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Mystery Shrouds Death Of Journalist Shchekochikhin

Published: July 4, 2008 (Issue # 1387)


MOSCOW — Five years on, the circumstances surrounding the death of Yury Shchekochikhin, a liberal State Duma deputy and one of the country’s most fearless investigative journalists, remain an enigma.

Shchekochikhin, who penned exposes of official corruption for Novaya Gazeta, died five years ago Thursday at the age of 53 after several days of intense fever, during which his hair fell out and his skin peeled away in layers.

The official diagnosis showed that Shchekochikhin died from Lyell’s syndrome, also known as Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis, a grave dermatological condition often caused by an allergic reaction.

There was no indication in the medical report of what chemical or biological agent might have cause the allergic reaction. But his friends and colleagues remain convinced that he was poisoned because of his work.

“I understand why,” said Oleg Panfilov, head of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, a press freedom watchdog. “Shchekochikhin was the first person who unveiled and called public attention to what was then an under-the-carpet war between top law enforcement and secret services officials.”

At the time of his death, Shchekochikhin was investigating the purported involvement of senior officials from the Federal Security Service, or FSB, and the Prosecutor General’s Office in Tri Kita, a Moscow furniture store accused of evading import duties and smuggling Chinese goods through FSB storage facilities.

His Novaya Gazeta colleagues have claimed that shortly before his death, Shchekochikhin, who was deputy head of the State Duma’s Security Committee, had obtained evidence that the smuggling case was connected to money laundering through the Bank of New York and illegal weapons trafficking.

He had also accused three deputy prosecutor generals — Yury Biryukov, Vasily Kolmogorov and Vladimir Kolesnikov — of protecting the purported smugglers and pressed the Duma’s anti-corruption committee to demand their dismissals.

In the months before his death, Shchekochikhin was constantly accompanied by a bodyguard and was receiving threatening anonymous notes and phone calls, said Panfilov, a close friend of Shchekochikhin’s.

Investigators have closed three separate probes into the death of Shchekochikhin, who shot to national fame during perestroika for a series of reports on organized crime in the Soviet Union.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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