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Investigators find evidence tying last July's murder of three Russian journalists in Africa to ‘Putin's chef’

Emmanuel Kotofio's personal Facebook page

Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s investigative project Dossier Center has reportedly completed a five-month study of the circumstances surrounding the murder of three Russian journalists in the Central African Republic, concluding that a local gendarme is likely involved in the triple homicide. The suspect allegedly followed the journalists, and remained in constant contact with their driver and with someone who works at one of Evgeny Prigozhin’s companies. Meduza retells the independent television network Dozhd's summary of the report.

The gendarme

Journalist Orkhan Dzhemal, documentary filmmaker Alexander Rastorguyev, and cameraman Kirill Radchenko were murdered in the Central African Republic on July 30, 2018, while collecting footage of mercenaries from the Russian private military company “Wagner.” The PMC is reportedly tied to Evgeny Prigozhin, a catering mogul with close connections to Vladimir Putin. Sources in Khodorkovsk’s now dissolved Investigations Management Center (which organized the documentary expedition) previously told the television network Dozhd that a report about Russian mercenaries in CAR would be one part of a documentary film.

On the evening of July 30, shortly before they were killed, Dzhemal, Rastorguyev, and Radchenko passed through Sibut. Dossier Center managed to speak to two Central African Armed Forces soldiers stationed at the checkpoint on the city’s outskirts. They claimed that a vehicle carrying three armed white men and two Central Africans, including gendarme Emmanuel Touaguende Kotofio, came through the checkpoint 20 minutes before the three journalists’ jeep. The first car allegedly asked the soldiers to let the jeep through, saying “they’re friendlies.” The Russian journalists reportedly left Sibut at 7 p.m., local time, and were killed an hour later.

Call records obtained by Dossier Center indicate that Kotofio was never far from the three journalists, from the moment they landed at Bangui M'Poko International Airport to their drive through Sibut. All this time, he was in constant contact with the journalists’ driver, Bienvenu Duvokamoy. In just three days, the two spoke on the phone at least 47 times. A source also told Dossier Center that Duvokamoy is himself a former gendarme. The two men also switched to new phone lines during their communications, which Dossier Center investigations believe suggests the organization of a special operation.

On the evening of July 30, moreover, the cell towers for both mobile phone operators in the area where the murders took place suddenly went offline, terminating the call records immediately before the killings.

The instructor

Dossier Center also used phone records to tie Kotofio to multiple Russians working in the Central African Republic. Between July and August 2018, he made 98 calls to Alexander Sotov, who is believed to work for a business tied to Evgeny Prigozhin. In CAR, Sotov is officially employed as an “instructor in surveillance, recruitment, and covert intelligence work” for the company “M-Finance,” based on the company’s internal documents. Dossier Center says this business is connected to Prigozhin through its former CEO, Evgeny Khodotov, who owned Lobaye Invest, which the French media says is a subsidiary that represents the interests of Prigozhin’s company “M-Invest.”

According to Dossier Center’s investigation, Sotov’s official supervisor is Valery Zakharov, a national security adviser to CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra. The website Fontanka previously reported that Zakharov has “cooperated with security services” working for Prigozhin. Call records show that Sotov and Zakharov spoke more than 100 times between July and August last year. Dossier Center says Sotov also used a phony American passport (issued to someone named Barret Travis Hammond) to register his local cell phone.

In M-Finance’s payroll records, Sotov’s personal identification number is listed in the same format that journalists have repeatedly attributed to mercenaries working with the “Wagner” private military company.

The fixer

Dossier Center argues that the evidence leads back to Moscow, specifically to a man named Kirill Romanovsky, who works as a special correspondent for Prigozhin’s Federal News Agency. Shortly after the murders, Meduza learned that Romanovsky was the one who found the three journalists’ fixer in CAR: a man named “Martin” with supposed ties to the United Nations. It was “Martin” who recommended the driver who was apparently working with the local gendarmes.

U.N. officials say they were never in contact with the three killed journalists, and Dossier Center speculates that “Martin” is actually an alias. For example, his jeep’s license plate was registered to “Erika Mustermann” (the German equivalent of Jane Doe). His role as a fixer is also in doubt, given that he spent all of July telling the three journalists that he was in Bambari organizing an expedition to film CAR’s gold mines, while phone records show that he was actually 235 miles southwest in Bangui.

When Romanovsky shared the fixer's contact information, he suggested that written correspondence would be better than phone calls. Neither Romanovsky nor Sotov responded to Dossier Center’s new findings, when contacted by Dozhd.

Summary at Dozhd by Lilya Yapparova

Translation by Kevin Rothrock