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Journalist from popular Russian Telegram channel is arrested for alleged forgery, as police seize the outlet’s computers

Source: Meduza

On May 8, police arrested Mikhail Kumbrov, the producer of the Telegram news channel Mash, on charges of document forgery, sources told the news agencies Interfax, TASS, and RBC. Kumbrov now faces up to six months in prison, up to two years of community service, or a fine as high as 80,000 rubles ($1,225). Maxim Iskanov, Mash’s CEO and co-owner, has confirmed that police have opened a criminal investigation, but he hasn’t clarified the exact charges.

According to media reports, Kumbrov used phony documents to try to obtain a recording of the final communications between dispatchers at Sheremetyevo airport and the pilots of the Sukhoi Superjet 100 who made an emergency landing on May 5, which led to a massive fire on board that killed 41 people. Kumbrov allegedly emailed the request to the Moscow Center for Automated Air Traffic Control, posing as an official in the Attorney General’s Office. According to RBC, the center’s security service flagged the request as “suspicious.” Doubting the email’s authenticity, air traffic control authorities asked Kumbrov to resubmit his request in person. When he showed up, police arrested him.

Mash CEO and co-owner Maxim Iskanov told RBC that he knows nothing about any document forgery. “My staff don’t do that kind of thing. Mash is a well enough respected and known publication that we’re not afraid to send these requests in our own name,” he said. Iskanov told Interfax that Kumbrov was arrested while meeting with sources involved in Mash’s investigation into the SSJ100 tragedy.

Iskanov also says police held Kumbrov for eight hours before they allowed him to speak to a lawyer. In a Telegram post on May 10, Mash reported that Kumbrov is being held at a temporary detention center. A day earlier, law enforcement officials raided Mash’s newsroom. The channel says officials seized all its computer equipment and spent about six hours interrogating several staff members. “They threatened them, and they pressured them, and they tried to extract information from them that they couldn’t possibly have,” Mash said in a public statement.

After the raid, Iskanov said in a video that Mash’s reporting methods “are unpopular with many people.” Following stories that police have launched a criminal case against Mikhail Kumbrov, Mash announced on Telegram that it “won’t stop reporting the news or speaking the truth.”

Mash is one of the most popular Telegram channels in Russia. According to the website Tgstat (which ranks Telegram channels in five different languages), Mash is Russia’s third-largest audience on Telegram. Launched in March 2017, the channel currently has more than 572,600 subscribers. One of Mash’s first investors was News Media founder Aram Gabrelyanov, but he cashed out in April 2018, selling his shares back to Mash’s management.

Alexander Baklanov

Translation by Kevin Rothrock