Yuri Petrovich Shchekochikhin (Russian: Ю́рий Петро́вич Щекочи́хин) (9 June 1950, Kirovabad - 3 July 2003, Moscow) was a Russian investigative journalist, writer, and liberal lawmaker in the Russian parliament. Shchekochikhin made his name writing about and campaigning against the influence of organized crime and corruption. His last non-fiction book was about people who worked as KGB informers.
As a journalist for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, he investigated Russian apartment bombings allegedly directed by the Russian secret services and Three Whales Corruption Scandal which involved high-ranking FSB officers and was related to money laundering through the Bank of New York.
He died suddenly in July 2003 from a mysterious illness, just a few days before his scheduled departure to the United States where he planned to meet with FBI investigators. His medical documents ended up "classified" by the Russian authorities. The symptoms of his illness fit a pattern of poisoning by radioactive materials and were similar to the symptoms of Nikolai Khokhlov, Roman Tsepov, and Alexander Litvinenko. According to Litvinenko and news reports, the death of Yuri Shchekochikhin was a politically motivated assassination.
Investigative journalism and political career
Shchekochikhin graduated from the Journalism Department of Moscow State University in 1975. He worked as an investigative journalist at Komsomolskaya Pravda (1972–1980) and Literaturnaya Gazeta (1980–1996), and then as a deputy editor of the liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta (from 1996). Beginning in the 1990s, he published many articles critical of the First and Second Chechen Wars, human rights abuses in the Russian army, state corruption, and other social issues.
In the summer of 1988 Shchekochikhin published an interview with a lieutenant colonel of the militia Aleksander Gurov, in which the existence of organized crime in the Soviet Union was first publicly stated. That brought fame to both Gurov (who became the head of the 6th Agency of the MVD of the USSR which struggled against organized crime) and Shchekochikhin.
Yuri Shchekochikhin began his political career in 1990, when he was elected as a representative to the Congress of People's Deputies. He was elected to the Russian State Duma from the liberal Yabloko party in 1995. He was a member of a Duma committee on the problems of corruption, and was a UN expert on the problems of organized crime. He was a vocal opponent of the First and Second Chechen Wars.
Since early 1995 he was an author and host of an investigative journalism program called "Special Team" on ORT, Russian television's first channel (then owned by Boris Berezovsky). In October 1995, the heads of the channel closed the program. According to Shchekochikhin, the reason was an episode called "For Motherland! For Mafia!", which was devoted to the Chechen War and was unleashed, in his opinion, by the "leading banks of Russia".
From 2002, Shchekochikhin was a member of the Sergei Kovalev Commission, which investigated allegations that the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings had been orchestrated by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) to generate support for the war.
One of Shchekochikhin's last articles before his death was "Are we Russia or KGB of Soviet Union?" It described such issues as the refusal of the FSB to explain to the Russian Parliament what poison gas was applied during the Moscow theater hostage crisis, and the work of secret services from Turkmenistan, which operated with impunity in Moscow against Russian citizens of Turkoman origin.
He also tried to investigate the Three Whales Corruption Scandal and criminal activities of FSB officers related to money laundering through the Bank of New York and illegal actions of Yevgeny Adamov, a former Russian Minister of Nuclear Energy. The Three Whales case was under the personal control of President Vladimir Putin. In June 2003, Shchekochikhin contacted the FBI and got an American visa to discuss the case with US authorities. However, he never made it to the USA because of his sudden death. Some Russian media claimed that Putin has issued an order to discharge 19 high-ranking FSB officers involved in this case in September 2006 as part of a Kremlin power struggle, but all these officers still continue to work in their FSB positions.
Shchekochikhin died suddenly on 3 July 2003 after a mysterious 16-day illness. It was officially declared that he died from an allergic Lyell's syndrome. His medical treatment and his post-mortem took place at the Central Clinical Hospital, which is "tightly controlled by the Russian Federal Security Service because it treats top-ranking Russian officials". His relatives were denied an official medical report about the cause of his illness, and were forbidden to take specimens of his tissues for an independent medical investigation. Journalists of Novaya Gazeta managed to send his tissue specimens to "major foreign specialists". The experts did not reach any definite conclusion. This caused widespread speculation about the cause of his death, especially since another member of the Kovalev commission, Sergei Yushenkov, was assassinated the same year and the legal counsel and investigator of the commission, Mikhail Trepashkin, was arrested by Russian authorities.
Some news reports drew parallels between the poisonings of Shchekochikhin, Alexander Litvinenko, and president Vladimir Putin’s former bodyguard Roman Tsepov, who died in a similar way in St. Petersburg in September 2004. Others noted Lecha Islamov, a Chechen rebel, who died in a Russian prison in 2004. “All three cases of poisoning – of Islamov, Shchekochikhin and Litvinenko – are united not only by the clinical picture, which is identical even in terms of the details, but also by the fact that the traces of the poisoners clearly point to one address: Moscow, Lubyanka (FSB headquarters),” according to a Chechenpress report written by Zelimkhan Khadzhiev.
