The Moscow Prosecutor’s Office last week summoned Igor Zotov, a deputy chief editor of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, another Berezovsky-owned outlet, to come in and be formally charged with libel. The case stems from an article the paper ran last November alleging that a leading Moscow judge and two federal judges took bribes in connection with the case against former Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Factory chief Anatoly Bykov, who is in jail on charges of plotting the murder of a business associate. The summons looked somewhat strange, given that Zotov runs the paper’s literary supplement and thus had nothing to do with the offending article, which was written by a journalist who has since left the paper.
Zotov did, however, cover Berezovsky’s press conference in London last month, during which the self-exiled oligarch previewed a documentary film he financed alleging that Russia’s special services were behind the September 1999 terrorist attacks in Moscow and other Russian cities, which killed hundreds of people. Indeed, Nezavisimaya Gazeta’s chief editor, Tat’yana Koshkareva, charged that libel case was politically motivated, and that the authorities wanted to make Zotov a “hostage” and thereby force the paper to “change investors”–i.e., dump Berezovsky. Another newspaper that regularly criticizes the Kremlin, the biweekly Novaya Gazeta, was recently fined $1.5 million after losing two libel cases. Many observers believe that the damages assessed in those cases, which are unprecedented in terms of size, are part of an officially backed attempt to put the paper out of business. In any case, Nezavisimaya Gazeta’s Zotov fell ill and had to be hospitalized, thus failing to make his appointment with the prosecutors. They dispatched a courier to the hospital, the paper reported, to make sure he really was ill and find out from the doctors how soon he could be charged and interrogated.