Russian reports say Maksimov murdered

New York, June 28, 2005–Police in the northwestern Russian city of St. Petersburg consider three senior police investigators to be suspects in the June 2004 disappearance of local reporter Maksim Maksimov, according to local press reports. Police now believe the journalist was murdered for his work, those reports said.

Maksimov, 41, an investigative reporter for the St. Petersburg weekly magazine Gorod (City), was last seen on June 29, 2004, when he went to meet with a source in the city’s downtown district, the business daily Kommersant said. A month later, police located the journalist’s car parked near a local hotel.

The news agency Interfax, citing an anonymous source in the Prosecutor-General’s Office, reported yesterday that police believe Maksimov was murdered and that two majors and a lieutenant colonel are now considered suspects. The three, all senior investigators in the corruption division of the northwestern district Interior Ministry, are being on held on unrelated criminal charges of forgery and falsifying evidence, Kommersant said.

St. Petersburg police confirmed the Interfax report but would not give further details, the English-language daily Moscow Times reported.

Prior to his disappearance, Maksimov was investigating the murders of several Russian businessmen and politicians, including Galina Starovoytova, a parliamentary deputy shot in her apartment building in 1998, local reports said.

Investigators and colleagues did not initially focus on Maksimov’s profession as a possible reason for his disappearance. At the time, Maksimov was seeking to trade his apartment in downtown St. Petersburg for a bigger one. Colleagues believed he might have fallen victim to the real estate underworld in St. Petersburg, the Web site reported.

Kommersant reported today that investigators believe Maksimov was strangled to prevent him from reporting on corruption in the local Interior Ministry. His body has not been found.

“We call on Russian authorities to apprehend and prosecute all those responsible for the disappearance of our colleague Maksim Maksimov and make all of the evidence in their investigation public,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. On May 3, International Press Freedom Day, CPJ named Russia one of the five most murderous countries in the world for journalists.