Kommersant: Ivan Safronov Was Killed

Following the mysterious death by “apparent suicide” of the military affairs reporter Ivan Safronov in Moscow this weekend, new questions continue to come up. Today, Safronov’s employer, the newspaper Kommersant, published a harrowing story under the bold title “Ivan Safronov Was Killed,” including witness accounts, which raise increasingly urgent doubts about the possibility of murder. The Associated Press is also reporting that Safronov was working on a sensitive story about Russian plans to provide advanced weaponry to Syria and Iran.

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From Kommersant:

Ivan Safronov Was Killed Prosecutor begins an investigation of “incitement to suicide” 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 neighbors on the fourth and fifth floors, an elderly lady, a young mother and a middle-aged housewife, were hole 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 neighborhood. 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 Eletskaya, 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 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 neighbors 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 center in Ussuriisk called him, and Safronov promised to call him back on Monday. Vyacheslav Davydenko called him from the Khrunichev Center 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 Dmitriev 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.

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