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Contract Murder of Vladimir Sukhomlin linked to Police

Two police officers were quickly detained last week on suspicion of carrying out a gruesome contract murder of software designer and military web site editor Vladimir Sukhomlin, 23, who was beaten to death with baseball bats Jan. 4.

Yet despite reports that police also have detained a man accused of hiring the killers, Sukhomlin's family and friends say the case appears far from solved.

Sukhomlin's death was a shock to his friends in Russia's Internet community, who knew him as Cliver, and to military experts and buffs, who relied on his sites on military history, weapons and wars.

"He was killed by the criminal structure that our police have turned into," the programmer's father and mentor, Moscow State University professor Vladimir Sukhomlin, said by telephone Sunday. "He received a martyr's death. They turned his head into a mess. And these are police officers, who are supposed to be protecting us. That's what's horrible. They are a criminal organization."

On the night of Jan. 4, Sukhomlin, who had gone to meet a potential client at a movie theater on Leninsky Prospekt in southwest Moscow, was dragged into a Lada car by two police officers on the pretext of checking his documents. As he was being driven away, he called 02 for the police and the call was recorded.

Sukhomlin's body was found at an empty lot in Solntsevo, a district on the far outskirts of Moscow.

Two police lieutenants from the town of Balashikha just outside Moscow, identified by the Izvestia newspaper by only their last names, Goncharov and Vorotnikov, were detained Thursday, five days after the killing, and reportedly told police they had received $1,150 to kill Sukhomlin.

The person they pointed to as the one who had hired them -- the director of a St. Petersburg company called Plastorg, Dmitry Ivanychev -- was detained Friday, Izvestia said. A suspected accomplice, a private guard, was also detained.

Izvestia quoted police investigator Igor Zuyev as saying it was too early to speak about motives, "but it is already clear that the murder is connected with the programmer's professional activity."

Police and prosecutor's office officials could not be reached for comment Sunday. Duty officers in the Moscow and Balashikha police departments declined to comment.

Professor Sukhomlin said investigators told him that both suspected killers came from families of security officials -- one from the FSB and another from the Federal Border Service -- and behaved extremely arrogantly immediately after their arrest.

But he and his son's friends, reached Sunday by e-mail and telephone, were skeptical about Plastorg's involvement and said they had not known of Sukhomlin doing any business with a company of that name.

Instead, Professor Sukhomlin pointed to the ACRUS chemical holding, which had contracted with Jera Systems -- an IT company where his son worked -- to create software to process its turnover and documentation. He recalled that his son had told him about opposition within the company to the software, designed to make operations more transparent.

Jera Systems general director Viktor Denisov confirmed Sunday that his company had had problems with ACRUS, but said everything was now fine.

Denisov, who described himself as an old friend of Sukhomlin's, said that he did not know of any business projects that could have justified a contract hit.

Denisov said he believes Sukhomlin's death could have been a result of his cooperation with the secret services. "I tend to believe that Volodya by accident found out something that he was not supposed to know," he said.

One of the obituaries on the Internet described Sukhomlin as Russia's first "Internet warrior." During NATO's bombings of Yugoslavia in 1999, he first wanted to go and fight in Serbia, but his father said he convinced him he could put his skills to use for the cause. Sukhomlin launched an anti-NATO site, Serbia.ru, that was attacked by Western hackers, his father said.

During the second Chechnya war, he had maintained a still-active site, Chechnya.ru, which was meant to counter separatist sites such as Kavkaz.org.

His best-known project is Military Historical Forum portal at www.vif2.ru -- one of Russia's largest sources of news and analysis on military-related subjects. "He was an authority in the world of the Internet and among those involved in military issues," said Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.

Vedomosti military industry reporter Alexei Nikolsky said the site was a valuable resource. "It helped greatly in reporting on the military industry and weapons trade," Nikolsky said.

Professor Sukhomlin said secret services are likely to have monitored his son's activities, but he does not believe they were involved in his murder. "At first they were probably concerned that he might damage state interests, but then they got to trust him," he said. "He was such a patriot."

Another colleague of Sukhomlin's, who did not want to be named, said the IT business, though still small in terms of capitalization, is often dangerous because of the money at stake when writing accounting systems for multimillion-dollar companies. He also said that Sukhomlin was writing software for the Defense Ministry.

(The Moscow Times 13.i.03)

 
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