[FPSPACE] Russian daily question journalist's suicide version
joberg at houston.rr.com
Tue Mar 6 10:37:02 EST 2007
Kommersant.com headline: Russian daily question journalist's suicide version
Moscow Kommersant.com in English 0815 GMT 06 Mar 07
The Taganka prosecutor's office in Moscow has initiated a criminal investigation on the forcible suicide of Kommersant journalist Ivan Safronov, who died under unknown circumstances last Friday when he fell from a window in the stairway of the Khrushchev-era five-story building in which he lived. The police and prosecutor initially characterized his death as suicide. Safronov, who turned 51 last month, wrote about the army and space. It is known that he was preparing a publication on Russian arms deliveries to the Middle East that could have caused a major scandal.
Two students who live in the building across the courtyard witnessed his death. "At about 4:00, my friend and I stepped out onto the balcony to smoke," recounted Lena, a psychology student at the Sholokhov Pedagogical Institute. "Suddenly we heard a thud, like snow falling off the rooftop. It was almost empty in the courtyard, and we immediately noticed a man lying directly in front of the canopy over the second entranceway to building No 9. He was lying on his stomach, and it seemed to us that he tried to get up, but couldn't." Noticing the open window on the stairway between the fourth and fifth floors and the fact that the man's shoes had come off and his jacket and sweater were pulled up to his armpits, the girls called an ambulance. Their call was not accepted, however. "We cannot collect all the drunks in Moscow on Friday night," they were told, along with the advice to call back in half an hour if he was still there. He did not go away. On the contrary, he stopped moving altogether.
Lena and her friend report that they did not see anyone near Safronov, nor anyone in the windows of the stairway or leaving through that door. At least three of his neighbours on the fourth and fifth floors, an elderly lady, a young mother and a middle-aged housewife, were home at the time. They did not hear any suspicious noises on the stairway.
"The people who live in Apt. 35 have a German shepherd," noted one of them. "As soon as a stranger comes into the entrance, he begins to bark. Since the sound carries through these buildings, all the residents react immediately to the dog."
Safronov had taken a sick day on Friday and gone to a clinic in the Arbat neighbourhood. He left the clinic at 2:00 and took a slow trolley home. He bought oranges (which were found scattered on the stairway along with his cap between the fourth and fifth floors) and made other small purchases near his home.
Safronov was tall and solidly built. It would not have been easy to throw him from the small window, which was habitually left open to accommodate smokers who gathered around it, and certainly not without noise and a fight. Footprints were found on the windowsill and ledge outside the window, however. The snow on top of the cement canopy over the entrance was disturbed where he fell onto it before rolling off and onto the ground below.
An autopsy revealed multiple fractures and injuries to internal organs consist with a fall from a great height. No drugs or alcohol were found in Safronov's blood.
While the theory that he committed suicide was initially dominant in the investigation, those close to Safronov never accepted it. It was suggested that Safronov received a catastrophic diagnosis from his doctor. Safronov had complained of stomach pain since returning from the United Arab Emirates on February 24. Dr Anna Yeletskaya, who was treating him, said that he was suffering only from an ulcer. She noted that Safronov had been uncharacteristically subdued during his last visit, however. Kommersant deputy editor-in-chief Ilya Bulavinov confirmed that his professional situation was satisfactory as well. Safronov's son-in-law Maxim Kovyazin said that "I can't imagine that he did that himself. He would think about his wife and children first, and about his elderly mother who is very sick. He had many problems to solve - helping his son get into an institute this summer, and moving to a new apartment. The Khrushchev-era building is going to be torn down. He had an excellent relationship with his wife. They loved each other passionately. He didn't have any professional problems. Ivan Ivanovich was a very open person. If there had been a conflict, we - the family - would have known immediately. Someone might think that he had money problems, but he hadn't borrowed any money. He lived modestly."
No suicide note was found. His expensive cellular telephone and his wallet, with money in it, were found on the body.
Taganka prosecutor's office investigators told Kommersant yesterday that the results of the forensic examination of the journalist's body would be completed on Wednesday. That evening, however, the Moscow prosecutor's office announced that a criminal investigation of his death had been started. "In the course of a pre-investigatory examination, data was uncovered indicating that the death of Safronov may have been the result of incitement to suicide," the Moscow prosecutor's press service stated. "During the process of investigation, the case may be reclassified," that office added. Opening the case provided a legal basis for investigative activities such as questioning witnesses and receiving access to the records of deceased's telephone calls.
