Maksim Shevchenko on Orhan Dzhemal’s murder: “It is obvious sabotage”

Three Russian journalists were killed in the CAR a year ago, but details of the investigation are still unknown

It became known that journalist Orhan Dzhemal, operator Kirill Radchenko and director Aleksandr Rastorguyev died in the CAR a year ago, on 31 July 2018. The circumstances of the death and the long-drawn-out investigation of the crime still raise more questions than give answers. Dossier centre published a report with details of the investigation on 30 July. Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent talked with Orhan Dzhemal’s close friend Maksim Shevchenko — famous journalist and politician — about the versions of the three Russians’ murder in Africa. The interlocutor of our newspaper also remembered when he first met his friend and talked about his son.

“It was a deliberately prepared planned ambush

Mr Shevchenko, a year has passed since Orhan Dzhemal’s death. It is still unclear who was the murderer and instigator of the crime. There are a lot of versions. Which one is closer to you?

It is clear, more or less, who killed him and who was the instigator. The materials of the investigation published in Dossier centre quite thoroughly and clearly suggest those people who were linked to the organisation of this murder, the murder itself, the suppression of traces, the confusion of the state and the public regarding this murder. It’s Petersburg businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin’s structures, which are obviously affiliated with the state, special services operating in the Central African Republic, Sudan, Madagascar, Syria and other parts of the globe. And this operation is illegal or at least hiding the bulk of its turnover from the Russian government. And it is obvious that the guys were killed precisely because they turned out in the zone that’s is red and dangerous.

It isn’t just a zone of state interests: they could have been arrested and departed outside the country as a civilised state does. Criminals kill when there is interest in their actions. This is why I am sure that Yevgeny Prigozhin’s structures and different structures of military and intelligence institutions of the Russian Federation affiliated with them, personally different kinds of militaries and employees of other agencies are held accountable for the death of these journalists: Orhan Dzhemal, Kirill Radchenko and Aleksandr Rastorguyev. It is the dominating version, which, in my opinion, was more than 90 per cent proved by Dossier centre.

Does it mean that you don’t believe the version about the implication of Patriot PMC or robbery by Arabic-speaking Islamists?

Patriot PMC is also a criminal structure that is related to businesses under cover of security agencies of the Russian Federation. Nobody saw bands of Arabic-speaking bandits in this area. The distance to the border with Chad is too long, there are a lot of settlements there. The locals pasture goats, other cattle. And imagine that some group of bandits stops a car driving in the dark at night. They don’t know who was in this car: maybe it’s armed people, and if they stop them, they will immediately be shot. This is why I am sure that it was a deliberately prepared planned ambush.

Moreover, there is clear enough data that shortly before the journalists crossed the checkpoint in Sibut, a car with one of the employees of CAR special services, Mr Cotofio, crossed this checkpoint in the same direction. Three Europeans were in this car, too — this is what soldiers said, they were Russians or Russian-speaking. Then they came back, obviously, after the murder was committed. This group of people sitting in the car is probably related to the murder.

Mr Emmanuel Cotofio not only wasn’t interrogated properly, he also works in Yevgeny Prigozhin’s structures, gets a salary, visits to the Russian Federation, goes to the training centre linked with Prigozhin’s structures, which are located in Sudan, speaks Russian and had been previously affiliated with structures of armed people who are linked with Prigozhin’s organisations. This is why he is the prime suspect together with those Europeans who were with him in the car.

The reconstruction of the scene of the murder, the way the guys were killed exclude the version that bandits were there. The shots were fired at night by professionals who managed to hit the heart twice. Orhan was killed in the back. When he understood they were being killed, he ran in the high grass and, obviously, he was shot at the back. Anyone who has shot with AK-47 knows how hard it is to use this weapon for a precise shot and, moreover, at night. And these professional killers managed to use AK-47 even in such conditions, at night in Africa.

Did Orhan Dzhemal talk with you about the upcoming trip to the Central African Republic?

Yes, he talked with me. It was in June, at night, the day before the departure. We were in my place and talked about a completely different thing. He just said he was leaving. But 2-3 weeks before this (in June), when it became known he would go to Africa, he was in my house till the morning. And we talked with him in detail. And I told him then: “Brother, it is a very dangerous business trip because you won’t be protected there by anybody. You will be like sheep among wolves, and it will be profitable for many to kill you or do something with you to show your death in a game of special services”. He replied: “Yes, I understand”.

