Mob Claims Another Russian

October 18, 1994|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- The murder of Dmitry Kholodov yesterday was in keeping with the new style of Russian killings -- it was obvious, bloody and was meant to teach a lesson.

Mr. Kholodov was a 27-year-old investigative reporter with Moskovsky Komsomolets who was looking into corruption in the Russian army. A bomb in a suitcase he had been lured into opening killed him in his office.

He was, apparently, only the second Russian reporter to be murdered this year, but his killing follows a string of brazen slayings that appear to be directly linked to crime and corruption. Criminal organizations are simply wiping out anyone who would threaten their profits, and in as public a manner as possible.

In Russia, such organizations are particularly powerful because they frequently enjoy a considerable overlap with government agencies.

Mr. Kholodov was investigating corruption within the Western Army Group, formerly stationed in eastern Germany. He had evidence of an illegal arms trade and lucrative under-the-counter dealing in military equipment and machinery, according to his editor, Pavel Gusev.

Although he had received several threats, he was planning to write further articles about his findings and to testify before the Duma, or legislature, as well, Mr. Gusev said.

"This murder was committed to scare journalists," the editor said. "It was a political killing. But we can never let them scare us out of this investigation. Truth is the most important weapon we have."

Mr. Gusev flatly declared that the murder was organized within the Defense Ministry, where Mr. Kholodov's enemies included everyone up to Gen. Matvei Burakov, former commander of the Western Army Group and now a deputy defense minister, and defense chief Pavel Grachev himself.

A ministry spokesman, Vladimir Kosarev, said: "This statement is too premature. One has to investigate first."

About 11 a.m. yesterday, according to investigators, an anonymous caller told Mr. Kholodov that he could find crucial documents in a suitcase in the luggage room at the Kazan Railway Terminal in central Moscow.

When Mr. Kholodov brought the suitcase back to his office and opened it, he detonated nearly a half-pound of explosives, investigators said. He was seriously injured. After a 40-minute wait for an ambulance, he was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died about 90 minutes later. Another newspaper employee also was hurt.

Although the office was smashed and bloody, Moskovsky Komsomolets -- a popular and generally irreverent paper with a circulation of 270,000 -- prepared today's edition as usual.

The murder brought quick expressions of outrage.

"Boris Yeltsin is indignant at the growing number of incidents of political terrorism," said his spokesman, Vyacheslav Kostikov. "The president expressed his solidarity with the stance and courage displayed by independent journalists who do their duty to society."

"An act of unprecedented cruelty and recklessness took place," said a statement issued by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov's office.

Sadly, that statement was a serious exaggeration, because there was nothing unprecedented about either the method or the impunity of Mr. Kholodov's slaying.

In the last three weeks, a sampling of mob-related hits looks like this:

* The manager of an Italian restaurant, Gennady Rakelov, was shot five times in the entrance to his Moscow apartment, in what police called a contract killing.

* A crackdown on organized crime in the wild city of Izhevsk that was to have been led by Nikolai Perevoschikov, deputy interior minister, never got under way because Mr. Perevoschikov and his wife and two children were machine-gunned to death in their beds.

* In Petrozavodsk, the chairmen of the local property committee, Vladimir Mikhailenko, was beaten to death after he refused to sign some phony transfer papers.

* In the city of Kyzyl, Anatoly Martshekhi, the director general of Tuva Airlines, was found dead in his bathtub, his skull smashed in.

* One bank chairman in Moscow was shot and another stabbed, but both have survived. And two television officials in St. Petersburg, Vladislav Nechayev and Bella Kurkova, were seriously injured in separate attacks.

So far this year, according to the Committee for the Defense of Journalists, there have been at least 10 assaults on reporters in Russia.

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