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Gazeta.ru, July 12, 2004

American editor of Russian Forbes magazine killed

Photo AFPGunmen have shot dead an American investigative journalist who headed the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, which publicised the names of the country's richest people. Paul Khlebnikov, 41, had walked out of his office late on Friday in northeastern Moscow when a car pulled up and several shots were fired. He died on his way to hospital.

Khlebnikov, a U.S. citizen of Russian origin who was noted for having criticised exiled magnate Boris Berezovsky, had worked since 1989 for Forbes, which tracks the world's wealthy. He was the latest victim of killings that have struck down officials, businessmen and journalists in post-Soviet Russia.

Media reports said Khlebnikov was shot four times with two different guns. "I can offer no realistic version of why this happened. Paul was an investigative journalist. He did this for 17 years and probably had plenty of enemies," Leonid Bershidsky, publisher of both Forbes and Newsweek in Russia, said by telephone.

German publisher Axel Springer, which launched the Russian edition of Forbes magazine in April, said: "We are alarmed at this terrible news and mourn with the family of the dead man, and with our Moscow colleagues..."

With Khlebnikov as editor, Forbes listed its biggest fortunes within a month. Dominated by oil and metals tycoons, the list revealed Moscow to be the city with the world's most billionaires. The editor of Newsweek's Russian-language edition, Alexander Gordeyev, told Interfax news agency Khlebnikov told him as he was dying that he had no idea why he had been shot.

"He told me several times nothing suspicious had happened to him," Gordeyev said. Contract killings have been rife in post-Soviet times.

Victims have included human rights advocate and member of parliament Galina Starovoitova in 1998, Valentin Tsvetkov, governor of mineral-rich Magadan region, in 2002 and liberal politician Sergei Yushenkov last year. Journalists have been frequent targets, particularly in the provinces.

Forbes has clashed with Berezovsky over an article and a book about the business magnate written by Khlebnikov and entitled "Godfather of the Kremlin".

Berezovsky was close to Boris Yeltsin, post-Soviet Russia's first president, but is a vocal opponent of his successor Vladimir Putin. Accused of funnelling large sums out of Russia, he dropped an English libel suit after Forbes withdrew some allegations.

"Khlebnikov was for me, in a sense, a teacher. First, I learned that the Western press could tell lies. I also learned about the English courts – that they are truly independent, not subject to any pressure," the London-based Berezovsky told Reuters by telephone. "Khlebnikov had little understanding of realities. In the West, the rich are happy to have their names mentioned publicly. In Russia, where we've seen the biggest redistribution of property in history with no laws, it is a very sensitive topic."

Khlebnikov told Ekho Moskvy radio after the magazine's launch that some magnates had been angry about the publication, though those he spoke to "reacted in quite a normal fashion". "But those who were always appearing in the papers, of course, were quite angry at least in public," he said. "In private conversations, perhaps they were different about it."


See also:

Freedom of Speech and Media Law in Russia

Gazeta.ru, July 12, 2004

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