Kommersant was a few steps ahead of the investigators, however. Besides talking to Safronov's neighbours and relatives, Kommersant determined that the last call he made was to his son Ivan on Thursday morning. He spoke to Alina Chernoivanova at gazeta.ru and Kommersant correspondent in St Petersburg Alexandra Gritskova, whom he promised to call back on Friday at 4:00 (the time of his death). His acquaintance Konstantin Gudkov at the space centre in Ussuriysk called him, and Safronov promised to call him back on Monday. Vyacheslav Davydenko called him from the Khrunichev Centre and noted during a short conversation that "Ivan spoke with me like a different person. It seemed to me that something bad had happened."
On Friday, Safronov's daughter Irina called to discuss family matters. Then he spoke with former Kommersant editor-in-chief Alexander Stukalin, who reported that he complained about his health. A few minutes before his death, he received an SMS message from his son saying that he would be home around 6:00.
Investigators found nothing to incite suicide in those phone calls. That does not necessarily mean that all was well, however. Kommersant deputy editor-in-chief Bulavinov noted that Safronov's death may have been violent and related to his professional activities. "We cannot exclude that possibility, even though there is no direct evidence," he said. The newspaper is aware of only one sensitive topic that Safronov was working on.
Safronov stated that he would check information that he had received on possible new deliveries of Russian weapons to the Middle East while at the IDEX 2007 arms exhibition in the United Arab Emirates. That exhibition opened February 17. Safronov was interested in the sale of Su-30 fighter jets to Syria and S-300V missiles to Iran. He had information that those deals would be concluded through Belarus, in order for Moscow to avoid accusations in the West of selling weapons to pariah states. Safronov called the editorial office from Abu Dhabi to say that he had found confirmation of his facts.
"In the first days in Abu Dhabi, Ivan was perky and cheerful as usual," recounted journalist Vladimir Stepanov. "But on the fourth day, he seemed to change. His mood became steadily bad. He even stopped coming to dinner, saying his stomach hurt. Once he woke up the front desk at 6:00 in the morning to ask for analgesic." Stepanov said that Safronov had no personal conflicts with anyone there, however.
Back in Moscow, Safronov did not return to work because of his health. He did attend a press conference held by the head of the Federal Service of Military and Technical Cooperation Mikhail Dmitriyev at ITAR-TASS on February 27, however. There he told colleagues that he had found information that more contracts had been signed between Russia and Syria for the sale of MiG-29 jets and Pantsir-S1 and Iskander-E missiles. He added that he would not write about those deals, however, because he had been warned that doing so would cause an international scandal and the FSB would made charges against him of revealing state secrets stick. Investigations of Safronov for revealing state secrets had been started before, but no charges had veer been filed against him. He did not say who had warned him. The same day, Safronov called Kommersant and said that he would dictate his story about arms deliveries through Belarus over the telephone. He did not do so, however.
Ivan Safronov will be buried on March 7 in Khovanskoe Cemetery.
Remembering Ivan Safronov:
Gen Vladimir Mikhaylov, air force chief commander:
"He is one of those people who are memorable for their creative talent. It was always interesting to talk to him, both as a professional, and as a person. His death still seems absurd. It doesn't mesh with his life-affirming character. He remains talented, pure and honest in our memory."
Andrey Vasilyev, editor-in-chief of Kommersant:
"I became acquainted with Ivan in 1997. I was the head of the Vremya news programme then and he provided friendly consultation to out journalists. Some spaceship broke in space around then and he gave us a lead to point the finger at some Kharkov firm. Wrongly. They sued and we barely got out of it. It was humiliating. Two years later, I returned to head Kommersant, that is, I became ex-Col Safronov's boss. What does a soldier do in those circumstances? He either insists that he is right or slaps the door behind himself. Safronov didn't even quit. A real colonel. So I won't believe in any suicide, no matter what.2
Aleksey Fedorov, president of the United Aircraft Building Corp:
"When speaking about Ivan, words like 'vivacious' and 'forthright' come to mind. He was always passionate about what he did."
Natalia Timakova, head of the presidential press and information department, special correspondent in the political department of Kommersant, 1997-1999:
"Ivan was able to care about everyone, which is part of the journalistic world. He was the only one who brought souvenirs back to his colleagues after international trips. He always considered himself responsible for others. It was a very positive trait, in spite of its childishness. I can't believe that he will no longer call and tell me things to keep me smiling for the whole day."
