Photo by IStories

The Russ­ian author­i­ties are using more sub­tle tricks to hin­der the work of inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists. But jour­nal­ists are no strangers to this. Roman Anin, ISto­ries edi­tor-in-chief, until recent­ly, the head of Novaya Gaze­ta’s inves­tiga­tive depart­ment and also an expert with our Com­mu­ni­ty of Inves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ists – Fond 19/29 has proven that a jour­nal­ist remains a jour­nal­ist in any sit­u­a­tion. He inves­ti­gat­ed his own per­se­cu­tion. He found out who and why had car­ried out a late night search at his home and at the ISto­ries edi­to­r­i­al offices on April 9 and next morn­ing “award­ed” him the wit­ness sta­tus in the crim­i­nal case that was opened five years ago under arti­cle 137, sec­tion 2 of the crim­i­nal code of the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion: Inva­sion of per­son­al pri­va­cy com­mit­ted by a per­son through their offi­cial posi­tion (the max­i­mum penal­ty under this arti­cle is impris­on­ment for a term of up to four years with the depri­va­tion of the right to hold cer­tain offices or to engage in cer­tain activ­i­ties for a peri­od of up to five years. – ed.). The inves­tiga­tive sto­ry was final­ly pub­lished both in ISto­ries and Novaya Gaze­ta under the title ‘Uniden­ti­fied Per­son Roman Anin’

To begin with, the author reminds about the ori­gin of the almost for­got­ten, but as it turned out, not by all, crim­i­nal case. The case was brought in con­nec­tion with Anin’s inves­ti­ga­tion in Novaya Gaze­ta ‘The Secret of Princess Olga. How is Ros­neft Direc­tor Igor Sechin con­nect­ed to one of the most lux­u­ri­ous yachts in the world?’, which was pub­lished in Novaya Gaze­ta in 2016. Olga Sechi­na, the wife of Ros­neft’s state-owned com­pa­ny CEO Igor Sechin (they divorced in 2017) was spend­ing her time on the yacht and gen­er­ous­ly shared pho­tos from the deck on Insta­gram. By com­par­ing pho­tos of the inte­ri­or of St. Princess Olga, as well as geo­t­ags from Insta­gram with the yacht’s itin­er­ary, the jour­nal­ists proved that Olga Sechi­na was sun­bathing on that very yacht, which cost about $150 mil­lion. (On August 16, 2016, Igor Sechin filed a law­suit against the pub­li­ca­tion regard­ing the pro­tec­tion of his hon­or and dig­ni­ty. The court ordered the news­pa­per to pub­lish a retrac­tion — edi­tor’s note). Novaya Gaze­ta, as Anin recalls, sent a request to Ros­neft, ask­ing to explain how Igor Sech­in’s fam­i­ly could afford such lux­u­ry. In response, the jour­nal­ists “received” a crim­i­nal case opened on Sep­tem­ber 20, 2016 on the per­son­al state­ment of Olga Sechina.

“Hav­ing suf­fered” from “unknown per­sons”, Sechi­na not­ed in her tes­ti­mo­ny that only her sub­scribers, about 400 peo­ple “whom she knew per­son­al­ly and trust­ed”, had access to view the infor­ma­tion post­ed on her pages. The arti­cle about the boat, she said, “pro­vid­ed infor­ma­tion for an indef­i­nite num­ber of peo­ple” regard­ing her “as a «sub­ject of per­son­al data”. “This infor­ma­tion con­sti­tutes a legal­ly pro­tect­ed secret”, she explained at the time and stressed that, as she believed,  the col­lec­tion, pro­cess­ing and dis­sem­i­na­tion of such infor­ma­tion with­out her con­sent to pro­vide it was ille­gal. “Thus, by the actions of unknown per­sons, includ­ing employ­ees of Novaya Gaze­ta, I have suf­fered moral harm”, she added.

The case was opened on Sep­tem­ber 20, 2016 but was then sus­pend­ed. It was reopened on March 24, 2021. Anin assumes that his sta­tus as a wit­ness is tem­po­rary. Judg­ing by what the inves­ti­ga­tor was inter­est­ed in dur­ing the night inter­ro­ga­tion and by the way the jour­nal­ist’s role is described in the doc­u­ments, he believes they want to accuse him of dis­clos­ing infor­ma­tion about Sechi­na’s pri­vate life by pub­lish­ing pho­tos from her Instagram.

