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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Editor Detained in Blackmail Case

A deputy editor of the daily newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta has been detained on suspicion of blackmailing a senior official, the Interior Ministry said Thursday.

The editor, whom neither the newspaper nor police would name, was arrested Wednesday after threatening to publish damaging material about the bureaucrat if he did not agree to pay him $30,000 per month, said Irina Dudukina, a spokeswoman for the Investigative Committee of the Interior Ministry.

"We can name neither the suspect nor the victim," said Dudukina, whose committee is leading the investigation with the ministry's department for combating organized crime and terrorism.

Undercover officers detained the editor in a sting operation after he accepted the blackmail money, Dudukina said. He is being investigated on suspicion of large-scale extortion, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta released a statement Thursday calling the arrest a "carefully planned provocation" designed to intimidate critical media outlets in the run-up to State Duma elections in December.

"The arrested employee has worked at Nezavisimaya Gazeta for more than eight years and has distinguished himself as a professional and law-abiding journalist," said the statement, which was posted on the newspaper's web site.

The statement linked the arrest to a recent series of articles that had criticized the Agriculture Ministry.

Konstantin Remchukov, the newspaper's owner, editor and general director, said in an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio that the investigation was connected to articles critical of Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev.

An Agriculture Ministry spokeswoman said no one was available to comment.

Remchukov's secretary at Nezavisimaya Gazeta said he was unavailable to speak on the telephone and declined to give the name of the arrested employee.

Speculation swirled Thursday on Livejournal blogs about the identity of the arrested editor. The newspaper lists six deputy editors on its web site: Arkady Khantsevich, Yelena Remchukova, Boris Zemtsov, Vadim Solovyov, Anton Trofimov and Viktoria Shokhina.

Oleg Panfilov, head of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said it was unlikely that the investigation was connected to the Duma elections because of the newspaper's limited reach.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta has a circulation of 45,000. Founded in 1990, it is often critical of the authorities.

"It could be a provocation, but it could also be true, because there have unfortunately been many cases where journalists have blackmailed the subjects of their articles," Panfilov said.

In one of the best-known media extortion cases, a Moscow court convicted Yulia Pelekhova, editor of the web site, in January 2006 of blackmailing businesswoman Oksana Tokareva. She was given a suspended prison sentence of 7 1/2 years.

In March, television producer Alexei Osipov was arrested and charged with accepting $20,000 not to air an embarrassing report about Igor Syrtsov, head of the postal service. Last month Osipov was convicted of extortion and sentenced to two years in prison.