Russian space official found dead with stab wounds while awaiting embezzlement trial

Russian space official found dead with stab wounds while awaiting embezzlement trial
A top-tier official of Russian space agency Roscosmos has been found dead at a pre-trial detention center where he was being held on charges of embezzlement. Stab wounds were found on his body, but no suspects have been identified so far.

Vladimir Evdokimov, 56, was found dead on Saturday in his cell at a pre-trial detention center in Moscow, according to Russia’s Investigative Committee. Investigators found two stab wounds on Evdokimov’s chest and one on his neck, and also retrieved a knife from the crime scene, committee spokesperson Yulia Ivanova said.

Later in the day, Roscosmos, where Evdokimov served as executive director in charge of quality control and reliability issues, confirmed his death in a brief statement published on the space agency’s Twitter account.

In December last year, Evdokimov was jailed on charges of embezzling 200 million rubles ($3.1 million) from the MiG aerospace corporation, an indictment he strongly denied.

Eleven people in Evdokimov’s cell have already been questioned, and investigators are now trying to identify a suspect, the Investigative Committee says.

The Prosecutor General’s office as well as the Federal Penitentiary Service, Russia’s major prison authority, will also launch separate inquiries into the safety of prisoners and security standards at the detention center where Evdokimov was serving his pre-trial term.

An unnamed source close to the investigation told Interfax an assassination is considered the most reliable theory so far, as “Evdokimov’s foes feared he could tell their names to the investigation and uncover their criminal schemes.” 

At this point, it is considered unlikely the former Roscosmos executive committed suicide, Eva Merkacheva of the Public Observation Committee – a primary non-government body overseeing respect for human rights in prisons – told RIA Novosti. 

“His death raises many questions, including whether it was suicide or murder. His relatives say nothing to indicate he was thinking of committing suicide prior to the death. Quite the opposite, he was determined to win the trial and was making plans. And then he dies in a prison cell, which is strange,” Merkacheva said.

She said Evdokimov was transferred from another cell last month, but added the prison administration refused to elaborate on the issue.

Speaking to Kommersant daily, Evdokimov’s former colleagues, including Roscosmos CEO Igor Komarov, described him as a highly-skilled professional who made a remarkable contribution to the growth of Russia’s space industry.