Paul Khlebnikov's last investigative story


MOSCOW (RIA Novosti political commentator Yury Filippov).

The Prosecutor-General's Office in Russia has announced that it has finished investigating the murder of Paul Khlebnikov, one of the most high-profile crimes in the past few years.

U.S. national Khlebnikov, Doctor of the London School of Economics and the chief editor of the Russian version of Forbes, was killed near the magazine's office in northern Moscow in the evening of July 9, 2004.

The murder provoked a public outcry and was immediately attributed a political coloring, owing to the character of the victim. The U.S. State Department said it would closely monitor the investigation.

Khlebnikov, a journalist of Russian descent who wrote about Russian problems with American pedantry, was a master of investigative journalism. His research took him to the upper echelons of Russian politics and business and sometimes to the criminal bosses and corrupt ranking officials.

In 1996, Forbes carried an article he wrote, The Godfather of the Kremlin, exposing the machinations of then omnipotent oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Khlebnikov tried to prove Berezovsky's involvement in the murder of Vlad Listyev, a Russian journalist and a founding father of modern Russian television, for commercial reasons in 1995.

Many characters of Khlebnikov's articles written in the 1990s, above all Berezovsky, have since fled Russia for fear of legal consequences. Others have been jailed, and some have died. Khlebnikov wrote in the first issue of the Russian version of Forbes in April 2004 that the era of the so-called bandit capitalism in Russia, about which he had written so much, was over.

However, Khlebnikov retained a professional journalistic interest in the Russian oligarchs. The first issue of the Russian Forbes shocked the public with a list of the country's 100 richest people, the multimillionaires and billionaires most of whom gained their wealth in the criminal 1990s.

Had Khlebnikov lived to publish his exposes about top Russian businessmen, the infamous Yukos saga, which the West used as a pretext for criticizing the Russian authorities, would have been accepted with more understanding. Khlebnikov had written in his brilliant articles about many of the crimes with which the defendants in the Yukos case were later charged.

The summer Khlebnikov was killed, The National Interest, a U.S. quarterly journal of international affairs and diplomacy, wrote that Vladimir Putin had lost one of his most unswerving supporters.

The investigators said they believed that the journalist had been killed because he planned to write about the embezzlement of funds allocated to the reconstruction of the war-ravaged Chechnya. The Chechen conflict, which entered a difficult phase in December 1994, was another consequence of the distorted policies of the 1990s, which international terrorism is trying to exploit now.

Khlebnikov would have been a major headache for the corrupt Russian and Chechen officials who started embezzling state money ten years ago, claiming that it was consumed in the flames of war. But the journalist did not finish his investigation this time. On June 25, 2004, Yan Sergunin, a former vice-premier of Chechnya who had promised to provide revelatory information to Khlebnikov, was killed. Paul died two and a half weeks later.

Kazbek Dukuzov and Musa Vakhayev, the Chechens who are charged with Khlebnikov's murder, are reading the case materials. The hearing, which is to begin months later, will be the consummation of the last, tragic, journalistic investigation of Paul Khlebnikov.

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