Murder case dogs Russian minister

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Hours before he was due to set off for the US to hammer out details over his nation's role in a Bosnian peace-keeping force, Pavel Grachev, Russia's Defence Minister, was battling on a different front at home - in a politically explosive libel case.

After being ordered to court, first by a judge and then by President Boris Yeltsin, General Grachev yesterday made a brief appearance in a Moscow courtroom to complain he had been "insulted" by an article in a Russian newspaper which accused him of theft.

The roots of the dispute lie in an unsolved scandal over the assassination over a year ago of Dmitry Kholodov, a reporter with Moskovsky Komsomolets. Kholodov had been investigating corruption in the Russian army during its withdrawal from eastern Germany when he received an anonymous call telling him to pick up a briefcase at a railway station. The case blew up in his face. Moskovsky Komsomolets then accused the minister of illegally receiving a Mercedes paid for by military funds. "A thief should be in jail and not in charge of the Defence Ministry", it wrote.

The general decided to sue, but failed to turn up at the hearings. A judge ordered him to court but the general demurred. President Yeltsin then intervened, ordering him to appear. The case will go on, although to the horror of some journalists, the editor of Moskovsky Komsomolets recently apologised on television to General Grachev.