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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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A retrospective of the films of Roman Polanski starts today at Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt, with a screening of ‘Repulsion’ at 7 p.m. and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ at 9:15 p.m. The series runs through Feb. 4 and will include Polanski's eminently creepy ‘The Tenant,’ the cult comedy ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’ and ‘Cul-de-sac’ among others. Tickets are 150-200 rubles and the complete schedule is available at www.vk.com/artpokaz/



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