Russia15 October 2004
Court acquits principal suspect in Alexei Sidorov murder
Reporters Without Borders urged Moscow’s prosecutor-general to take over an investigation into the murder of journalist Alexei Sidorov after a court in Volga region acquitted the chief suspect for lack of evidence brought by the local prosecutor’s office.
Evgeni Maininger was on 11 October 2004 acquitted by a district court in Komsomolski, Togliatti of murdering the editor of regional daily newspaper Toliattinskoye Obosrenie on 9 October 2003.
The worldwide press freedom organisation, which had previously voiced a lack of confidence in the investigation by the local prosecutor’s office, called on Prosecutor-General, Vladimir Ustinov, to personally take charge to ensure the investigation was transparent and objective.
The Sidorov family’s lawyer, Karen Nersisyan, said that the Samara region prosecutor’s office, which has already appealed, was not up to uncovering the truth.
Reporters Without Borders, which made a fact-finding visit in October 2003, had expressed concern about direction taken by the investigation and expressed doubts about the official version of events.
Just a few days after the killing and with insufficient information, the courts had ruled out a connection with Sidorov’s work as well as other significant leads.
The organisation also raised doubts about the professionalism of the investigation after hearing several contradictory official statements.
The newspaper’s editorial management was convinced that Sidorov’s murder was linked to his journalistic work and did not accept the theory that it was a common-law crime.
Evgeni Maininger, a welder in Togliatti, arrested on 12 October 2003, was accused of killing the journalist in a street brawl. According to the official version, the accused, who met Sidorov in the street by chance, asked for a loan to buy vodka. A fight broke out after the journalist refused and the accused stabbed him several times before fleeing and throwing away the murder weapon in a forest.
The Toliattinskoye Obosrenie editorial team had "trouble believing the official version" for several reasons. During a reconstruction on the evening of 17 October the daily’s journalists observed that the accused made a mistake in indicating the scene of the crime.
Moreover the suspect’s family made several statements that he was not naturally aggressive and that he had only left home around 10pm, by which time the murder had already been committed.
The editorial team also considered it highly improbable, knowing Sidorov’s character, that he could have been involved in a brawl of the kind described by the investigators.
Sidorov, 31, was stabbed by two men in the parking lot of his apartment building on 9 October 2003 and died shortly afterwards in the arms of his wife. He had succeeded Valery Ivanov as editor after he was murdered in similar circumstances on 29 April 2002.
Sidorov established links with auto-maker AvtoVaz, economic powerhouse of the region, which gave the newspaper financial backing. Before becoming its editor he was an investigative journalist on Toliattinskoye Obosrenie. A few weeks before his death he had gone back to investigating organised crime, but neither the newspaper nor his wife knew exactly what he was working on.
The killers of Valery Ivanov have never been found and brought to justice.