He wasn’t responsible for the preparation of the trip, now there is an attempt to pin the whole thing on Orhan. Mr Konyakhin from the Centre for Investigation Management was responsible for it. Orhan was to become the leading character in this film. Their murder is a horrible crime of the structure or people who simply decided to draw a red line, show: “Get the hell out this line. There is only death further on”. Mafia works this way, criminals linked with security structures and therefore feeling their impunity who corrupted high-ranking employees of security structures by obviously providing them with a part of his income. This is why this criminal is sure that he will be covered and won’t get punished.

“Somebody decided to kill them illegally”

Why didn’t Russian investigative agencies’ investigation of the murder make progress?

It is obvious sabotage. It can’t be called otherwise. They haven’t brought the clothes the journalists who were killed in from the Central African Republic here yet. Though analysis of clothes could shed serious light on the investigation: to study the ballistics, how they were shot and at what distance, the identification of a specific weapon the murder was committed with and so on.

Why did the journalists head to the CAR anyway? Did the investigate the work of the PMC?

They went to shoot a film. They just needed stand-ups in the locality. They would have shot several stand-ups and left the place. But they were killed. Somebody decided to kill them illegally (I just don’t understand this situation in another way) having thought that their activity could damage interests of criminal structures and agencies related to criminality affiliated with the state.

Will anybody continue their work?

At the moment we see that there is only death there. At the moment journalists aren’t guaranteed safety, I am against journalists taking a risk. We are dealing with not public structures or special services, which are sensible in general with which one can come to an agreement and which can say to you, for instance: “We are taking your equipment away. Come on, get off”. Official public structures act so: we saw it in Chechnya, other places. They tell off, beat, but they won’t kill! Bandits, criminals kill when somebody can accidentally learn that a criminal hides sums of cash, transports weapons or drugs, tortures civilians.

This is the problem! Somebody supposes that there are public interests here, but it is a mistake. Interests of criminal structures can’t be interests of the state, otherwise, the state loses its functions as a state, changes its nature, and then one may not treat it as a state.

Murder scene 1 by Dossier.Center on Sketchfab

“Orhan had no fear, and this defined his fate”

Mr Shevchenko, last year Orhan’s son Mansur gave a speech during the farewell ceremony with him that you hosted in the Central Cathedral Mosque of Moscow. Do you keep in touch with Dzhemal's family?

I certainly keep in touch with Mansur, his mother Irina (Editor’s Note: Gordienko) — Orhan’s widow. It is a very worthy young man who continues the family of the Dzhemals, the great-grandfather, grandfather (Editor’s Note: Geydar Dzhemal), father. And the words the boy said next to his father’s coffin came from his heart, no adult put them in his head. He said that his father lived as a hero, died as a hero, he was proud of his father. And I am sure that Mansur will grow up as a worthy man.

The public fund of Azerbaijan named after Geydar Aliyev supports his studies. Many thanks to Ilkham Aliyev and Mekhriban Aliyeva who immediately expressed their condolences due to this tragic death. And despite attempts of different kinds of villains and special service workers to impede this activity, I am sure that Mansur will get a good education and grow up as a worthy successor his father and grandfather’s business.

Didn’t Mansur tell you what he wanted to be when he grew up?

He clearly said he wanted to become a hero like his father. Hero is a personal attitude to life. It is the one who challenges circumstances of the doom, fate, death. Hero is a life position. An artist, doctor, military, poet, writer, an engineer can become a hero, it is much more important than a profession.

Can you remember when you first met Orhan Dzhemal?

I vividly remember it. It was in 1997 when Geydar introduced me to his son Orhan (several years earlier I had met Geydar). I didn’t even know that Geydar had such a handsome grown son. We felt from the very first instant that we were very close, like brothers. He immediately offered me to go paragliding in Sparrow Hills. It was much fun: we tried to go paragliding with a weak wind for the whole day. It was amazing years during which I knew the amazing person who became my closest friend to live on Earth.

Why did Orhan constantly go to hot spots, the most dangerous places on the planet — Libya, Niger, the CAR, Bangladesh, Myanmar, South Ossetia?

Because he is a hero. As I said, he is the one who challenges the doom, death. Orhan had no fear, and this defined his fate. I saw it many times. He was just an amazing person.

When his father — Geydar Dzhemal — died, memory evenings were held in Moscow and Kazan. How is Orhan’s death anniversary celebrated now?

I know that journalists gather. A headstone was put on his grave in the cemetery where Orhan was buried. But our main activity is in the media: murderers shouldn’t escape revenge. We are many, they won’t kill everyone. We want to take revenge for Orhan Dzhemal, Aleksandr Rastorguyev and Kirill Radchenko’s murder. I am sure we will see justice done in our country, in the international space, but these murderers will be revealed and sentenced.

By Timur Rakhmatullin