The head of Russia’s Investigative Committee has denounced accusations of Mafia-style death threats to a reporter as a “completely made up” story but nevertheless apologized before the editor.
Aleksandr Bastrykin slammed the report as “stupid things and insinuations of dishonest journalists,” adding that the whole forest trip and death threats story was lies.
On Wednesday, Novaya Gazeta’s editor-in-chief accused the Russian chief investigator, Bastrykin, of driving one of his journalists to a remote forest location and threatening to personally kill him. The newspaper's editor alleges that its top investigative reporter Sergey Sokolov outraged Bastrykin with an article exposing the “Russian FBI” to a 2010 mass murder case cover-up.
"The whole story is not worth an empty eggshell. It's a delirium of an inflamed brain. Nobody took anyone anywhere. If you had been driven to a forest, threatened with death – what would your first reaction be? To run to the police. But they kept silent for a week," Bastrykin told Izvestia newspaper.
The official, however, did not deny that he publicly dressed down the reporter over the controversial article while meeting Sokolov in the southern Russian city of Nalchik.
Bastrykin, who felt insulted for himself and his colleagues, said Sokolov's article was rude and disgusting.
“I could not even imagine that the journalists and editors of the Novaya Gazeta would sink as low as plain lies,” he added.
The official’s response was the first step in the Investigative Committee counterattack, but it is likely to continue as several chief editors of popular Russian media outlets, including Novaya Gazeta, said they have been invited to a meeting with Bastrykin on Thursday.
The meeting ended in sudden and total reconciliation. Bastrykin apologized for the “nervous breakdown” at the conference in Nalchik. Muratov said that this was the end of the conflict. The two men then thanked each other and shook hands.
But even before Bastrykin had a chance to offer his explanation, Russian media and public organizations flared up a scandal, demanding a public investigation into the incident and attempting to hold protests near the Investigative Committee’s headquarters.
After NG published the story, one of the Russian media watchdogs also claimed that Sokolov had called him and said that Bastrykin promised to “cut off his head and chop off his legs” when they were in the forest.
Pavel Gusev, the head of the mass media commission of the Russian Public Chamber said that the Investigative Committee should join the probe into the incident and duly report about its results.
The Moscow Union of Journalists addressed the Prosecutor General’s office with a request to probe the conflict and the head of the Public Chamber’s commission for citizen security and control over law enforcement bodies, Anatoly Kucherena, has said that his commission had taken the situation under special control.
The scandal also became a hot topic among the Russian internet community, with popular personalities taking the journalist’s side. Many joked that the Thursday meeting with chief editors could also take place in a forest.