Maxim Kovalskiy, editor-in-chief of Kommersant-Vlast:
"There are people in every company who form the habitat. They are the subjects of stories, they are quoted, they are the heroes of the internal news. Ivan was such a person. He was significantly older than us. He didn't write about general topics, so he was never "well-known," but specialists knew him well. He was an important part of Kommersant. It is hard to believe what happened. And very sad."
Col-Gen Vladimir Popovkin, commander of the Space Troops:
"A true officer and talented journalist has departed this life. Because of the timeliness and incisiveness of the material he published, he was respected by his colleagues in journalism and in the army. His dedication to his work was striking. To his last day, he gave himself over to his business heart and soul. His optimism was infectious. He had great love for life and any of us could envy his energy."
Alexander Stukalin, deputy editor-in chief of Russian Newsweek, editor-in-chief of Kommersant 2004-2005:
"Everyone knew and loved Ivan from the time he started working. He was a prankster, the life of the party and a father figure to his younger colleagues in the political department. It is a grievous personal and professional loss. I never saw a career path like his before - from officer to the press service and into journalism. He was always proud of his military past, but that never led him to lie for the sake of the generals still there. 'They think I sold out,' he told me once bitterly."
Oleg Demchenko, president of Irkut company:
"My close friend has died. Ivan was a strong person. He couldn't have done it himself. He loved his family too much:
Sergey Yakovlev, editor-in-chief of Kommersant-Dengi:
"He was bright and audacious and always rhyming. He could rhyme every second word, without or without dirty words. You felt at ease around him. He was the life of the party. And he knew this material exhaustively."
Vladislav Borodulin, editor-in-chief of Kommersant Publishing House, 2005-2006:
"Ivan was an amazing person. Not many career military men in our country could go against tradition the way he did. In the middle of the 1990s, when Ivan left the space service, it was the action if a wise man. It was the action of an officer who understood that speaking the truth, even when it was unpleasant, to one's country was much harder and better work. The whole time I knew him, that is what he did - he sought and found the truth."
Sergey Tsivilev, deputy general director and general designer, MiG:
"Ivan was one of the top specialists in the military-industrial complex. Lucid, impartial and straightforward. He held his positions without regard for persons. He was the rare person who felt at home in different companies - among journalists, among army officers, among factory directors. But he always maintained his journalistic sovereignty. He was open to friendship, but no one and nothing ever interfered with his work. Unintelligent people were offended by that. Intelligent people valued it. Everybody read him."
Yuriy Baykov, press secretary to the general director of OAO Almaz-Antey corporation:
"It's barbaric and unfair when I person leaves this life at the height of his powers, as Ivan Safronov did. A real professional, full of life and creative energy. Clever conversationalist, a true friend, a loving husband and caring father. I don't want to use the word 'was'."
Andrey Kolesnikov, Kommersant special correspondent:
"I was recently called into the FSB for questioning. Of course, I told Ivan about it immediately. There was no one else to talk about it with. He said, 'Do you know what about yet?' 'No, I answered, 'but I can guess. Some publication with some state secrets.' 'Blame it all on me.' 'Huh?' 'Say that I told you the state secrets. I know how to act with them. I even like talking to them.' He said it without a moment's hesitation."
Veronika Kutsyllo, deputy editor-in-chief of Kommersant-Vlast, head of the Kommersant political department, 1997-2000:
"When my deputy in the political department Ilya Bulavinov suggested hiring Ivan Safronov, I was a little intimidated. How could I, with just under a year's experience as department head, manage a lieutenant colonel from the aerospace forces who was a good ten years older than anyone else in the department? But we hired Ivan. He was big, blue-eyed, terribly polite and used funny military expressions. He was instantly one of us. He would get information from the most closed sources, and when we asked how he did it, he would smile and say, 'Well, we had a drink'. He loved life very much, and I will never believe that he could die of his own will."
Ilya Bulavinov, deputy editor-in-chief of Kommersant:
"I edited hundreds of articles by Ivan in ten years. We worked well together, even though he sometimes got offended. Now I am editing my first article about Ivan, and I thought to write not a standard obituary with the standard phrases, but this "First Person" column. Ivan loved all of those official procedures, of course, but I am sure that the simple words of the people who knew him would be even more pleasant for him. It's the last thing I can do for him. I would be stupid to promise to get to the truth about what happened last Friday at 9 Nizhegorodskaya St That may or may not be within our power. But we can try. Because Ivan did not leave on his own. He had too good a family for that. I loved his daughter Irina and son Ivan Ivanovich, Jr., too much for that. He had to much going on to do that. Don't worry over there, Ivan, we will try to get to the bottom of it."
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