Klebnikov's case needs to be wrapped up

06.05.06

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Yuri Filippov)

The jury has acquitted all the defendants in the case of Paul Klebnikov,
editor in chief of Forbes Russia, who was shot dead on July 9, 2004, near
his Moscow office. The defendants, a Moscow notary Fail Sadretdinov, Musa
Vakhayev and Kazbek Dukuzov, were released as soon as the jury had brought
in the verdict.

An American of Russian descent, Klebnikov came to Russia in the mid-1990s.
From 2004 he headed Forbes Russia and immediately captivated Russian readers
by publishing a list of local billionaires and multimillionaires.

He had a reputation of a brilliant investigative journalist. In 1996, he
wrote an article called "Godfather of the Kremlin," which later was made
into a book devoted to Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Klebnikov tried to
prove the latter's involvement in the murder of a prominent Russian
journalist, Vladislav Listyev, one of the founders of the new Russian
television.

According to the General Prosecutor's Office, the reason for Klebnikov's
murder was his other book, "Conversations with a Barbarian," written as a
monologue of former Chechen field commander and notorious criminal
Khozh-Akhmet Nukhayev, with the journalist's comments. Prosecutors
maintained that it was resentment over the book that made Nukhayev, who is
now in hiding abroad, hire Vakhayev and Dukuzov, both ethnic Chechens, to
assassinate Klebnikov.

Klebnikov family lawyers did not contest this version, although many had
serious doubts about it from the start: in his book, Klebnikov wrote about
Nukhayev with respect and did not reveal anything new about the Chechens
apart from what was widely reported in the press, on websites and in private
conversations. The value of the book, as of many other works by Klebnikov,
was in collecting isolated bits of information and putting them under one
cover. Could it have been the reason for the murder?

The jury did not think so and did not find evidence of the defendants' guilt
convincing. After the trial was over, the jury was to answer 54 questions,
ranging from the defendants' involvement in the crime to possible mitigating
circumstances. By a majority of votes, they decided that Klebnikov had been
murdered by someone else.

The prosecutors did not agree with the decision. Their spokesman, Dmitry
Shokhin, has already announced that they will contest the ruling.

From the very beginning, the case of the Russian American was under special
supervision both in Moscow and Washington. The U.S. State Department
repeatedly urged Russia to solve the murder of its citizen and to punish the
perpetrators and those who stood behind them. During his visit to the United
States in the fall of 2005, President Vladimir Putin met with Paul
Klebnikov's widow and brother in New York.

The question now is whether the prosecutors are confident about their
charges and whether they may yield to public pressure and turn to other
versions, especially those related to the journalist's professional
activities shortly before his tragic death. A group of Russian journalists
are engaged in their own investigation and may share their findings with the
prosecutors.

Remarkably, the former defendants are set to go to court on their own. All
of them are determined to demand compensation for the time spent in jail.
Kazbek Duzukov wants $1.5 billion, while Fail Satretdinov intends to prove
that he was beaten by investigators, who allegedly tried to force him to
testify against the Chechens.

Moscow observers have already described the acquittal as the proof of the
jury's independence, since their ruling was impartial. This, however, does
not answer the main question: what was the reason for Paul Klebnikov's
murder and who are the perpetrators?

Journalists engaged in independent investigation say that Klebnikov was
taciturn about his professional plans. Nevertheless, it is known that
shortly before his death he intended to write about embezzlement of the
money allocated to restoring war-torn Chechnya. This could have caused
serious trouble for corrupt officials who had developed a scheme for
stealing state funds. But the investigation never started. On June 25, 2004,
Yan Sergunin, former Chechen deputy prime minister, who had promised to
reveal information to Klebnikov, was murdered. Two and a half weeks later,
Klebnikov met the same fate.

Now it will be up to investigators to find out and prove whether the
journalist's death was caused by this investigation or other reasons. This
time they will have to work harder than before. -0-