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Russia18 June 2005

Call for all leads to be fully exhausted before the Paul Khlebnikov murder investigation is closed

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Reporters Without Borders has appealed to Russian judicial authorities not to close the investigation into the murder of journalist Paul Khlebnikov before ensuring that every possible lead had been exhausted.

Russian prosecutors said on 16 June 2005 that the murder had been ordered by Chechen separatist Hodj-Akhmed Nukhayev and that they were closing the case

The American journalist, of Russian origin, editor of the Russian version of Forbes magazine, was murdered in Moscow on 9 July 2004. He had quoted Nukhayev in his book "Conversations with a Barbarian" that came out in English and Russian in 2003.

The prosecutor’s office gave no date for the opening of a trial.

"It is essential that this case is cleared up," said Reporters Without Borders. "We urge the Russian judicial authorities to thoroughly follow up every lead before closing the investigation.

"It would be particularly serious to find that those who have been charged are only ’guilty by circumstance’. Violence against journalists in Russia has become entrenched in the past five years, leading to a degree of self-censorship".

"Twelve journalists have been murdered in the country since 2000 but no defendant has ever been brought before a court," said the organisation.

Russian prosecutors’ investigations have been speeded up over the past month. Two Russians of Chechen origin were placed under investigation on 13 May for their suspected involvement in Khlebnikov’s murder.

Musa Vakhayev, 40, from the Chechen city of Urus-Martan was arrested by Moscow prosecutors on 18 November 2004. He is suspected of having driven the car used by the murderer of Khlebnikov who was shot four times as he left his Moscow office.

Investigators said his fingerprints had been found in the car, which was recovered in a Moscow street the day after the killing. The second suspect placed under investigation is Kazbek Dukuzov, accused of being the killer. He was extradited from Belarus in March this year.

On 4 June a Moscow notary, Faik Sadreddinov, was arrested and placed under investigation for his suspected role in the crime. Russia’s prosecutor-general said on 16 June that other people accused of taking part in the killing had been identified, naming Magomed Dukuzov, the brother of Kazbek Dukuzov, Magomed Edilsultanov and "others" who were now on the wanted list.

Khlebnikov was an award-winning investigative journalist, who had worked for Forbes for 15 years. Police immediately looked for leads in connection with his profession. Shortly before his death, he had been investigating the embezzlement of millions of dollars earmarked for Chechen reconstruction.

In 2003, he published "Conversations with a Barbarian", extracts of which were published in Forbes. He particularly quoted Hodj-Akhmed Nukhayev, briefly deputy prime minister in the Chechen separatist government in May 1996, saying that he separatist was involved in gangsterism after the first Russo-Chechen war (1994-1996), before devoting himself to the political struggle within the movement "Chechen Land of Islam".

Khlebnikov met Nukhayev in 2001. He announced in October 2003 that he would "take up arms again" and return to Chechnya, after spending several years in the Azerbaijan capital of Baku.

"If someone kills or simply insults a member of your clan (...), he will be hunted down for the rest of his life. He will not escape punishment", Khlebnikov quoted Nukhayev as saying in an article carried by Forbes.

Michael and Peter Khlebnikov, the journalist’s brothers, voiced their doubts about the assumption that Nukhayev instigated the murder. "This amazed us", Michael Khlebnikov said, referring to himself and other family members. "We never heard anything from Paul that would have led us to think that after the book came out Mr Nukhayev was unhappy with what was there", he said.

The Khlebnikov family has urged the Russian judicial authorities to allow other countries’ investigators to join the inquiry, stressing that the suspected instigator was abroad.

"I am delighted to learn that they have finally arrested the killers and the instigator of the murder of my nephew - assuming the information is correct - shot dead because he was doing his job," Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, member of the French Academy, told Reporters Without Borders.

"I hope the evidence on which the Russian prosecutors based their conclusions will be made fully available to the public," said Steve Forbes, chairman of the magazine in the United States on 16 June.

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