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9 Jul, 2009 08:44

New hope for Klebnikov murder case

The investigation into the unsolved murder of Paul Klebnikov, the editor of Forbes Russia, could be taking a step forward. Russian prosecutors have agreed to cooperate with the US Justice Department.

The decision comes five years after Paul Klebnikov was shot dead outside his Moscow office.

No breakthrough five years on

Candles were lit, hymns sung and warm tributes spoken at Christ the Savior Cathedral where a memorial service marked five years since the murder of Paul Klebnikov. His family is now busy trying to build a chapel in Paul’s memory in Moscow.

Klebnikov was gunned down on a Moscow street leaving his office, yet the case still remains unsolved. Now, however, the Russian Prosecutor General’s office has agreed to join forces with the US Justice Department to investigate the killing.

“Usually it helps, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t help,” said Musa Klebnikov, Paul’s wife.

“It wouldn’t do any harm and there may be different ways of approaching the problem. I don’t know. This was just an idea everybody agreed to. We haven’t gotten beyond that yet.”

Lawyer Larisa Maslennikova pointed out that the most positive outcome of the meeting between the Russians and Americans has been “to focus attention on the insufficient efforts that have been made to find those who hid from justice.”

“Opportunities for international cooperation were discussed to help find those people as soon as possible.”

Aware of the danger

Many associates believe he was killed as a result of his investigative journalism work. The son of Russian émigrés, Klebnikov covered the rise of the nation’s most influential businessmen after the breakup of the Soviet Union. His killing came just months after he put together Forbes’s first Russian rich-list.

His brother, Peter Klebnikov, says Paul was well aware of the dangers of what he was doing:

“He knew the information he had made a lot of powerful people uncomfortable and he took many precautions.”

He said when Paul needed bodyguards he had them and that he didn’t tell the family many of his secrets.

“And I think he was as careful as any brave journalist would have been,” Peter Klebnikov added.

Wrong suspects

Initially prosecutors had pointed the finger at Khodzh-Akhmed Nukhayev, a reputed Chechen crime boss who was the subject of a critical book by Klebnikov in 2003 titled “Conversation with a Barbarian”.

The three main suspects – Fail Sadretdinov, Musa Vakhayev and Kazbek Dukuzov (the latter two of Chechen origin) – went on trial for Klebnikov’s murder in 2006. After they were acquitted by a jury, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial.

Series of journalist murders

Klebnikov’s killing was seen as a blow to investigative journalism in Russia. Two years after his death, world-famous Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was also shot dead outside her apartment. She was well known for her opposition to Russia’s anti-terror campaign in Chechnya and the two cases are often linked. Politkovskaya’s children also attended Paul Klebnikov’s memorial service.

After meeting top Russian investigators on Tuesday, Paul’s brother said they had promised to step up efforts to solve the case. Now that the Russian prosecutors have got together with their American counterparts, the family says they have new hope that some day they will get justice.