Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 24

The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office announced on June 16 that it had completed the investigation of last July’s murder of the of editor-in-chief of the Russian version of Forbes magazine Paul Klebnikov and had established that the shooting of the American journalist was ordered by Khozh-Akhmed Nukhaev, a former separatist official and reputed organized crime figure who was the subject of a book written by Klebnikov and published in Russia. “Nukhaev offered payment to members of a criminal group for killing Klebnikov because the journalist had negatively referred to Nukhaev and criticized his remarks in the book entitled ‘Conversation With a Barbarian’,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement quoted by Interfax. “It was established in the course of the investigation into this case that Klebnikov was killed by members of a criminal organization composed of Chechen residents Kazbek Dukuzov, his brother Magomed Dukuzov, Musa Vakhaev, Magomed Edilsultanov, and others.” Vakhaev and Dukuzov have already been charged with Klebnikov’s murder, while the other suspects remain at large.

The alleged Chechen crime group is also accused of killing the former deputy prime minister of the Chechen Republic, Jan Sergunin. MosNews reported on June 16 that Sergunin had agreed to help Klebnikov work on a book about money laundering in Chechnya. Sergunin was murdered in Moscow last June. Interestingly, when Belarus extradited Dukuzov and another suspect, Valid Agaev, to Moscow last February, Belarusian television reported that according to one version, “the organizers of Klebnikov’s murder were not the heroes of his previous revelatory publications, but people who he was only planning to tell about in his new book, devoted to the embezzlement of budget funds in Chechnya” (see Chechnya Weekly, February 23).

On June 17, Izvestia quoted Klebnikov’s brother, Michael, as saying that the news that Nukhaev had been named as the person who ordered his brother’s murder was “unexpected.” He said he was surprised by the prosecutors’ conclusion that Nukhaev was unhappy with the book, given that his brother had found Nukhaev interesting and indicated that Nukhaev had been happy for the chance to put forward his views. Likewise, the publisher of “Conversation With a Barbarian,” Valery Streletsky, who previously served as a deputy to President Boris Yeltsin’s chief bodyguard Aleksandr Korzhakov, told Izvestia: “It is hard to believe that Nukhaev gave the order to kill Klebnikov. I can’t even guess what Nukhaev could have disliked in the book. Even before the book came out, Nukhaev gave an interview to a Baku newspaper in which called himself a barbarian.” Still, Streletsky said that Nukhaev might not have liked the fact that Klebnikov accompanied the interview with critical commentary. Streletsky also noted that Klebnikov interviewed Nukhaev for the purpose of asking him about his relationship with the tycoon Boris Berezovsky, the subject of Klebnikov’s first book, but Nukhaev refused to talk about Berezovsky and instead expounded on his own ideas. Streletsky also said that Klebnikov wrote and published the book about Nukhaev without clearing it with the book’s subject.

The Moscow Times on June 17 quoted journalist and commentator Yulia Latynina as saying that the first thing she thought when she read “Conversation With a Barbarian” was that it would spell Klebnikov’s doom. “I could imagine the reaction [Nukhaev] would have after he brought this journalist into his home, fed him and introduced him to his relatives saying, ‘He is going to write a great book about me’,” she told the English-language newspaper. “Even if Nukhaev himself wasn’t insulted, his relatives might have been.” However, Oleg Panfilov, head of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, told the Moscow Times he seriously doubted that Nukhaev was behind the slaying. “If Chechens killed everybody who wrote negative books about them, Moscow would be covered in bodies,” he said. “So many negative books have been written about Chechens, many of which are a lot worse than Klebnikov’s.” The newspaper also quoted Panfilov as saying that the Russian authorities have advanced the Chechen link to Klebnikov’s murder because of pressure from the United States to make progress in the investigation as well as pressure from Europe to resolve the Chechen conflict. “It is advantageous for the government to paint Chechnya as a terrorist haven and Chechens in general as criminals.”

Likewise, Kavkazky Uzel on June 21 cited an article in the newspaper Chechenskoe obshchestvo (Chechen Society) by Kazbek Tsuraev and Sultan Abubakarov, which claimed that all the conclusions reached by the Prosecutor General’s Office regarding Klebnikov’s murder were “erroneous.” According to the article’s authors, Nukhaev was killed in the mountains of Dagestan in the spring of 2004, several months before Klebnikov’s murder. “It turns out that by pinning the murder of Klebnikov on the deceased Nukhaev, who cannot rebut the accusations against him, the investigation is either hiding its incompetence or…shielding the real perpetrator,” they wrote.

On June 17, Kavkazky Uzel cited unnamed sources as saying they believed that Nukhaev was killed together with Chechen rebel field commander Ruslan Gelaev in the mountains of Dagestan. Some of Gelaev’s men were reportedly captured and others killed in Dagestan in the winter of 2004, while Gelaev himself was killed last February 28. Kavkazky Uzel said other sources believe Nukhaev managed to escape. The website noted, however, that two newspapers sponsored by Nukhaev, Ichkeria and Mekhk-Kkhel, have not been published since that time, nor have his book-brochures on Russian-Chechen and international relations, which were previously sent from Azerbaijan to Russian for sale and distribution.

In 1996, Nukhaev served in the government of acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev as first vice-premier, in which capacity he oversaw foreign economic and international relations and the oil and gas industry.