to a satisfactory conclusion.”

The Klebnikovs appealed to Russian authorities to allow U.S. law enforcement to join the investigation. “To date, only minor cooperation has been offered by Russian authorities,” Peter Klebnikov told CPJ.