Investigative Journalist Arrested for Extortion

Investigative journalist Oleg Lurye, famous for losing high-profile libel cases and incurring heavy fines from courts, has been arrested, a court official said Monday.

Lurye was arrested Saturday on charges of extortion and fraud and has been placed under arrest by the Moscow City Court, court spokeswoman Anna Usachyova said, Interfax reported Monday.

Officials at the Interior Ministry's investigative committee, which is handling the investigation, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Extortion is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

A post appeared on Lurye's LiveJournal blog Saturday stating that he was arrested in connection with articles he published three or four years ago. The post described the investigation as "revenge" by "a certain high-placed official and his bootlick," though it provided no further details.

Interfax cited a source in Moscow's media community as saying Lurye may have been arrested and charged for purportedly trying to extort money from Federation Council member Vladimir Slutsker.

Slutsker's spokeswoman, Yekaterina Shatalina, told Interfax that she was aware of Lurye's arrest but did not elaborate.

Lurye, 44, worked as an investigative reporter for Express-Gazeta, Versia, and Novaya Gazeta, as well as for several Internet news portals.

He shot to fame in 2003 when a court ruled that two articles he wrote about billionaire Mikhail Fridman's Alfa Group and published in Versia were libelous and ordered the newspaper to pay 6 million rubles to Fridman and Alfa Bank president Pyotr Aven. He was also ordered to pay ?170,000 to the Kroll detective agency.

In 2001, Lurye and Novaya Gazeta lost a libel case filed by Viktor Stolpovsky, head of the Swiss company Mercata Trading, over an article alleging that Stolpovsky, whose firm oversaw a scandalously expensive renovation of the Kremlin in the late 1990s, bought a mansion in Switzerland for then-President Boris Yeltsin's family.

A court ordered Novaya Gazeta to pay $150,000 in compensation to Stolpovsky, while Lurye was ordered to pay $20,000 in compensation.

In September, another journalist from the national daily was arrested and charged with extortion.

Boris Zemtsov of Nezavisimaya Gazeta was charged with blackmailing an unidentified senior official by demanding $30,000 for not running a damaging story, the Interior Ministry said at the time.

The newspaper said he was preparing a report about Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev in which the official was accused of mismanagement.