Paul Klebnikov, the New York-born editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, is shot four times at point-blank range as he leaves his office in central Moscow. Police say that at least two gunmen were involved, and that it looked like a contract killing.
Klebnikov, 41, a persistent critic of the means by which many of Russia’s oligarchs made their huge fortunes, had written a highly uncomplimentary book, Godfather of the Kremlin: The Decline of Russia in the Age of Gangster Capitalism, about Boris Berezovsky, the oligarch granted asylum in Britain by Tony Blair’s government. He was writing another exposé of the incestuous, allegedly corrupt relationship between commerce and politics in Russia when he was shot.
Berezovsky, who had been in litigation with Klebnikov for six years, said in London: “In Russia, if you publish a list of the country’s richest people, it’s like informing on them to the prosecutors. Somebody clearly did not like the way he operated and decided to sort it out with him, Russian style, not through the English courts, as I did.”
Klebnikov had written in Forbes about how Moscow now has more billionaires than any world city. The combined wealth of Russia’s 36 richest people equates to one-quarter of its gross domestic product. This is the “golden horde” – hustlers, financiers, former Party apparatchiks – who took over huge swathes of the Russian economy in the wholesale privatisations of the 1990s.
There have been casualties. Berezovsky is in exile. Mikhail Khodorkovsky is in jail, on trial for alleged tax offences. The assets of his company, Yukos, Russia’s second-largest conglomerate, are frozen. Khodorkovsky is in jail because, it is claimed, he offended President Putin by straying from the economic into the political sphere.
The Khodorkovsky prosecution, and the pursuit of Berezovsky, brought international criticism of the president and unease among multinationals about investment. But domestically, it has done Putin no harm at all. Polls show that most people approve of his tough stance towards those perceived to have looted the nation’s assets.
With Khodorkovsky incarcerated, Business Week claims that Vladimir Potanin is now the richest man in Russia, with a $32bn business empire and personal wealth of $3bn. His holding company, Interros, accounts for 1.5 per cent of Russia’s GDP. Others say that Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club, is richer. There have been reports that Potanin, too, will buy an English Premiership football club, perhaps the champions Arsenal.