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Clobbering Kashin How a sitting governor may be implicated in the 2010 murder attempt on independent journalist Oleg Kashin

Источник: Meduza
Photo: Maxim Andreev / Kommersant

On September 7, the public learned the names of the alleged attackers who nearly killed opposition journalist Oleg Kashin in 2010. The men seem to be linked to Andrei Turchak, Pskov's powerful governor. Turchak and his allies, however, remain free, while incriminating evidence against them piles up. Meduza takes a look at what we know so far about the attempt on Kashin’s life.

Who is Oleg Kashin and what happened to him?

Oleg Kashin is a famous Russian investigative journalist. Once known for his fawning support of Vladimir Putin, Kashin has more recently become a star of the independent media for his harsh criticism of Russia's authorities. In the early morning hours of November 6, 2010, after arriving in a taxi at his downtown Moscow apartment, he was badly beaten just outside his home. The attackers broke each of his fingers and smashed his head with a heavy object. He was hospitalized in a coma, but later recovered.

How was the investigation handled?

After the assault, then-President Dmitry Medvedev instructed Attorney General Yury Chaika and Interior Minister Rasheed Nurgaliyev to take the investigation under their direct control and do everything possible to solve the crime. Police treated the attack as an attempted murder.

Kashin filed complaints about the way the investigation and the case were handled by the authorities. In 2013, he sued the Russia’s Federal Security Service for failing to follow up on leads properly.

But after the names of the suspects were revealed in September 2015, Kashin changed his tune, writing, “Over the past years, my optimism left me many times, and I didn’t always believe that my case would be investigated to the end. The charges brought against the attackers show that I underestimated Russia’s investigators.”

Who are the suspects and who are the witnesses?

The suspected attackers are Vyacheslav Borisov, Danila Veselov, and Mikhail Kavtaskin. Their names were released to the public on September 7. Two have been arrested and reportedly say they will agree to a plea deal. According to Kashin, Borisov is currently in hiding in Belarus and has been placed on a Russian wanted list.

The three men are all ex-employees of the security department of the St.-Petersburg-based company "Zaslon," which designs and produces aircraft electronics and weapons-targeting systems. The CEO of the company is a man named Alexander Gorbunov, and the company belongs to the family of Pskov Governor Andrei Turchak.

Kashin had once quarreled publicly with Governor Turchak in the blogosphere, calling him an unfriendly word. Kashin wrote in The New York Times in December 2010 that Turchak "was upset by a blog posting of mine arguing that he had his position only because of his ties to the Kremlin." The governor had reportedly asked for an immediate apology from Kashin, but never got one.

Kashin says Zaslon's CEO, Gorbunov, hired the three attackers, paying them 3.3 million rubles for carrying out the beating (about $106,500, according to the exchange rate in November 2010).

Gorbunov, who last week was in a pre-trial detention center in connection with an unrelated case on firearms possession, was unexpectedly released from custody on September 11, reportedly on his own recognizance. He is formally listed in the Kashin case as a witness.

On September 16, a court agreed to the Investigative Committee's request to extend Danila Veselov's pretrial detention. Though Veselov is charged with being one of the men who carried out the attack on Kashin, his arrest has been extended because he stands accused of kidnapping Gorbunov in April 2014. Veselov has reportedly even confessed to kidnapping Gorbunov, though he now says he fears Gorbunov will make an attempt on his life, as revenge for revealing Gobunov's role in the attack on Kashin.

What does the latest evidence say?

The wife of suspect Danila Veselov revealed to the press on September 16 that she is in possession of an audio recording featuring discussions between her husband, businessman Alexander Gorbunov, and Governor Andrei Turchak about how to carry out the attack on Kashin. She says her husband had recorded the conversations and made several copies of the files “just in case.”

Veselova described to Kommersant in an extensive interview how her husband got involved in the plan to attack Kashin. According to Veselova, her husband had met Gorbunov in the mid-2000s. Gorbunov was the CEO of the company Zaslon, owned by the family of Governor Turchak. Danila Veselov started working for the security department of that company, and Yelena Veselova also got a job there (she recently left that job). In 2010, Gorbunov suggested to Veselov that he throw a bucket paint on Kashin, but at a meeting Turchak allegedly insisted that Kashin should be severely beaten, instead, “so he won’t be able to write after that.”

According to Yelena Veselova, her husband had assumed that Turchak had had a serious conflict with Kashin. When he found out that Turchak was seeking retaliation for a comment in a LiveJournal blog post, Veselov was allegedly surprised. But he went through with the orders to attack Kashin anyway, as he feared that backing out of a plan with “influential men” could be dangerous and would cost him his job.

“Now everyone is trying to make it look like my husband decided to take some political stance himself, to work towards a promotion, and that’s why he decided to beat Kashin—apparently to retaliate for the offense to Turchak. My husband did something terrible, and I don’t know how one can justify it. Let him be punished for it, but he shouldn’t have to serve the punishment for everybody,” she said.

Yelena Veselova also claimed that she has received threats from a current security guard at Zaslon. He allegedly told Veselova that no one “gives a damn” about the incriminating evidence she has on Gorbunov and Turchak, and that some people “may not live to see the trial.” Another young man approached Veselova and said that if she makes the audio files public, “bad things” will happen to her.

What does the Kremlin say?

Nothing.

In response to Yelena Veselova’s interview, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has announced that the Kremlin will not comment on Governor Turchak’s role in the attack on Kashin. Peskov says investigators will deal with this matter.

Turchak’s press office has also kept silent on the matter. He has not been detained or even questioned regarding the case.