- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 28, 2006

MOSCOW — Former friends and colleagues of American Paul Klebnikov, slain July 9, 2004, in the killing of a Western journalist in Russia, have expressed dismay that the trial of his purported killers is being held in secret and concern that prosecutors are not following up on a number of other possible leads about who was responsible for his death.

Mr. Klebnikov, 41, was shot eight times outside his Moscow offices just a few months after taking a job as the editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine.

The trial of three Chechen men accused of the slaying began Jan. 10.

Prosecutors contend that Kazbek Dukuzov and Musa Vakhayev killed Mr. Klebnikov on orders from Kozh-Akhmed Nukhayev, a prominent Chechen separatist and the subject of a critical book by Mr. Klebnikov titled “Conversations With a Barbarian.” The third defendant, Moscow lawyer Fail Sadretdinov, is purported to have arranged the killing. Prosecutors say the men were killers for hire, and they have been charged in two other attacks.

All three have pleaded not guilty. After a few days of hearings early this month, the trial was suspended owing to the ill health of the presiding judge, and no date has been set for it to resume.

Alexei Brevnov, the Klebnikov family’s representative in Moscow, said the family was deeply disappointed by the court’s insistence that the proceedings be held in secret. Prosecutors argued that the trial had to be closed to the public in order to protect the methods used to track down the defendants.

Trial’s secrecy hit

“Paul’s life was dedicated to making Russia more open and transparent, and this would have been the perfect opportunity to show that openness matters,” Mr. Brevnov said.

The trial secrecy has raised suspicions that the evidence linking the accused to Mr. Klebnikov’s killing is tenuous, and some suspect investigators may have rushed to charge the three men.

“I have all indications that there is an excellent team of investigators on this case, but there’s a lot of pressure on them, and I believe there was pressure in making the announcement that Nukhayev was the mastermind,” said Richard Behar, a New York-based investigative reporter who leads Project Klebnikov, an alliance of journalists investigating the killing.

“I don’t think they are pursuing too many possible leads other than Nukhayev as the mastermind, but there are at least four or five other possible threads.”

In more than a decade of delving into the murky world of Russian business as a reporter for Forbes, Mr. Klebnikov had racked up a long list of potential enemies, including powerful Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who sued Forbes for running an article by Mr. Klebnikov implicating the tycoon in the killing of an employee of a TV station he owned.

Mr. Berezovsky, who won a libel suit forcing Forbes to acknowledge that there was no evidence linking him to his employee’s slaying, has denied any involvement in Mr. Klebnikov’s killing.

Another theory involves Mr. Klebnikov’s publication of a list of the 100 wealthiest Russians, shortly after the beginning of the Russian edition of Forbes. The Russian elite are notoriously publicity-shy and some observers have speculated that Mr. Klebnikov’s assassination may have been a warning to other reporters to avoid making public the personal financial details of the rich.

‘Went too far’

Some of Mr. Klebnikov’s former colleagues said it is also possible he was killed to prevent publication of new material.

“I think he was killed because he went too far in some of his investigations that had not yet been published,” said Alexander Gordeyev, deputy editor of the Russian-language edition of Newsweek.

Mr. Gordeyev, the last person to speak to Mr. Klebnikov before his death, has also been critical of prosecutors for ignoring Mr. Klebnikov’s dying words: that he was killed by a man of Russian appearance, not someone from the Caucasus region, which includes Chechnya.

“He told me as he lay there dying that it was a Russian man,” Mr. Gordeyev said. “I asked him: ‘Could it have been a Caucasian?’ He said, ‘No, it was a Russian.’”

Mr. Behar, the leader of Project Klebnikov, has reported for Time and Fortune magazines and worked with Mr. Klebnikov at Forbes in the late 1980s. He said he and others involved in Project Klebnikov are following up on a number of possible leads but that it’s too early to go into details. The project was set up last year and involves more than 20 journalists in the United States and Russia.

“It dawned on me after we launched this — it hit me that the best guy for this project would have been Paul,” Mr. Behar said.

“We miss him, and we could really use his help.”

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