Vagif Kochetkov

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Kochetkov, 31, a reporter in Tula, 125 miles (200 kilometers) south of
Moscow, died in the Tula city hospital after undergoing surgery for a
serious head injury he sustained in an attack two weeks before,
according to CPJ interviews and local press reports.

Kochetkov was Tula correspondent for the Moscow daily Trud and a columnist for the local newspaper Tulsky Molodoi Kommunar, reporting on politics, social issues, and culture.

At least one assailant struck Kochetkov on the head with a blunt object
and robbed him of a bag and cell phone as he approached his home in
Tula on the evening of December 27, 2005, sources told CPJ. The bag was
believed to have contained Kochetkov’s passport, press card, credit
card, and work-related documents. The attackers did not take
Kochetkov’s money or an expensive fur coat he was wearing. When a
neighbor found Kochetkov’s bag in her apartment building’s basement,
the bag contained everything but the documents related to Kochetkov’s
work, according to CPJ interviews with Kochetkov’s parents, Valentina
and Yuri, and Lena Shuletova, a friend and colleague.

On the night of the attack, the news agency ANN reported, Kochetkov
told his parents he was meeting an unidentified person, after which he
would return home to download his work onto his computer. That evening,
Valentina and Yuri Kochetkov told CPJ, the journalist called from a
local coffee shop and told them that he’d be home in an hour. On the
way, he was attacked.

Two neighbors found Kochetkov lying unconscious on the ground at around
2 a.m. on December 28. After regaining consciousness, Kochetkov walked
home with the help of neighbors. He did not seek immediate medical
attention or report the attack to the police.

Kochetkov was not admitted to the hospital until the next day, when
doctors diagnosed him with two hematomas and said his condition was not
life-threatening, Yuri Kochetkov told CPJ. Kochetkov’s health began
deteriorating January 1. He underwent brain surgery on January 5 and
fell into a coma and died three days later. An autopsy showed Kochetkov
had suffered a skull fracture, a concussion, multiple chest bruises,
and other head injuries, according to press reports and CPJ interviews.
Kochetkov never identified his attackers.

The Kochetkovs reported the attack on January 7, and police opened a
criminal investigation, the parents told CPJ. By January 9, police said
that they had identified a suspect.

On April 3, Tula prosecutors announced they had completed their
investigation and determined Kochetkov’s death to be the result of a
robbery. That same day, prosecutors filed robbery and manslaughter
charges against Yan Stakhanov, a 26-year-old Tula businessman.

Police did not focus on Kochetkov’s work as a motive. Investigators did
not question colleagues about Kochetkov’s recent assignments, nor did
they look at the reporter’s computer or notebooks for leads. CPJ
research shows that Kochetkov had worked on sensitive issues prior to
his murder.

Just prior to the attack, Kochetkov wrote an article in Trud
on the activities of a Tula drug-dealing group. The December 16 article
was headlined, “Revenge of the Mafia?” In June 2005, Kochetkov
criticized the aggressive business practices of a local pharmaceutical
company in another article.

Journalists at Tulsky Molodoi Kommunar
said in late March that Kochetkov had received telephone threats in
retaliation for his reporting, the Moscow-based news Web site Newsinfo
said. Kochetkov’s colleagues believed that he had enemies, but they
said he never shared personal information, the Moscow-based news Web
site Press-Attache said.

The trial of
Stakhanov opened on April 17 in the Proletarski district court in Tula.
Although the trial was said to be open, only one journalist at a time
was admitted to the hearings. Officials cited lack of space in the
courtroom, Valentina and Yuri Kochetkov told CPJ. Before the trial,
Stakhanov allegedly confessed to killing Kochetkov but said later that
the confession was coerced, local press reports said. During the trial,
prosecutors said the assault on Kochetkov was part of a string of
robberies in Tula, according to local press reports. The trial was
recessed in September without an immediate date to reconvene, colleague
Shuletova said.

Yuri Kochetkov told CPJ that he doubted the attack on his son was a
robbery, since only work-related documents and a cell phone were taken.