Russia’s Top Investigator Accused of Death Threats

The editor-in-chief of Russian opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta accused on Wednesday the head of the country’s Investigative Committee of voicing death threats toward one of the newspaper’s staffers.

Alexander Bastrykin’s bodyguards forced the paper’s news editor Sergei Sokolov earlier this month to go with them to a forest in Moscow where Bastrykin threatened the journalist, Dmitry Muratov said in an open letter.

“You even made a good joke saying you would be personally investigating the case” of Sokolov’s possible death, Muratov said.

Bastrykin’s words were likely an emotional outburst, Muratov said. He added on Kommersant FM radio that Sokolov had left the country and would not return until the chief of the Investigative Committee acknowledges losing his temper during the incident.

Bastrykin did not comment on the story on Wednesday. An emailed request for comment to the Investigative Committee went unanswered.

Bastrykin and Sokolov had a public falling-out over a bloodbath in 2010 in the village of Kushchyovskoye in Krasnodar region, where a local gang murdered 12 people, including four children.

One member of the gang, a former municipal deputy from the ruling United Russia party, got away with a fine of 150,000 rubles ($4,500) last month after being found guilty of covering up the murders. The sentence prompted Sokolov to dub the Investigative Committee and other state officials “the foundation of power” of such gangs.

Sokolov later apologized to Bastrykin, who refused to accept the apology and said the journalist’s words would have merited a duel in tsarist times.

Five prominent journalists, including first deputy editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy radio, Vladimir Varfolomeyev staged an unsanctioned picket in support of Sokolov by the Investigative Committee’s office in downtown Moscow on Wednesday. They were briefly detained, but released without any charges.

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