The founder of one of Russia’s leading investigative media outlets, Vazhnye Istorii, Roman Anin has been interrogated twice in the space of three days and is clearly being targeted by the judicial authorities and the Federal Security Service (FSB).
The first time was when FSB agents searched his home for seven hours on the night of 10 April, confiscated the tools of his work (computers, phones and USB sticks), and then took him away for interrogation. The second time was two days later, when he was questioned for more than an hour at the headquarters of Russia’s Investigative Committee.
The winner of several journalism awards, Anin was questioned on both occasions in a criminal investigation into an alleged “violation of privacy” reported in 2016 by Olga Sechina, the wife of Igor Sechin, the CEO of the Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft and President Vladimir Putin’s former chief of staff.
Sechina’s complaint was prompted by a story published in the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta in which Anin reported that she often sailed on a yacht called the “Princess Olga” worth more than 100 million dollars. The investigation was originally shelved without any action being taken, but was reopened on 25 March without any explanation being given.
“The police and judicial harassment of Roman Anin constitutes a new attack on investigative reporting in Russia,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “This journalist risks several years in prison if prosecuted. We firmly condemn this intimidation attempt and call on the authorities to close this baseless investigation.”
As a result of the successful libel suit that Sechin brought against Novaya Gazeta in 2016 over the yacht story, the newspaper was forced to publish a notice saying: “By decision of the court, the article is recognised as having reported false information and as having defamed Igor Sechin.”
According to the coordinator of the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an international consortium of investigative journalists, this new investigation could be linked to a story by Anin a month ago about the FSB deputy director’s alleged links with organised crime. Vazhnye Istorii, which is an OCCRP member, suspects that Sechin got the investigation reopened in order to intimidate Anin.
Shortly after the 12 April interrogation, Rosneft issued a statement accusing Vazhnye Istorii of waging an “information war” designed to “denigrate the company and its executives.” Rosneft has brought ten lawsuits against journalists in the past two months, two of them against Vazhnye Istorii reporters.
RSF has previously reported cases of editorial interference benefitting Rosneft. The staff of the business newspaper Vedomosti were forced to delete or modify stories about the oil company in April 2020 following the paper’s acquisition.
Russia is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF's World Press Freedom Index.