15 Jun 2012

Death threat denied by investigator

5:55 am on 15 June 2012

Russia's chief investigator has denied threatening to kill an investigative reporter over a story that criticised his agency.

Investigative Committee (SK) chief Alexander Bastrykin has described as nonsense accusations that he had arranged for the journalist to be driven to a forest before threatening his life.

The BBC reports he admitted publicly rebuking Sergei Sokolov, who works for Novaya Gazeta, where he is deputy editor.

But he denied meeting him privately to threaten him and joke about investigating his death.

Sokolov is said to be now staying in an unspecified foreign state.

Sokolov's editor, Dmitry Muratov, used an open letter to Mr Bastrykin on Wednesday to accuse him of having threatened Sokolov's life at a recent meeting.

he wrote that Mr Bastrykin invited Sokolov to accompany him to a conference in the city of Nalchik in the North Caucasus on 4 June.

Once at the conference, the SK chief then publicly berated Sokolov for an article he had written accusing Mr Bastrykin of failing to punish the perpetrators of a mass murder in 2010 at Kushchevskaya in southern Russia.

Audio of the two men's exchange was published by Russian news website Life News.

Sokolov can be heard apologising for the tone of his article but not its gist. The SK chief retorts by accusing the journalist of insulting him.

"In the days of the tsars, Mr Sokolov, this would have led to a duel," Mr Bastrykin says.

Second exchange

In his letter, Muratov accuses the SK chief of a second exchange with his deputy editor, this time without witnesses in a forest outside Moscow.

Bastrykin admitted berating Sokolov at the conference in an interview for Izvestia newspaper on Thursday.

However, he denied any subsequent exchange in a forest, quipping: "The work is so hard that there's no question of nature study trips."

Responding to Muratov's letter, he described it as an "artful mix of fact and barefaced lies".