Thursday, September 16, 2010

Russian Authorities Reopen the Shchekochikhin Case

"[Yuri Shchekochikhin] was elected to the Russian State Duma from the liberal Yabloko party in 1995. He was a member of a Duma committee on the problems of corruption, and was a UN expert on the problems of organized crime...

Shchekochikhin contacted the FBI and got an American visa to discuss the [Three Whales] case with US authorities [7]. However, he never made it to the USA because of his sudden death."---Wikipedia [Search Google for Shchekochikhin or Щекочихин]

In September 2006, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (9-26-06) reported on the Three Whales corruption scandal, which had the potential to threaten the administration of then-President Putin. Mr. Putin is currently Prime Minister and the chairman of Russia's ruling political party United Russia (Единая Россия, Yedinaya Rossiya).

The investigation of the Three Whales scandal was prematurely shut down by the Procurator's Office after a few Russians were punished or died unexpectedly. The Russian Procurator General (Attorney General) is nominated to by the President and appointed by a vote of the majority of Federation Council of Russia (the Upper House of Russia's Federal Assembly). When Shchekochikhin died, the President was Vladimir Putin. Now the President is Dmitry Medvedev.

This week, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (9-16-10) and Moscow Times (9-17-10) report that Russian investigators plan to reopen the case of the suspicious July 2003 death of the Russian investigative reporter and State Duma deputy Yuri Shchekochikhin, who was investigating the Three Whales corruption scandal when he died after a brief, mysterious illness a few days before he was scheduled to travel to the U.S. and meet with the FBI. The Guardian (7-9-03) penned his obituary.

RFE/RL says the "police" are reopening the investigation into Shchekochikhin's suspicious death. "Police" means the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Militsiya). The press release announcing the reopening of the case comes from the Investigative Committee in the Procurator's (Prosecutor's) Office, also called the Attorney General of Russia (See press release below).

The current Prosecutor General, Yuri Chaika, was nominated by President Putin in 2006 and confirmed by the Federation Council. The main site of the Procurator's office did not issue a press release about the reopening of this case, but I have no idea if that is significant. Perhaps Mr. Chaika is so busy capturing Great Patriotic War deniers that he has not had time to update his site. According to the press release, investigators claim to have "new evidence that requires investigation" and that the investigation was reopened "on the grounds of a crime under part 1 of article 105 of the Criminal Code" [Article 105. Murder].

It is very significant that the investigators are, for the first time, characterizing Shchekochikhin's suspicious death as a murder; still, I don't have a lot of confidence in the Prosecutor General Yuri Chaikov because he ignores real crimes and advocates new laws for imaginary crimes instead. Last year he advocated criminalizing Great Patriotic War denial---something that is not really a problem in Russia---instead of catching rapists, murderers, and assassins. Chaika's posturing reminds me a bit of Virginia's Attorney General Cuccinelli, who claims that he is defending the health and safety of women from allegedly unsafe (for the woman) abortion clinics, while defaming and persecuting a scientist who is telling us about the dangers of global warming.

The State Duma is the lower house of Russia's bicameral legislative body, the Federal Assembly of Russia; so Yuri Shchekochikhin might be described as the Russian equivalent of a Congressman and an investigative journalist. He seems to have developed sources within law enforcement agencies and once published an interview with the Lieutenant General in the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Militsiya) Alexander Gurov. Having sources in the police can be a very dangerous thing for a Russian journalist.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, or Militsiya, is Russia's civilian police agency. According to Wikipedia, the Militsiya reports to the President, but not to the Prime Minister. That's a possibly very interesting fact, if true. See more about Gurov on the issue of corruption in RUSSIAN CORRUPTION: AN EVIL TO ERADICATE OR A NECESSARY “LUBRICANT”? (7-30-08).

It is remotely possible that Martin's Cruz Smith's fictional Russian Militsiya detective Arkady Renko is modeled on Alexander Gurov, but who knows. In those fictional novels, the Militsiya and the KGB (now the FSB) are not always on the same page, to put it mildly.

If Russian investigators in the Procurator's office are serious about getting to the bottom of Shchekochikhin's death, their investigation may also expose the criminal activities of very powerful officials in the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Office of the Prosecutor General. The investigation is being opened for a second time, so it is hard to know how seriously to take this press release; still, the admission from investigators in that Shchekochikhin's death was a murder seems fairly significant, assuming the authorities attempt to make a case against the real killer/s and not someone else.

