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.