Russian police raided the apartments of several investigative journalists as they prepared to publish a report alleging that one of Vladimir Putin’s top ministers had secretly amassed a corrupt fortune.
Police detained a senior editor of the investigative website Proekt and questioned two others, including editor-in-chief Roman Badanin, shortly before publishing a damning report on Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev. In the report, they claimed that his family had amassed a property fortune worth nearly £ 18 million.
Officially, the reason for the raids was a four-year defamation case for an article about a St. Petersburg businessman. However, the crackdown on the website comes after several investigations by Proekt into Putin and his close circle.
These include investigations into some of Putin’s most feared associates, including Chechnya director Ramzan Kadyrov and businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin. Using leaked property and passport information, the website also claimed in an article last year that Putin had a daughter of a secret lover.
Proekt’s website was offline for a brief period on Tuesday morning, although the Kolokoltsev investigation remained accessible via video on YouTube.
“Yesterday we announced that the article would come out. This morning we were raided. It’s not even hidden, ”Deputy Editor Mikhail Rubin, who was briefly detained Tuesday, told the Insider website.
The apartment of Maria Zholobova, the author of Tuesday’s investigation, was also raided, along with Rubin’s.
Badanin was named a suspect in a defamation case for a 2017 article about a St. Petersburg businessman with suspected mob ties. The businessman was also said to be Putin’s partner.
The Russian government has launched a sweeping crackdown on opposition groups and journalists who have investigated the wealth of Putin’s close associates and top ministers.
The Anti-Corruption Foundation, an investigative team founded by jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny, has been declared an extremist and ordered to be liquidated. He had alleged that Putin had received a 1 billion pound Black Sea palace and that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had received gifts from wealthy oligarchs, sparking mass protests.
Other guerrilla media founded by journalists have also investigated Putin’s close friends and family. Last year, the iStories website alleged that Putin’s former son-in-law had bought roughly $ 380 million worth of stock for a pittance just months after marrying his daughter.
Although the police and courts have crushed protest and opposition movements in Russia, the government has been unable to control the treasures of Russian data that have been leaked and sold on an expansive black market.
That information has become a political nuisance and a national security responsibility. Bellingcat’s investigation website last year used travel and mobile geolocation data for Russian law enforcement to identify an FSB assault squad that it said had been sent to kill Navalny with a novichok poison. .
Similar techniques were used to identify the suspects behind the 2018 Salisbury poisonings as members of Russian military intelligence.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism