A top journalist who was investigating claims Vladimir Putin helped organise a series of terrorist bombings was found dead of a mystery illness.

Nineteen years ago this weekend (July 2 2003) Russian journalist Yuri Shchekochikhin was pronounced dead following what doctors in Moscow said was an "allergic reaction".

The then deputy editor of Moscow-based Novaya Gazeta, 53, fell ill on a business trip the month before, his hair falling out, skin peeling off and organs failing before his eventual death.

However, his relatives and colleagues reject the official story and have been calling for a murder probe ever since.

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Shchekochikhin's supporters believe he was offed by Vladimir Putin and his cronies.

In the years leading up to his mystery illness, the investigative journalist and member of Russia's parliament published reports into high-level corruption in Moscow.

One scandal was that of the Tri Kita (Three Whales) furniture store, which saw leading members of the Federal Security Services (FSB) implicated in the laundering of millions of dollars.

In February 2002, Shchekochikhin revealed that the Prosecutor General’s Office had received $2million (£1.64m) to quash an investigation into the scandal, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

As deputy chairman of the State Duma Committee on Security, he tried to launch an official probe that was unsurprisingly rejected by Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov.

Shchekochikhin even wrote directly to Putin, asking him to take over the case. Putin agreed but it went nowhere.

He was dead exactly one month after his last article on the Tri Kita affair.

According to the Washington Post, Shchekochikhin was also actively investigating the 1999 Russian apartment bombings – a scandal that directly implicates Putin himself.

307 people were killed in September that year in four separate blasts in the Russian cities of Buynaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk.

Officially the terror attacks were blamed on Chechen militants, ultimately leading to the Second Chechen War that saw Russian eventually establish direct rule over the region.

Another consequence was Putin ascending to the presidency within months, his popularity (as then-prime minister) boosted significantly with his adept handling of the crisis.

"We’ll wipe them out in the s***house," he declared after the attacks.

Many suspect Putin orchestrated the attacks to initiate the war and seize the presidency, a theory that Shchekochikhin could have been about to uncover before his death.

According to American journalist and historian David Satter: "[There is] no serious doubt that Putin came to power as the result of an act of terror against his own people."

There are two pieces of blinding evidence.

The first is that Gennadiy Seleznyov, then speaker of the Russian parliament, announced the Volgodonsk attack three days before it actually happened.

The second is that on September 22 residents in an apartment block in Ryazan, a city close to Moscow, noticed a suspicious car which local police later found to contain a military-grade explosive – only available at one heavily guarded factory in the Ural Mountains.

That couldn't be blamed on the Chechens as three FSB officers were arrested, although Putin ally Nikolai Patrushev did claim it was a "security training exercise".

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Adding to the suspicion around Shchekochikhin's death, clinical test results identifying what caused his supposed allergic reaction were classified as a “medical secret”.

He had also met FBI agents and obtained an America visa shortly before his death. He was due to fly to New York to discuss the Tri Kita case and money-laundering, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.


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