But the main “strange­ness” to which Anin drew atten­tion when study­ing the mate­ri­als relat­ed to his own “case” was that the FSB and Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee of the RF inves­ti­ga­tors could not “iden­ti­fy” the per­son who had pub­lished the arti­cle under his own name. Each new inves­ti­ga­tor, hand­ing over the case as if pass­ing the baton, not­ed in the doc­u­ments that he encoun­tered dif­fi­cul­ties in find­ing “an uniden­ti­fied per­son from Novaya Gaze­ta, the author Roman Anin”. The inves­ti­ga­tor who brought the case wrote the name of the author of the sto­ry in quo­ta­tion marks. Over time, the quo­ta­tion marks dis­ap­peared from the documents.

Unlike the offi­cial inves­ti­ga­tors, jour­nal­ist Anin not only quick­ly “iden­ti­fied” all the peo­ple involved in his own per­se­cu­tion, but also dis­cov­ered many curi­ous details in their pro­fes­sion­al biogra­phies. Kon­stan­tin Rodi­onchik, the inves­ti­ga­tor who ini­ti­at­ed writ­ing Anin’s name in quo­ta­tion marks, became famous in 2020. Dur­ing the hear­ings on the “Novoye Velichiye” (New Great­ness, the group of young peo­ple accused of cre­at­ing an extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tion plan­ning a coup – ed.) case, one of the defen­dants told how he had been tor­tured dur­ing the inves­ti­ga­tion, and then his tor­tur­er actu­al­ly dic­tat­ed the “tes­ti­mo­ny” to the men­tioned inves­ti­ga­tor Rodi­onchik, after which the sus­pect, who could think lit­tle from the pain, signed it. 

The next inves­ti­ga­tor in the chain, Igor Feduti­nov, from the Main Inves­tiga­tive Depart­ment of the Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee for Moscow was also involved in high-pro­file crim­i­nal cas­es. Besides, he was also “lucky” to have a “famous” boss: he worked under Denis Nikan­drov, who was con­vict­ed in 2016 for bribery.  Late­ly Feduti­nov was in charge of the case of Yuri Itin, the for­mer gen­er­al direc­tor of “The Sev­enth Stu­dio”. Itin’s daugh­ter Mari­na filed a com­plaint with the pros­e­cu­tor’s office against Feduti­nov blam­ing him for hav­ing threat­ened to trans­fer her from a wit­ness to a sus­pect unless she tes­ti­fied about her father’s involve­ment in the embez­zle­ment of mon­ey at ANO “The Sev­enth Studio”.

Final­ly, when the “Sechina’s pho­to case” received the sta­tus of “spe­cial com­plex­i­ty” and end­ed up at the Main Inves­tiga­tive Direc­torate of the Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee of Rus­sia (IC) on 25 March 2021, it was tak­en by inves­ti­ga­tor Alexan­der Neryupov (he had con­duct­ed a night-time search of Anin’s home), who instruct­ed the deputy head of the FSB Inter­nal Secu­ri­ty Depart­ment Alexan­der Gur­topov to under­take oper­a­tional search activ­i­ties against Anin. Major Gen­er­al of the FSB Gur­topov did not escape pub­lic­i­ty either. His name, as Anin dis­cov­ered, is men­tioned in the diaries of Grig­o­ry Rod­chenkov, the for­mer head of the Moscow Anti-Dop­ing Lab­o­ra­to­ry, who fled Rus­sia and lat­er became a World Anti-Dop­ing Agency (WADA) infor­mant. It was with Gur­topov that the FSB oper­a­tion to swap urine sam­ples of doped Russ­ian ath­letes par­tic­i­pat­ing in the 2014 Sochi Olympics was discussed. 

Anoth­er “actor” iden­ti­fied by Anin par­tic­i­pat­ing in his per­se­cu­tion is the so-called “Sixth Ser­vice” of the FSB’s Inter­nal Secu­ri­ty Depart­ment. This ser­vice, the jour­nal­ist con­cludes, after study­ing the mate­ri­als of the crim­i­nal case, is in charge of its reopen­ing and devel­op­ment. The offi­cial task of this ser­vice is to pro­vide state pro­tec­tion for wit­ness­es. Off the record, it is known as the “Sech­in’s spe­cial force” with prac­ti­cal­ly unlim­it­ed pow­ers. The ser­vice was head­ed for some time by Gen­er­al Oleg Feok­tis­tov, who is close to Igor Sechin.  Feok­tis­tov then became deputy head of the Inter­nal Secu­ri­ty Depart­ment of the FSB, and after he left the agency in 2017, he briefly head­ed the secu­ri­ty ser­vice of Rosneft. 

