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Sechin’s special forces Journalists spent years under FSB surveillance after gaining access to ‘private’ Instagram pics

Source: iStories
Vitaly Nevar / TASS

For years, the Russian FSB had investigative journalist Roman Anin and his former colleagues from the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta under surveillance. This began in 2016, after Anin authored a report for the newspaper about a multi-million dollar yacht allegedly belonging to Olga Rozhkova — who was married to Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin at the time. A month ago, FSB agents raided Anin’s apartment in connection with this case. Though he is considered a witness thus far, Anin is convinced that the authorities want to make him a suspect in the investigation. In a new report published by Novaya Gazeta and iStories — the investigative outlet where Roman Anin is now editor-in-chief — the journalist breaks down the case materials, revealing which investigators have been handling the case and how the investigation is connected to Sechin and the FSB.

Doin’ it for the gram

In July 2016, Novaya Gazeta published a report authored by Roman Anin titled, “The Secret of Princess Olga.” It claimed that Olga Rozhkova — the then-wife of Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin — was the owner of the St. Princess Olga, a yacht worth nearly $100 million. As evidence, the article presented photos from Rozkhkova’s private Instagram account. 

In response, Igor Sechin filed a lawsuit against Anin and Novaya Gazeta. The Rosneft head won the claim, and in December 2016 the newspaper published a retraction of the article. But apparently, even before that, in September 2016, the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case over the disclosure of information about a person’s private life at Olga Rozhkova’s request. Roman Anin knew nothing about it until his apartment was searched in April 2021. 

State investigators consider the fact that Anin’s article included photos from Olga Rozhkova’s private Instagram account, which had approximately 400 followers, a violation of the law. 

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Not everyone has what it takes Roman Anin, whose home and newsroom were raided by federal agents last week, explains the challenges of investigative journalism in Russia today

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Not everyone has what it takes Roman Anin, whose home and newsroom were raided by federal agents last week, explains the challenges of investigative journalism in Russia today

True detectives

The first investigator handling Anin’s case was Konstantin Rodionchik, who became well-known in 2020 when a defendant in the controversial “New Greatness” extremism case, Ruslan Kostylenkov, accused state investigators of torturing him to extract a confession (Kostylenkov claimed that he was forced to sign a confession that another investigator “practically dictated” to Rodionchik). During the three months that Rodionchik investigated Anin’s case, he instructed the FSB to “monitor and record” the journalist’s “telephone and other conversations.”

Then, the case was transferred to investigator Igor Fedutinov. He worked under the leadership of Denis Nikandrov, who was convicted of taking bribes, and handled the investigation into former Seventh Studio CEO Yuri Itin. Within the framework of Anin’s case, Fedutinov gained access to three email accounts. One of them was Anin’s old inbox, while the two others belonged to colleagues of his from Novaya Gazeta’s investigations department, who had nothing to do with the reporting on the St. Princess Olga yacht. 

Fedutinov suspended the investigation in April 2017, on the grounds that the authorities allegedly hadn’t identified a suspect in the case. However, he instructed the FSB to continue monitoring Anin. The journalist believes that from the very beginning, state investigators knew that he was the “unidentified” suspect in the case, but pretended that they couldn’t identify him, in order to keep him under surveillance.

In March 2021, the Investigative Committee decided to reopen the investigation. The case was taken up by investigator Alexander Neryupov. He asked the FSB to find the “unidentified person,” who should be brought in as a suspect. The next day, the FSB provided a report with information on Anin, his girlfriend, and his parents. It was issued by FSB Major General Alexander Gurtopov, who was mentioned in the diaries of whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov — the former director of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory, who fled to the United States. 

‘Sechin’s spetsnaz’

Referencing materials from the criminal case, Anin writes that the investigation was handled by the FSB’s Sixth Service — an office under the Internal Security Directorate that the media has dubbed “Sechin’s special forces” and described as one of the FSB’s most influential units. The Sixth Service was previously under the leadership of Sechin’s ally, General Oleg Feoktistov, who, along with the Rosneft CEO, acted as a witness in the case against Russia’s ex-Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukaev

Anin speculates that the security forces returned to his case because of an investigation published by iStories journalist Roman Shleynov in February 2021, about Rosneft purchasing a stake in the Italian tire manufacturer Pirelli. Rosneft filed a lawsuit against iStories in March, and the main character in the investigation filed another claim against their newsroom in April.

There is no judicial precedent in Russia of a journalist being convicted of distributing information about a person’s private life by means of his official position, Anin writes. He also notes that his article about Olga Rozhkova’s purported ownership of the multi-million dollar yacht meets the conditions under which such a criminal case cannot be launched. 

In accordance with a ruling handed down by the plenum of the Russian Supreme Court in December 2018, there are no grounds for criminal prosecution if 1) the information in question is disseminated in the interests of the state, society, or other public interest; 2) the information about the private life of a person has become publicly available previously; or 3) the information was made public by the citizen in question or at their will. Anin believes his article meets the first two conditions. 

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Summary by Olga Korelina

Translation by Eilish Hart

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