Killing of US Journalist in Moscow Remains Unsolved

By Sergei Blagov | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Moscow ( - The acquittal of two Chechens accused of shooting dead a U.S. journalist in a Moscow street two years ago has sparked concerns that the crime, along with other high-profile killings of journalists in Russia, may never be solved.

A Moscow City Court jury acquitted Kazbek Dukuzov and Musa Vakhayev, who walked free after the verdict was announced in the closed-door trial that began on January 10.

They were accused of killing Paul Klebnikov, the American editor of Forbes magazine, who was gunned down outside his Moscow office in July 2004.

"I am happy that justice has finally triumphed in Russia," said defense lawyer Ruslan Khasanov.

The Klebnikov family, defense lawyers, and the U.S. government had called for an open trial, but authorities declared the case secret to forestall disclosure of how law enforcement agencies collected evidence against the suspects.

Critics claimed that the trial's closure aimed to cover a weak prosecution case.

Prosecutors claimed Dukuzov, Vakhayev and a third Chechen shot Klebnikov on the orders of Chechen warlord Khozh-Akhmed Nukhayev, after Klebnikov wrote a book about Chechnya based on interviews with Nukhayev.

Prosecutor Dmitry Shokhin said in televised remarks there had been "flagrant" procedural violations during the trial and that an appeal would be lodged.

Klebnikov's family, backed by the U.S. government, had been pressing Russia to solve the case quickly and fairly. "We will not be satisfied until justice is served and the individual or individuals who ordered Paul's killing and carried out the crime are found and brought to trial," the family said in a statement.

"Now that this trial has been concluded we urge the Russian government to continue its investigation with renewed vigor. Two years has passed since Paul's murder and the most important work lies ahead," added the family, which is not disputing the jury's verdict.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack urged the Russian authorities to do everything possible to prosecute "those who pulled the trigger and those who ordered the killing."

Klebnikov, a descendant of emigres who fled Russia after the 1917 Revolution, did not appear to be concerned about his safety.

He began reporting on Eastern Europe and Russia for Forbes in 1989, spent years tracking the shadowy deals that underpin many of Russia's personal fortunes. In May 2004 he published a list of the 100 richest Russians, outraged some tycoons who preferred to remain in the shadows.

In one 1996 article he accused tycoon Boris Berezovsky of ordering the 1995 murder of television journalist Vladislav Listyev. Berezovsky sued the magazine in Britain but withdrew the suit last year after Forbes acknowledged there was no evidence he had ordered the murder of Listyev or anyone else.

Klebnikov was the first U.S. journalist to be murdered in Russia. However, he shared the fate of dozens of Russian journalists who have been murdered in Russia since the demise of the Soviet Union.

In 2003, journalist Yuri Shchekochikin, known for investigating government corruption, died in an apparent poisoning. A former member of the Russian parliament, he had also claimed possible involvement of Russian security agencies in a series of apartment bombings in Moscow in 1999 -- explosions that the government has blamed on Chechen terrorists.

The official investigation ruled that Shchekochikin died due to an unknown illness and the case was closed.

In 2003, investigative newspaper journalists Alexei Sidrov and Valery Ivanov were murdered in the Russian auto-making center of Togliatti, where they were investigating corruption in the car industry.

These cases, like Listyev's, remain unresolved.

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