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The Times (UK), July 30, 2003

Obituary: Yuri Shtshekotshichin

Yuri Shtshekotshichin, anti-mafia and anti-corruption campaigner, was born on June 9, l950. He died in Moscow on July 3, 2003, aged 53.

Yuri Shtshekotshichin was Russia's unrivalled scourge of corruption in the new mafia as well as in the highest government circles around President Yeltsin and, later, President Putin.

Until the collapse of communism, when he was just past 40, he was a toe-the line journalist. The moment Boris Yeltsin ousted Mikhail Gorbachev in the Kremlin, Shtshekotshichin acquired the freedom to ask any question dictated by his restless curiosity.

Shtshekotshichin began to drink of that freedom in ever bigger and more daring gulps. That freedom was reinforced by his membership of the Duma, the new multiparty parliament, to which he had first been elected in l990. It gave him freedom from prosecution and arbitrary imprisonment by authorities who found his questions increasingly embarrassing.

He became deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta, a paper of low circulation but high prestige, and set to work, first on the new Russian mafia, its massive money laundering and contract killings.

Next he turned his crusading curiosity on the new government machine and its growing corruption. That earned him a television series. It swiftly attracted the attention of Vladimir Putin, and so came to an abrupt end after only a few months.

Undeterred, Shtshekotshichin turned his questions on to the Chechnya conflict.

That endeared him even less to Putin. Given his parliamentary immunity, the government fought back with a weapon that it rarely used -seeming indifference.

"Only silence followed 90 per cent of my publications," Shtshekotshichin complained. "Those I accused, simply did not react."

For his last case he travelled to the provincial town of Ryazan, well away from Moscow, to investigate accusations that the local militia was making up criminal cases against individuals who had crossed the local rulers. He set out a fit man but came back seriously sick.

On June 23 he was admitted to the Central hospital in Moscow. Its specialists could not diagnose his sickness and classified it vaguely as an "extreme allergic syndrome". Ten days later he was dead, leaving behind a shining reputation for courage against corruption.


The Times (UK), July 30, 2003

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