The Prosecutor General of Russia is the Russian version of the Attorney General. If the late Yuri Shchekochikhin was correct, the fox was guarding the hen house, something Virginians are beginning to get a taste of. In Russia, some of the police the investigate the crimes, and some of the police perpetrate the crimes and then murder snoopy citizens who get wind of what is going on.

Duma Deputy Shchekochikhin was also a deputy editor for the liberal opposition newspaper Novaya gazeta (English or Russian versions), so the paper will be following this investigation. Dmitri Muratov of Novaya gazeta plasters President Medvedev's photo and the link to Medvedev's declaration (4-13-09) on the front page of the English edition every day. Novaya gazeta also has a page devoted to Shchekochikhin's memory. On the front of the paper at the bottom there are also links to stories about their two other murdered journalists, Igor Domnikov and Anna Politkovskaya.

Wikipedia notes:

[Shchekochikhin] was elected to the Russian State Duma from the liberal Yabloko party in 1995. He was a member of a Duma committee on the problems of corruption, and was a UN expert on the problems of organized crime. He was a vocal opponent of the First and Second Chechen Wars.

Investigators say evidence has been uncovered that suggests Shchekochikhin may have been murdered. There are long-standing suspicions that he was poisoned with a radioactive substance because of his investigative research.

Shchekochikhin investigated the Russian apartment bombings as well as the Three Whales corruption scandal and its connections to members of the the the domestic security agency (the FSB or Federal Security Service) and the money-laundering scandal at the Bank of New York (BONY).

Wikipedia notes:

The FSB is engaged mostly in domestic affairs, while espionage duties were taken over by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (former First Chief Directorate of the KGB). However, the FSB also includes the FAPSI agency, which conducts electronic surveillance abroad.

Shchekochikhin died of a brief illness a few days before he was scheduled to fly to the U.S. and meet with FBI investigators to share information about the BONY money-laundering scandal. I have written about the mysterious death of Shchekochikhin as well as the Russian apartment bombings in several posts on my blog.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (9-16-10) reports:

Police are reopening the case of a Russian opposition journalist and politician seven years after his mysterious death.

Interfax news agency reports today that a spokesman for the investigators said that Yuri Shchekochikhin might have been murdered.

The journalist worked for the opposition newspaper "Novaya Gazeta," which also employed investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered in 2006.

Shchekochikhin died in July 2003 of what was at the time described as water on the brain.

Political allies voiced the suspicion he had been poisoned because of his reporting about corruption.

Moscow Times (9-17-10) reports:

Investigators on Thursday reopened for a second time a criminal inquiry into the mysterious 2003 death of investigative journalist and State Duma Deputy Yury Shchekochikhin.

The Investigative Committee said in a statement that it had uncovered new evidence that suggested Shchekochikhin had been murdered.

The statement offered no further details.

Investigators initially ruled out foul play and said Shchekochikhin had died from an unspecified allergic reaction.

They reopened the case in 2008 and exhumed Shchekochikhin's body. But in April 2009, they said no evidence had been found of murder and Shchekochikhin had died of toxic epidermal necrolysus, also known as Lyell Syndrome, a severe skin disease.

Shchekochikhin's colleagues at the opposition-minded Novaya Gazeta newspaper maintain that he had been poisoned with a rare toxin and have led their own investigation into his death.

When he died, Shchekochikhin was spearheading a parliamentary investigation into a furniture-smuggling case at Tri Kita that implicated senior officers from the Federal Security Service and the Prosecutor General's Office. Former Tri Kita owner Sergei Zuyev was sentenced to eight years in prison on smuggling charges in April.

The press release issued by Investigative Committee of the Procurator's Office of the Russian Federation (9-16-10) states:

Возобновлено расследование уголовного дела по факту смерти Юрия Щекочихина

16 сентября 2010 года, 16:30

В связи с поступившими в распоряжение следствия новыми данными, требующими проведения дополнительных следственных действий, в Главном следственном управлении Следственного комитета возобновлено расследование уголовного дела, возбужденного по факту смерти депутата Государственной Думы Федерального Собрания Российской Федерации Юрия Щекочихина по признакам преступления, предусмотренного ч. 1 ст. 105 УК РФ.

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