- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2006

The murder trial is held behind closed doors. The excuse? To protect “state secrets.”

This Kafka-esque drama will be played out in Moscow during the next few weeks and in the end, we will probably never know who shot former Forbes journalist Paul Klebnikov to death on a summer evening in 2004 in Russia’s capital because that’s how the city works.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has called Moscow one of the worlds’s “five most murderous cities.” Klebnikov ran afoul of someone in power, but the defendants — all Chechnians — are not guilty. Why? Because the victim said so. The killer was Russian, he said, with his last dying breath.

Contract murders in Moscow are as common as jaywalking in Manhattan. Under the present government of Yuri Lushzkov, the “line my pockets or get wacked” mayor of Moscow, the city is rife with crime. It’s not difficult to run afoul of the Mayor.

Legitimate businesses have packed up and left, all too happy to admit defeat. Even Donald Trump — fearless and risk-taking — won’t get his big toe wet. When a famous Moscow hotel was looking for investors, Mr. Trump reportedly said, “Do I have crazy written on my forehead?”

Moscow is worse than Chicago in the 1920s, complete with mafia, hate crimes, gun and drug smuggling, gambling, extortion, kidnappings, murder, rape, robberies and arson.

The Moscow underworld is a snake-pit of greed and corruption, tolerated — or perhaps encouraged — by Mr. Lushzkov and immune to prosecution. Doug Steele, a Canadian entrepreneur who owns a Moscow nightclub, recently estimated he paid $1 million in bribes to police, officials and the Russian mafia. At least he’s still alive.

That brings up the courage of Paul Klebnikov. Russian by descent, the handsome young New Yorker arrived in Moscow to start up the Russian edition of Forbes. He was brave enough to write about the oligarths, the corruption, the mafia, and it cost him his life. His family tried to get the murder case opened to press, but they were denied. Grief is a powerful weapon, but Moscow is a cold and callous place.

Now, a group of journalists have banded to do their own investigative reporting on Klebnikov’s murder. I hope they succeed, but chances are slim. A free and open press is the only hope. But in Moscow, unsolved murders — and court cases behind closed doors — are the norm.

Last August, 36-year-old Chevalier Nusuyev, a wealthy Russian businessman suspected by U.S. authorities of fixing the skating results in the 2002 Winter Olympics, was shot dead in his Moscow apartment. In September, Iksander Khafloni, a reporter for Radio Free Euope, was murdered. He was investigating the Russian military’s human-rights abuses in Chechnia. Two months later, in November 2005, prominent Italian businessman Pier Paolo Antinori, 56, was murdered in an “apparent robbery,” Moscow shorthand for a contract hit. That same month, American Language Center director Vardon Kushnir, 35, was beaten to death in his Moscow apartment.

Red Square was named in the medieval centuries because it was the center for mass executions of dissidents and political foes of the czar. First, they cut off your arms, legs, tongue and then the head. How much longer can Red Square under the mayor of Moscow exist?

At least, for now, I’m hoping a few tongues — like Paul Klebnikov — will not be silenced.

Tsotne Bakuria is a former member of the Georgian Parliament and a visiting scholar at George Washington University.

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