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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Critics Say Muckraker Has Dirty Hands

By U.S. standards, journalist Alexander Minkin would be ranked with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose reporting toppled U.S. president Richard Nixon. But some say Russia's best-known investigative journalist is simply a tool in the big banks' struggle for power.


In an interview last week on Ekho Moskvy radio, Minkin broke the story about the shady book deal in which a group of Kremlin officials led by Anatoly Chubais were getting an extravagant advance of $450,000 from a publisher affiliated with politically connected Uneximbank.


Minkin's story was picked up by almost every major Russian media organization. Chubais lost his portfolio as finance minister, though he kept his job as first deputy prime minister; privatization chief Maxim Boiko, Kremlin deputy chief of staff Alexander Kazakov, and bankruptcy commission chief Pyotr Mostovoi resigned.


Minkin, 51, styles himself as an unpretentious "little guy" who is totally independent. He said his investigations are driven by pure curiosity.


Moscow's journalistic circles, however, have long abounded with unsubstantiated speculation that Minkin gets his information, and money, from tycoon Boris Berezovsky or media mogul Vladimir Gusinsky. Nikolai Svanidze, the pro-Chubais chairman of RTR government television, blasted Minkin on Sunday without mentioning his name.


Svanidze said such reports are aimed at compromising government officials and usually involve an "influential and very rich master" and a "hired executor," a journalist who becomes an "outcast from the journalistic community" for the services he renders, but is paid between $300,000 and $500,000 a year.


Minkin says he is used to accusations.


He recalled how former acting prime minister Yegor Gaidar once accused him of being a KGB agent. "Instead of denying the facts that I cite, they include me in agents' ranks," said Minkin.


Minkin says he received information about the exact amount of the Chubais book advance from a confidential source. He said it was not a Chubais enemy but a "competent source," a Soviet euphemism for a member of the intelligence services.


To refute the accusations that he works for Berezovsky or Gusinsky, Minkin said that in January and February this year, when he wrote other unflattering articles about Chubais' financial dealings, the scandals were short-lived. That time ORT and NTV, controlled by Berezovsky and Gusinsky, did not pick them up, Minkin said.


"Now, when Chubais has fallen out with Berezovsky and Gusinsky, I am accused of taking directions from these bankers," Minkin said.


A theater critic during the Soviet era, Minkin reported for the pioneering publications Moskovskiye Novosti and Ogonyok during the glasnost era, and from 1992 to 1996 was the star reporter at popular daily Moskovsky Komsomolets.


Minkin says he was beaten up in response to his reports in September 1995, and that in February 1996 he survived an assassination attempt in which attackers broke into his apartment from the balcony. The attacks generated short-lived alarm in the Russian media. No arrests were made.


Minkin said he left Moskovsky Komsomolets because it joined most of Russia's other liberal newspapers in cheerleading for President Boris Yeltsin during his 1996 re-election campaign.


He now writes for Novaya Gazeta -- an ad-free weekly that doesn't disclose its financial sources. Minkin said that his only limit is "private life: sexual orientation, wives and children."