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Double murder in Russian Defense Industry

A Kremlin-connected executive in charge of one of the country's biggest defense concerns was shot dead Friday and a top official at one of the company's subsidiaries was killed the same way hours later, a double murder that has sent the defense industry reeling.

Igor Klimov, acting general director of the Almaz-Antei Concern and a former aide in the presidential administration, died from bullet wounds outside his Moscow apartment building on Friday morning, in at least the fifth high-profile murder in the capital in the past two months.

Klimov had been delegated by the Kremlin to streamline the development and production of Russia's best-selling air defense systems by merging rival enterprises into an industrial behemoth expected to have annual combined sales in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

On Sunday, Moscow region police said that Sergei Shchitko, commercial director at Almaz-Antei's subsidiary RATEP, was killed by three gunshots to the head shortly before midnight Friday, Interfax reported. The shooting took place when Shchitko was sitting in his car outside a cafe in Serpukhov, the southern Moscow suburb where RATEP is located.

Officials at the Prosecutor General's Office, which has taken over the Klimov investigation, said Friday afternoon that they were looking into his professional activities for clues but could not rule out other leads, such as personal conflicts. It was not clear Sunday whether the office would also oversee the probe into Shchitko's death.

Klimov, who was 41 or 42, left his apartment building on Krymsky Val shortly before 9 a.m. and was walking toward his chauffeur-driven car when a young man brandishing a gun in a plastic bag approached him and demanded that Klimov hand over his briefcase, press reports cited detectives as saying. Instead of succumbing, Klimov tried to fight off the assailant. The tussle was recorded by a surveillance camera on a nearby building, but the quality of the image was poor, Kommersant reported Saturday.

By all accounts, Klimov managed to wrestle the pistol away from his attacker, but did not shoot at the man. There were conflicting reports on the number of bullets that hit Klimov's chest -- three of five or one of four -- and on the moment the first shot was fired, before the scuffle or during.

Investigators told Kommersant that the weapon used in the killing -- a revolver with a silencer -- was not typical for contract hits, which tend to involve more high-tech firearms. Other reports suggested that the attack may have been an attempt either to rob Klimov or to simulate a robbery, since neither his briefcase nor several thousand dollars that he reportedly had in his jacket pocket had been taken.

The assailant, identified as a fair-haired young man in gray camouflage, fled through a neighboring courtyard toward Ulitsa Bolshaya Yakimanka. A police dog lost his trail in the area, suggesting that he may have escaped in a getaway car, Gazeta.ru said.

RIA Novosti and Interfax reported that there had been two assailants, but a police spokesman reached by phone Friday would not confirm this.

Klimov's body was discovered by his wife shortly after the shooting. He died before doctors arrived.

Klimov, who was appointed acting head of Almaz-Antei in February, was charged with the unenviable task of merging more than 40 companies -- among them bitter rivals -- into a giant concern that would virtually monopolize the nation's air defense industry.

Prior to joining the company, founded in April 2002, Klimov had served briefly as an aide to Viktor Ivanov, a deputy head of the presidential administration and a former intelligence officer whom President Vladimir Putin appointed to head Almaz-Antei's board of directors. A number of press reports identified Klimov as a career intelligence officer; however, Kommersant reported that both Almaz-Antei and Klimov himself had denied the claim.

The most bitter rivalry in the nascent concern has been between the two companies that gave it its name, Antei and Almaz, as well as the Oboronitelniye Sistemy group. The companies' top managers have quarreled repeatedly, with each camp hoping to have greater pull in the new concern.

According to earlier press reports, Klimov's predecessor lobbied the interests of Antei, which designed and produced the S-300V and Tor air defense systems, while Klimov defended the interests of Almaz, which designed the better-selling S-300P system.

Oboronitelniye Sistemy, a holding that combines designers and producers, oversaw contracts for selling S-300P series air defense systems to China and upgrading systems for Egypt.

RATEP is one of dozens of smaller companies that make up Antei-Almaz and it, too, has been rocked by disputes in recent months.

After his appointment, Klimov pledged to complete the formation of the concern by year's end, adjust its marketing policies to boost annual sales to $2 billion within the next five years and obtain an arms export license rather than selling through state exporter Rosoboronexport.

As separate companies, Antei exported some $184 million and $60 million worth of air defense systems in 2001 and 2002, respectively. Oboronitelniye Sistemy, by comparison, exported $259 million and $231 million worth of systems in the same period, according to estimates from the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. Almaz, as a design bureau, did not have sales rights but received royalties from the sale of S-300Ps.

CAST's deputy head, Konstantin Makiyenko, said Klimov's murder would most likely stall the formation of Almaz-Antei, perhaps for years.

Klimov's spokesman Vladimir Bespalov said in a phone interview that Almaz-Antei personnel "are all shocked." He declined to speculate on possible motives for the killing, but said that Klimov's deputy, Yan Novikov, would become the concern's interim head.

A meeting of Almaz-Antei's board of directors is set for June 26 and was reportedly scheduled to have confirmed Klimov as general director.

(The Moscow Times 09.vi.03)

 
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