Chief of 'Russian FBI' made death threats to reporter in forest - paper

A Russian journalist who accused country's Investigative Committee in a mass murder cover-up claims its chief-head drove him into a forest and threatened to kill him.

The scandalous allegations were published in the journalist’s newspaper, the pro-liberal Novaya Gazeta (NG). They suggest Bastrykin took prominent investigative reporter Sergey Sokolov to the forest, made death threats and joked how he would personally lead the investigation into the killing.

According to the paper, the tension started when Bastrykin invited Sokolov for a conference in the southern Russian city of Nalchik. During the meeting Bastrykin demanded an explanation over an article which accused law enforcers of covering for those involved in 2010 murder of 12 people in a South Russia village.

The journalist apologized formally, but challenged Bastrykin to answer some questions over the investigation. The official responded by obscenely ordering him from the meeting, says Novaya Gazeta.

According to the journalist, some time later Bastrykin forced him into a forest and, when they were alone, threatened the journalist’s life, adding that when something happens to Sokolov it will be Bastrykin himself heading the investigation.

Some reports even suggest that Bastrykin threatened “to cut off reporter's head and chop off his legs” when they were in the forest. That's according to one of Russia’s media watchdogs, who says that Sokolov revealed these details to him in a private telephone chat.

After the story was published, Novaya Gazeta reported that Sergey Sokolov had left Russia for safety reasons. However, the next day Russian media reported that Sokolov had already returned to the country.

According to the paper, the described events happened on June 5 and 6, although the story was published on June 13. The journalist claims it took him a week to make the decision to go public with the story.

Bastrykin replied more than 24 hours later in a newspaper interview in which he called the accusations plain lies and “a delirium of an inflamed brain.” The top law enforcer also called a meeting of chief editors of top Russian media and proposed discussing the story in their presence.

The report immediately drew attention from rights organizations. Pavel Gusev, the head of the mass media commission of the Russian Public Chamber said the Investigative Committee should join the probe into the incident and duly report about its results.

The head of the Public Chamber’s commission for citizen security and control over law enforcement bodies, Anatoly Kucherena, has said that his commission had taken the situation under special control.

A group of Russian reporters has attempted a set of single-person protest pickets near the Investigative Committee’s HQ, but the police prevented the protest without making any arrests.

The Investigative Committee that deals with resonance and important criminal cases is the youngest of all Russian law enforcement and agencies. It separated from the Prosecutor General’s Office in January 2011 and Aleksandr Bastrykin was then appointed as the head of the newly-formed body.

The committee is appointed by the president and reports directly to the president, as opposed to the post of prosecutor general, which needs approval by the Upper House and the Interior Minister. The prosecutor is approved by the president but must first be proposed by the prime minister.

Novaya Gazeta is a liberal Russian newspaper owned by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, billionaire banker Aleksandr Lebedev and the team of journalists who run it.