Last book and publications
Shchekochikhin's last published book was Slaves of the KGB: 20th Century. The Religion of Betrayal, telling the real stories of some of the many people forcibly recruited by the Russian KGB (the domestic operations of which later became the FSB) to work as undercover informers or agents. These people virtually became their KGB controllers' slaves, betraying their relatives, close friends and colleagues. When he died, he had not finished working on a book about the 20th Century wars in Chechnya.
In an interview he gave just before his death, he said
Many years ago we... gave summed up the mafia in the following phrase: The lion has jumped. This year, in January, we gave the mafia the following characterization: The lion has jumped and is already wearing epaulets. By comparison what is going on today in our security services, in our prosecutor's office, all bandits are simply boy scouts. Today, it is precisely the people who are needed to fight crime and corruption that have raised the flag of corruption and crime. This has not bypassed the secret police; what has never happened before happens constantly now - the protection that they provide, the enormous amounts of money they receive, and the control over ports and banks that they exercise.
At the request of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper staff, the Investigative Committee of the General Prosecutor's Office of Russia reopened the investigation into his death on 27 October 2007. In April 2008 an Investigative Committee official said that there would be another test carried out on his tissue to ascertain whether there had been a case of poisoning. The Prosecutor General of Russia closed the criminal case in April 2009 after the examination has failed to prove poisoning or a violent death.
- Alex Goldfarb and Marina Litvinenko. "Death of a Dissident: The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB." Free Press, New York, 2007. ISBN 978-1-4165-5165-2.
- Tom Zeller Jr (26 November 2006). "From Russia With Love". The New York Times.
- Dossier on Shchekochikhin by Lenta.ru (in Russian)
- Kremlin denies Kursk deception BBC 15 September 2000
- Russia: Corruption Scandal Could Shake Kremlin - Victor J. Yasman, REF/RL, 26 September 2006.
- ДЕЛО О «ТРЕХ КИТАХ»: СУДЬЕ УГРОЖАЮТ, ПРОКУРОРА ИЗОЛИРОВАЛИ, СВИДЕТЕЛЯ УБИЛИ Novaya Gazeta 2 June 2003
- Уволенные указом Путина генералы ФСБ продолжают работать Grani 13 November 2006
- Последнее дело Юрия Щекочихина Yabloko 2 June 2006
- Russia's poisoning 'without a poison' – Julian O'Halloran, BBC Radio 4, 6 February 2007.Retrieved 30 July 2007.
- Julian O'Halloran (6 February 2007). "Russia's poisoning 'without a poison'". BBC. Retrieved 9 November 2013.
- "АГЕНТ НЕИЗВЕСТЕН "Новая газета" настаивает на возобновлении официального расследования обстоятельств гибели Юрия Щекочихина". Novaya Gazeta. 30 October 2006. Retrieved 30 October 2007.
- Yushenkov: A Russian idealist BBC 17 April 2003
- MP's death sparks storm BBC 18 April 2003
- Amnesty International
- Chechen separatists eulogize Litvinenko The Jamestown Foundation
- Yuri Felshtinsky and Vladimir Pribylovsky) The Age of Assassins. The Rise and Rise of Vladimir Putin, Gibson Square Books, London, 2008, ISBN 1-906142-07-6; p. 243.
- Death of Shchekochikhin to be investigated anew, October 29, 2007 (in Russian)
- Mystery Shrouds Shchekochikhin's Death The Moscow Times 4 July 2008.
- Прекращено уголовное дело по факту смерти журналиста и депутата Госдумы Щекочихина, Newsru, 9 April 2009
- Obituary - The Guardian
- Mysterious deaths of Kremlin critics - International Herald Tribune
- Yuri Shchekochikhin: A Tribute - Demokratizatsiya
- YURII SHCHEKOCHIKHIN: HOW LONG CAN ONE WRITE ABOUT THE SAME THING? - Virginie Coulloudon, RFE/RL, 16 July 2003.
- Russia: High-Profile Killings, Attempted Killings In The Post-Soviet Period - REF/RL, 19 October 2006
- Prosecutors open probe into 2003 death of Moscow reporter statement by Committee to Protect Journalists, 30 October 2007
- Kremlin, Inc. Why are Vladimir Putin’s opponents dying? Michael Specter, The New Yorker, 29 January 2007
- Thallium Poisons U.S. Mother, Daughter in Moscow Bradley Cook and Henry Meyer, Bloomberg L.P.
- Site dedicated to Yuri Shchekochikhin in Novaya Gazeta
- Biography and publications
- Personal site of Yuri Shekochikhin
- I have learned to always tell the truth and be afraid of nothing interview with Yuri Shchekochikhin
- Letters from the Presidents Congratulations from Mikhail Gorbachev and Vladimir Putin on his 50th birthday in 2000
- Discussion about Yuri Shchekochikhin, Echo of Moscow
- Last Russian Saint by Vitaly Popov
- Shchekochikhin about bombing of Chechen governmental building in Grozny
- Slaves of KGB. 20th Century. The religion of betrayal (Рабы ГБ. XX век. Религия предательства), Moscow, 1999.