Klebnikov was probing reporter's murder

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The Independent Online

Pavel Klebnikov, the American newspaperman shot dead on a Moscow street a week ago, had been investigating the notorious gangland killing of another journalist, his publisher said yesterday.

Pavel Klebnikov, the American newspaperman shot dead on a Moscow street a week ago, had been investigating the notorious gangland killing of another journalist, his publisher said yesterday.

In a grimly ironic twist, Valery Streletsky, head of the Russian publisher Detektiv Press, said Mr Klebnikov had been planning a book about the unsolved 1995 murder of the Russian TV journalist Vladimir Listyev. "He had begun to collect material about Listyev's killing," Mr Streletsky said.

But only a few people were aware of Mr Klebnikov's plans and he was as long as three years from publishing the book. Mr Klebnikov's colleagues on the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, which he edited, have said he had not worked on any investigations for three months and they had no idea what he was investigating.

Although analysts have speculated that Mr Klebnikov's killing was connected with his decision to publish Russia's first rich list in May, which irritated the notoriously secretive oligarchs, the police are examining several leads. Nobody has been detained so far.

Mr Streletsky has worked with Mr Klebnikov before; in 2000 he published the Russian-language edition of his book Godfather of the Kremlin; the Looting of Russia, a highly critical look at the Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky who now lives in the UK. If his revelations are true it would not be the first time Mr Klebnikov had shown an interest in the Listyev killing.

In 1996, he wrote an article claiming Mr Berezovsky had something to do with the murder, an allegation he was forced to retract after Forbes admitted that there was no evidence to support that. The tycoon had sued the magazine.

Mr Streletsky has "difficult" relations with Mr Berezovsky who strenuously denies involvement in the Listyev killing, saying it was part of a smear campaign to undermine Boris Yeltsin, then the president of Russia, whose election campaign he helped bankroll. The businessman said that he had no idea what the journalist was working on.

Mr Listyev's murder, like that of most other murdered reporters in Russia, is unsolved. He was shot on the threshold of his Moscow home in March 1995 as he was about to take over the management of the country's main TV channel ORT. The media said he had ruffled feathers by declaring a five-month moratorium on advertising on the revamped channel to stamp out corruption.

Such a move, it was speculated, would have cost advertising firms millions of dollars and may have been the reason for his death. Mr Klebnikov's brothers appealed to the public to find his killer.

"It is the moment of truth for Russia," an angry Peter Klebnikov said. "The country could well have the capacity to build skyscrapers, to solve international conflicts or even to win tennis tournaments. But for as long as resolving disputes or removing someone who stands in the way by murder is considered normal, the country is sick." The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists said that Mr Klebnikov was the 15th journalist to be killed in Russia since 2000 when Vladimir Putin became president, and nobody had been brought to justice for any murders.

The group told Mr Putin: "This culture of impunity sends a shocking message to the world about your indifference to press freedom, and reassures those who use violence to silence their critics that they can literally get away with murder."

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