The main ques­tion that Anin answers in the inves­ti­ga­tion of his own per­se­cu­tion is why the FSB oper­a­tives and IC inves­ti­ga­tors pre­tend­ed so long and dili­gent­ly that they could not iden­ti­fy the per­son who had pub­lished the arti­cle ‘The Secret of Princess Olga’ under his own name?

How­ev­er, Anin also finds an expla­na­tion in the case file. Each inves­ti­ga­tor, when prepar­ing doc­u­ments for its exten­sion, wrote an order, “to mon­i­tor and record tele­phone and oth­er con­ver­sa­tions”. Feduti­nov, for exam­ple, in 2017 received per­mis­sion from the Pres­nen­sky Court to “car­ry out inspec­tion and seizure of e‑mail mes­sages” at sev­er­al address­es of Novaya Gaze­ta jour­nal­ists. One of the address­es real­ly belonged to Anin, but he did not use it, and the rest belonged to jour­nal­ists who had noth­ing to do with the arti­cle about the yacht. Feduti­nov also intend­ed to con­duct search­es at the edi­to­r­i­al offices and Anin’s home, and inter­ro­gate the entire man­age­ment of Novaya Gaze­ta. But, appar­ent­ly, the time was­n’t right then.

In fact, Anin con­cludes, the case of the St. Princess Olga yacht pho­to pub­li­ca­tion was a legal oppor­tu­ni­ty for the FSB to fol­low him and his col­leagues for all those years. Thus, the phrase “uniden­ti­fied per­son author Roman Anin” seems absurd only to the “unini­ti­at­ed”. As for the search on April 9, Anin says he under­stood from the very first min­utes that this case was only a pre­text to con­fis­cate all his elec­tron­ic equip­ment, and the pur­pose was to dis­turb his pro­fes­sion­al activ­i­ties, put pres­sure on him as a jour­nal­ist, find out his sources and take revenge for pub­li­ca­tions in Novaya Gaze­ta and IStories.

It all adds up: in ear­ly Feb­ru­ary, ISto­riesi pub­lished an inves­ti­ga­tion into Ros­neft’s pur­chase of a stake in the Ital­ian tire giant Pirelli. In ear­ly March, the oil com­pa­ny sued the pub­li­ca­tion for that arti­cle. And three weeks lat­er, the lead­er­ship of the IC resumed the pre­lim­i­nary inves­ti­ga­tion into the case of pub­li­ca­tion of the pho­to­graph of the yacht St. Princess Olga.

In Russ­ian court prac­tice, there has nev­er been a case where a jour­nal­ist was con­vict­ed for dis­sem­i­nat­ing infor­ma­tion about somebody’s pri­vate life using his offi­cial posi­tion, Anin sums up his inves­ti­ga­tion. He recalls a 2019 deci­sion of the plenum of the Supreme Court. It lists three con­di­tions under which crim­i­nal lia­bil­i­ty can­not arise in such cas­es: if the infor­ma­tion is dis­sem­i­nat­ed in “state, pub­lic or oth­er pub­lic inter­ests”; “if infor­ma­tion about the pri­vate life of a cit­i­zen pre­vi­ous­ly became pub­lic”; if the infor­ma­tion “was made pub­lic by the cit­i­zen him­self or by his will”. Anin is cer­tain that in the case of the Novaya Gaze­ta sto­ry, these con­di­tions have been met. And if the law is fol­lowed, this case has no legal prospects.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly — and I will add this for myself — in the new round of per­se­cu­tion of inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists in Rus­sia, the “Sechin’ spe­cial force” is involved more and more often  while the Themis rests… 

Search tech­nolo­gies used by the author:   search through the mate­ri­als of the crim­i­nal case and the author’s own sources.

Tech­niques used: analy­sis of the data obtained.

Expert Analy­sis and Assessment
Galina Sidorova
Gali­na Sidorova
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Pub­lic Value
100 /100
Entire­ty of the Investigation
90 /100
Rel­e­vance
100 /100
Com­plete­ness
90 /100
Reli­a­bil­i­ty of Sources
95 /100
Read­abil­i­ty
100 /100
Итого
95.8
Strengths & Weaknesses
exclu­siv­i­ty; easy-to-read text; plen­ty of fac­tu­al infor­ma­tion; fine pre­sen­ta­tion of the material
inabil­i­ty to get expert com­ments due to the spe­cial form of inves­ti­ga­tion cho­sen by the author