Maksim Maksimov

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Maksimov, 41, an investigative reporter for the St. Petersburg weekly magazine Gorod, was declared dead by the Dzerzhinsky District Court in St. Petersburg on November 30, 2006, more than two years after he had been reported missing.

Maksimov 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 reported. A month later, police found his car parked near a local hotel. Maksimov’s mobile phone without its SIM card resurfaced at a local flea market at about the same time, according to local press reports.

Investigators and colleagues did not initially focus on Maksimov’s journalism as a reason for his disappearance. At the time, Maksimov was seeking to trade his apartment in downtown St. Petersburg for a bigger one. Colleagues believed that he might have fallen victim to the organized crime gangs that control the real estate market in St. Petersburg, the news Web site Gazeta reported.

For an entire year after the disappearance, police and prosecutors did not report any developments in the investigation. In June 2005, several Russian newspapers reported on the detention of at least three police officers–all senior investigators in the corruption division of the Northwestern Federal District’s Interior Ministry. The three were said to be suspects in Maksimov’s disappearance and suspected murder.

The initial report came from the news agency Interfax and cited an anonymous source in the Northwestern Federal District’s Prosecutor-General’s Office. The report said that investigators believed that Maksimov was murdered for his work as a journalist and that two majors and a lieutenant colonel were considered suspects.

The suspects, Kommersant said, were held on unrelated criminal charges of forgery and falsifying evidence. The English-language daily Moscow Times said that St. Petersburg police confirmed the Interfax report but refused to give further details.

Soon after those reports appeared, however, on June 30, 2005, the Northwestern Federal District’s Interior Ministry issued a statement denying the involvement of the three police investigators in Maksimov’s disappearance. The Interior Ministry said it “considers inadmissible and premature the appearance of press reports, accusing [the officers] of masterminding the murder of journalist Maksim Maksimov.” The Interior Ministry gave no information on how the investigation was developing. The statement generated no follow-up by the authorities.

In the absence of official information, speculation about what could have happened to Maksimov continued to circulate in the Russian press.

The St. Petersburg newspaper Smena, where Maksimov worked before joining Gorod, said on June 27, 2005, that it learned from unnamed sources in the St. Petersburg branch of the Interior Ministry that Maksimov disappeared was targeted by high-ranking officers in retaliation for the journalist’s investigation of corruption in the local Interior Ministry. The paper said that the perpetrators, three masterminds and two executors, were in detention.

Kommersant carried a similar story the next day. The paper said investigators believed Maksimov was strangled to death to prevent him from reporting on corruption in the St. Petersburg branch of the Interior Ministry. Several newspapers described in detail what they said happened to Maksimov the day he disappeared, and how he had been killed, but they did not attribute their accounts or explain how they had received the information.

Other reports noted that Maksimov had investigated the murders of several Russian businessmen and politicians, including Galina Starovoytova, a parliamentary deputy shot in her apartment building in 1998.

Authorities have not disclosed further information on the investigation, the identities of anyone held in connection with the crime, or the status of any criminal case. The journalist’s body has not been found.

Rimma Maksimova, Maksim Maksimov’s mother, described her communication with prosecutors in charge of the investigation as “difficult.” Maksimova told CPJ that she had received no answer to queries she sent to the Northwestern Federal District’s prosecutor-general’s office and the Northwestern Federal District’s Interior Ministry in St. Petersburg.

On November 24, 2006, Maksimova met with St. Petersburg Gov. Valentina Matvienko who assured her that solving Maksimov’s case was a priority for St. Petersburg’s administration. But the meeting did not result in any developments, and Maksimova told CPJ that authorities stopped answering her queries.