(Washington) – Eleven Members of the United States Helsinki Commission are calling on Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to do everything in his power to ensure that authorities aggressively investigate the July 9 murder of Paul Khlebnikov, chief editor of the Forbes Russia magazine.
An American journalist of Russian descent, Khlebnikov was shot multiple times by at least one assassin as he stepped outside Forbes’ Moscow bureau. According to the New York City-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Khlebnikov is the 11th journalist in Russia to have been killed in a contract-style murder in the past four and a half years.
“In the interest of justice and accountability, we respectfully urge you to ensure an aggressive investigation into the murder of Paul Khlebnikov and his colleagues whose killings remain unsolved,” the Commissioners wrote in their October 5 letter to Putin. “The most plausible motive appears to be Khlebnikov's investigative journalism which focused on the nexus of business, politics and crime.”
The Times of London reports that Khlebnikov had “earned a reputation for exposing the murky relationship between the Kremlin and a handful of businessmen – known as the oligarchs – who made vast fortunes buying state assets on the cheap during the privatisations of the 1990s.”
“The fear and self-censorship generated by these killings benefit corrupt officials and businessmen, as well as organized crime figures who seek to avoid public scrutiny,” the Commissioners wrote. “A press crippled by fear cannot play the vital role in rooting out corruption and informing the public. Corruption and crime remain significant obstacles to [Putin’s] aim of raising living standards and securing a safe, free and comfortable future for the Russian people. Accountability is essential if you are to make progress in pursuing reforms.”
“Paul Khlebnikov’s love of Russia motivated him to confront corruption in hopes of contributing to a brighter future for the people of Russia,” concluded the Commissioners. “Ultimately, he paid the highest price for his commitment and dedication.”
Forbes published its first Russian edition in April. In May, two months before Khlebnikov’s murder, the magazine published a list of Russia’s 100 richest entrepreneurs, including 36 billionaires.
Khlebnikov was born in New York to a family of Russian immigrants. He began working for Forbes magazine at age 15. Khlebnikov was 41 at the time of his assassination.
Signing the letter to President Putin were Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Ranking Commissioners Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Commissioners Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Senator Russell D. Feingold (D-WI), Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) and Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL).
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.