Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Yury Shchekochikhin Has Been Dead for Five Years

"A month before his death, [Yury] Shchekochikhin met with officials from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to discuss the possibility that Three Whales was tied to another massive corruption scandal -- the Bank of New York money-laundering case. U.S. investigators accused Russia of laundering billions of dollars through BONY in 1998-99... [Shchekochikhin] had received a U.S. visa with the aim of testifying in the case...But he never got a chance to use it."---RFE/RL (9-26-06)

A 1-29-07 New Yorker article titled "Why are Vladimir Putin’s opponents dying?" describes the tragic fates of some of Putin's more vocal critics:

Since 1999, when Vladimir Putin, a career K.G.B. officer, was, in effect, anointed as President by Boris Yeltsin, thirteen journalists have been murdered in Russia. Nearly all the deaths took place in strange circumstances, and none of them have been successfully investigated or prosecuted.

The investigative reporter and politician Yury Shchekochikhin died five years ago on July 3, 2003.

A witness quoted by the BBC (2-6-07) stated:

"He complained about fatigue, and red blotches began to appear on his skin. His internal organs began collapsing one by one. Then he lost almost all his hair."

...A friend of Shchekochikhin, Kirill Kabanov, who is a former member of the Federal Security Service, the FSB, was travelling with him shortly before his illness.

Kabanov says that among the targets of Shchekochikhin's investigations were very senior people in the FSB and in other state agencies.

..."We had our own investigation of Yuri's death," says Kirill Kabanov. And I personally had to use some of my old contacts from the security services. And the specialist whom I contacted said that with 90% certainty Yuri's case was a poisoning and most likely he was poisoned with thallium."

...Asked why doctors should give other reasons for the death and why samples should be unobtainable, Kirill Kabanov again draws on his secret service knowledge.

"Yuri Schekochikhin's treatment and his post-mortem took place at the Central Clinical Hospital. This is the most important clinic in Russia and it's tightly controlled by the Russian Federal Security Service because it treats top-ranking Russian officials."

So could a cover-up have taken place?

"Recently," says Kabanov darkly, "very few people in Russia find the courage to tell the truth."

Officially, Shchekochikhin died in a Moscow hospital of a "very rare" allergy:

The source of Shchekochikhin's troubles was an article he published in early 2002 in "Novaya gazeta," the twice-weekly newspaper where he served as deputy editor. In the article, he accused specific members of the Prosecutor-General's Office with attempting to block an investigation into allegations that two major furniture outlets -- Three Whales and Grand -- had bilked the state out of $20 million in import duties by falsifying the weight and purchase price of its goods.

A month before his death, Shchekochikhin met with officials from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to discuss the possibility that Three Whales was tied to another massive corruption scandal -- the Bank of New York money-laundering case. U.S. investigators accused Russia of laundering billions of dollars through BONY in 1998-99.

Three Whales, Shchekochikhin alleged, had been among the businesses illegally channelling its millions through the bank's accounts. He had received a U.S. visa with the aim of testifying in the case, as well as in the corruption case implicating then-Atomic Energy Minister Yegveny Adamov. But he never got a chance to use it.

I already wrote a bit about Mr. Shchekochikhin here and noted that it is very bitter experience to reread Shchekochikhin's premature optimism about the young generation that was coming into adulthood during the 1980s. In the foreward Nancy Traver's book Kife: The Lives and Dreams of Soviet Youth (1989), Shchekochikhin wrote about his hopes for these young people who grew up without the fear of Stalin in their hearts:

A new generation, devoid of social fear, had stepped into life. The nightmare of Stalin's terror was not in their genes because they were the first generation in our country whose innocent fathers had not been arrested....Already another new young generation is appearing in our life: it's composed of the ones who are growing up during perestroika. These are the children of glasnost. They don't have to look for the words of truth in samizdat (illegally published literature). Glasnost is not an unexpected gift for them, as it is for us, the older generation. Glasnost is an integral part of their lives and they will never let anybody destroy it (KIFE x-xi).

A Radio Free Liberty article published on 7-16-03 by Virginie Coulloudon [reprinted here] a few days after Shchekochikhin's mysterious death explains why Shchekochikhin was a threat to some people:

On 3 July [2003], State Duma Deputy and investigative journalist Yurii Shchekochikhin died in the Kremlin's Central Clinic after a week of treatment for an uncommon ailment -- an "unknown allergen," as his doctors put it. This vague diagnosis was enough to spark rumors that Shchekochikhin had in fact been poisoned -- retaliation for his ongoing investigations into corruption. The belief that Shchekochikhin had been murdered was rooted in the type of investigations he had been conducting lately. His sudden passing, in his 54th year, contributed to the growing perception that the Russian state under President Vladimir Putin had become even more corrupt and violent than it used to be.

...Shchekochikhin became famous in the summer of 1988, when he published in "Literaturnaya Gazeta" an interview with the then deputy head of the Interior Ministry's Organized Crime Department, Aleksandr Gurov.

Shchekochikhin and Gurov were among the first in the Soviet Union to denounce publicly the system of organized corruption that linked Soviet industry and the system of domestic trade to the police and the state. In his articles, Shchekochikhin ultimately revealed the real -- unofficial -- Soviet Union and Russia: the informal rules of clan logic and the secret prices for all official functions, the extent of endemic corruption at both the local and federal levels, and the key issue of burgeoning juvenile crime.

After a remarkable career in investigative journalism, Shchekochikhin took advantage of a second window of opportunity opened by the state and entered politics...He was elected deputy in the Russian State Duma in 1995...

After his re-election in December 1999, he was appointed deputy chairman of the Duma's Security Committee. He primarily worked on issues related to organized crime and corruption, and he advised the United Nations on all issues related to international organized-crime groups linked to the Russian mafia.

Shchekochikhin had already received a death threat last February. The threat came immediately after he published a detailed article on the so-called Tri Kita [Three Whales] affair. Tri Kita is the name of a major furniture store in Moscow, some of whose managers are suspected of weapons smuggling, laundering large sums of money in Europe, and corrupting officials in the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office. Only four days after the article appeared, Yabloko issued a press release making this threat public and denouncing the atmosphere of intimidation that accompanies the work of investigative journalists. "If the life of a journalist and his family is the price to pay for telling the truth, then there is no freedom of speech in the country," Yabloko's press release declared.

Shchekochikhin had been doggedly investigating the Tri Kita affair over the past three years. He wrote detailed articles in "Novaya Gazeta" and used his position at the State Duma to question high-ranking officials and request official documents and materials related to the case. As of today, only one thing is certain: Shchekochikhin was embarrassing too many people. [Be sure to read the full text; originally published in RFE/RL on 3-16-03]

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