SERGEI DUBOV was an entrepreneur, and a brilliant businessman. He created a publishing empire from scratch in only three years.
Born in Moscow in 1943, he graduated from the Moscow Polygraphic Institute in 1965, as an editor. He began his career working as an editor on the books programme at Ostankino Television, then moved to Knizhnoe Obozrenie ('Books Review'), a publisher's weekly where information on all new publications appears. Gorbachev's perestroika found him in the distribution department of Novoe Vremya ('New Times'), a magazine set up in 1943 as a fortnightly supplement to the daily Trud ('Labour'). From 1947 it became a weekly and had seven foreign editions. It was financed by party and trade-union money, and most of its foreign correspondents were one way or another connected with the KGB.
Dubov appeared on the business scene at the beginning of 1990 in an atmosphere of complete economic chaos. Everybody in Moscow journalism was surprised when he suddenly became the owner of the New Times building, a prime property on Pushkin Square, off the former Gorky Street, which houses two rival newspapers, Izvestia and Moscow News. He renamed it NT - New Times Centre of Information and Business, dismissed half the journalistic staff and one by one closed the NT offices abroad. One of the last correspondents, who returned to Moscow in September 1992, was the London correspondent, Sergei Babusenko.
Dubov soon turned a propaganda sheet into one of the best news magazines. NT became, in January 1992, New Times Publishing House, with Dubov as president, publishing Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Complete Works in seven volumes in an edition of 2 million copies. He created a series of other businesses: Vita Centre, a paperback giant, publishing on cheap paper books by popular Western writers such as an 11-volume, 700,000-copy Complete Works of Erich Maria Remarque, a favourite writer in Russia. Next was Vsye Dlya Vas ('All For You'), a hugely successful advertising weekly printed in millions of copies and sold through Dubov's elaborate distribution network in 30 leading cities; and the English-language New Times International and Moscow Business Week.
Last summer I bought a copy in Moscow of his Who's Who in Russia and CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), an expensive hardcover publication compiled from information written by those listed in it. Dubov calculated correctly that they would be the first buyers. One I met had bought 100 copies.
In mid-1993 a series of new publications appeared on the market - Domashnii Advokat ('Your Own Lawyer'), Amour, a lonely hearts magazine, and We Offer, a monthly in English, French and Spanish, offering cheap Russian labour abroad.
By then Dubov was regarded as one of the leading entrepreneurs in Russia; his publishing empire was vast. He was a shadowy figure, never giving interviews. He had borrowed heavily, much of the money from dubious sources. With the rouble shrinking in value every week and sky-high interest rates he was in difficulties from the outset. He started receiving death threats by post and by telephone.
On Tuesday, two days before his 51st birthday, he was murdered. The future of his empire is now unpredictable.