2 arrested in killing of U.S. journalist

Russian police allege Chechens shot editor in July contract murder

September 29, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MOSCOW - Police announced the arrest of two men yesterday in connection with the killing of a prominent American journalist, but officials provided few details about the men or their motive, and Russia's chief prosecutor later suggested that the arrests were disclosed prematurely.

Paul Klebnikov, editor of the Russian edition of Forbes, was shot four times as he left the magazine's office in Moscow on July 9 in what authorities described as a contract killing, the latest in a series of attacks against journalists in Russia.

Lt. Gen. Vladimir V. Pronin, chief of Moscow's police, told the Interfax news agency that investigators had arrested two men early yesterday and seized three pistols, including one believed to have been used to shoot Klebnikov.

Pronin said the men - whom he did not identify except to say they were Chechens - had been involved in a kidnapping, though one apparently unrelated to Klebnikov's murder. A spokeswoman for the police confirmed the arrests, but declined to elaborate. By last night, the general prosecutor's office, which had assigned its top investigators to the case, suggested that Pronin exceeded his authority and possibly compromised the investigation with his announcement.

"Disclosing this information, whoever does this and regardless of that person's official position, is inadmissible and may have a negative impact on the investigation," a spokesman said, according to Interfax.

The arrests, if substantiated, would represent an unusual breakthrough for investigators, because attacks such as that against Klebnikov have rarely been solved. The conflicting reports, however, only left the case murkier. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 11 journalists have been murdered in contract killings in Russia since 2000, but no one has yet been convicted in any of the cases.

Klebnikov's murder struck a deeply resonant chord in Russia, not just because of his prominence, but also because of a sense that brazen killings are carried out with seeming impunity, even in the heart of the capital.

In the weeks since Klebnikov's murder, speculation has abounded about the possible motives. He had written so extensively about the intersections of politics, business and crime in post-Soviet Russia that there were believed to be numerous people who might have a score to settle. From the beginning, officials said the killing was almost certainly related to his work.

Klebnikov, 41, moved to Moscow last year to open the Russian edition of Forbes, where he had worked since 1989. The first edition appeared in April.

Klebnikov also wrote two books, one a biography of the self-exiled businessman Boris A. Berezovsky and the other an account of organized crime in Russia's war in Chechnya, based on interviews with one of the republic's separatist leaders, Khozh-Akhmed Nukhayev. The latter, titled Conversations with a Barbarian, was published last year, and its criticism of Chechnya's rebels prompted speculation that he angered some of them.

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