KIEV, Ukraine -- Kharkiv police chief suspects editor was murdered because of his professional activity.
Three weeks after the disappearance of Kharkiv editor Vasyl Klymentiev, there are no clear answers, only versions and plenty of questions, including: Was he working on a story for his small Novy Styl newspaper that could have gotten him killed?
Solving the mystery has attracted the attention of the top law enforcement officials in the nation, including Interior Minister Anatoliy Mohyliov. On Aug. 26, Mohyliov announced that the investigation will be coordinated from Kyiv, since the case might involve both current and former police officials.
On the morning of Aug. 11, Klymentiev set the alarm system in his apartment and left. Nobody has seen him since. A few days later, Kharkiv police launched an investigation into possible premeditated murder.
Even though investigators said they are not sure that’s what happened, Kharkiv chief of police Oleksandr Barannik on Aug. 27 said he suspects Klymentiev was murdered because of his professional activity.
67-year-old chief editor and publisher of the Novy Styl newspaper, Klymentiev kept a low profile. He always kept aloof. He was seen a lot at press conferences conducted by top-ranked police and prosecutors. They were the focus of his coverage.
The newspaper never had steady funding and its circulation varied. “Sometimes, if we had a scoop, we would publish 5,000 copies, sometimes 3,000,” Petro Matvienko, Klymentiev’s deputy said. Klymentiev has repeatedly tried to push the paper to retail, but it never happened.
But money was a recurring problem.
“Where did the money come from? Mostly, it was Klymentiev’s pension,” Matvienko said.
Klymentiev also took money from people he covered – including some who got into trouble with government officials.
“There are a lot of businessmen who get pressed. Some of them would come to Klymentiev and say – ‘the authorities are taking my business away.’
Klymentiev would help them out," Matvienko said.
"Then they would ask ‘how can we express our gratitude?’ and he would say – you can pay the print of our next issue or distribute the paper among your friends. That would be enough.”
Klymentiev focused his coverage on corrupt police officers and judges – so- called “werewolves.”
His friends say he was an anti-corruption crusader on these explosive and potential dangerous issues. But others suggest he got caught up in playing dirty games by smearing top officials in return for money.
Novy Styl scrutinized Kharkiv officials, such as the head of the Kharkiv tax administration, Stanyslav Denysiuk, and deputy prosecutor Sergiy Khachaturian.
Unsurprisingly, given his line of work, Klymentiev received threats. At a press briefing of former prosecutor Vasyl Sinchuk, he complained that somebody was shadowing him. According to Matvienko, Klymentiev rarely left his home in the days before his disappearance.
Matvienko believes that Klymentiev is dead. “His disappearance, or murder is definitely related to his job,” Matvienko insists. “There are a lot of people out there who were afraid that Klymentiev would disseminate negative information about them.”
Police think the same way. “The most feasible version is murder related to his professional activity,” Barannik, the Kharkiv police chief, said. “It’s not revenge. It rather looks like somebody wanted to prevent publication of compromising materials.”
Deputy Interior Minister Vasyl Farynnyk doesn’t rule this version out or others – such as murder by someone close to him. Farynnyk also didn’t rule out the possibility that Klymentiev might be still alive.
Investigators have published leads. They are questioning people named in Klymentiev’s stories.
Some of them might be unhappy with the author since, according to Barannik, accuracy and fairness weren't always hallmarks of Klymentiev’s journalistic skills.
Other times, Klymentiev turned out to be right on the mark and officials acknowledged that one of his reports provided the grounds for launching an ongoing investigation into a former police official.
When there is a murder, there is a body,” said Serhiy Yermakov, correspondent of Ukraina Kryminalna (Criminal Ukraine) newspaper. “There is no body, only a cell phone found under some mysterious circumstances.”
Klymentiev’s cell phone was found in Pechenizhske water reservoir on Aug 17.
One local resident found a cell phone and activated the found SIM card in his own phone. Nobody can explain how the guy guessed a pin code and why he took the SIM card, not the phone.
Klymentiev’s brother received an automatically generated message notifying that the number is in use again. He called the number and the man who answered said he found the phone. Police searched the area and divers searched the lake.
Shortly before Klymentiev’s disappearance, Matvienko said they went to take pictures of the house of a tax inspector, Denysiuk, the focus of a story.
The inspector lives near the reservoir where the phone card was found.
But Matvienko doesn’t think that Klymentiev might have returned to the same place.
Although law enforcement says that the Klymentiev case will be solved, Matvienko is pessimistic. He said he trusts the investigators, but not their bosses.
He calls the incident “Gongadze case #2” – a reference to muckraking journalist Georgiy Gongadze, who was beheaded on Sept. 16, 2000, in one of Ukraine’s most sensational unsolved crimes.
He regards the interior minister’s decision to take “personal control” over the case as a PR stunt.
On the other hand, hope exists that the authorities will solve the case to calm fears about what many regard as renewed curbs on freedom of expression since President Viktor Yanukovych took power on Feb. 25.