What We Know about the Criminal Case That Has Led to Roman Anin Being Questioned

On the evening of April 9, FSB agents carried out a search at the home of Roman Anin, IStories editor-in-chief. The raid took place as part of a criminal case that was opened under article 137, section 2 of the criminal code of the Russian Federation: Invasion of personal privacy committed by a person through their official position. Roman has been summoned for questioning twice already. Right now, he is being treated as a witness. We have decided to collate the answers to our readers’ and colleagues’ most frequently asked questions.

15 Apr 2021
What We Know about the Criminal Case That Has Led to Roman Anin Being Questioned
Photo: Anna Zhavoronkova / Novaya Gazeta

Where and when did the raid take place?

An investigator from the Investigative Committee of Russia arrived at Roman Anin’s home accompanied by FSB agents at around 17:30 on April 9. The search lasted almost seven hours in total (it finished at midnight). After that, Roman was taken in for overnight questioning, even though there were no grounds for this.

A raid was also carried out at the IStories editorial offices that same evening. Roman voluntarily handed over the key to the offices so that the agents would not break the door down. Exactly when the search began and how long it went on for, we do not know — no editorial staff were present while it was taking place. During a later cursory inspection, we did not spot any signs that the FSB agents had removed anything. However, we are to assume that they may have taken photographs of documents they found in the desk of one of our staff members.

We know that the raid on Anin’s home was authorised on April 7 by Judge Irina Vyrysheva of Moscow’s Basmanny District Court. It is stated in the court register that Vyrysheva authorised three raids on that day. It is evident that the first and second are the searches at the editor-in chief’s home and at the IStories editorial offices. We do not know, where the third raid took place (if it did).

What was found and removed?

It appears that nothing was taken from the editorial offices. We do not know whether or not something was planted, but we are not ruling this out.

The agents removed all electronics (computers, phones) and even all paper notebooks, including ones that do not belong to Anin, from his apartment.

The operatives were particularly interested in English language documents and photographs of Roman from his time studying in the U.S. (in 2019 he studied at Stanford University as part of the JSK Journalism Fellowship programme).

On what grounds were the raids carried out?

The raids were carried out on the grounds of a criminal case that was opened under article 137, section 2 of the criminal code of the Russian Federation — invasion of personal privacy committed by a person through their official position: The collection or spreading of information about the private life of a person which constitutes their personal or family secrets through their official position.

The maximum penalty under this article is imprisonment for a term of up to four years with the deprivation of the right to hold certain offices or to engage in certain activities for a period of up to five years.

The case was opened on September 20, 2016 but was then suspended. It was reopened on March 24, 2021.

We do not know the exact reasons for reopening the case. Roman Anin’s lawyers, Vasily Grishchak and Anna Stavitskaya, are not being shown the case files. The investigators are not obliged to explain the grounds for the searches.

‘Official position’? So, they are treating the journalist as a public official?

Not quite. The case refers not to a ‘public official’, but to an ‘official position’ — these are two different legal concepts.

‘The investigators apparently believe that the “official position” here is Roman’s status as a journalist,’ Roman’s lawyer, Anna Stavitskaya, told reporters.

Can journalists be prosecuted under this article?

This remains an open question.

In general, relatively few cases are opened up under article 137, section 2. If we look at existing court practice, then it seems that it is primarily law enforcement agency employees and medical employees who are involved in these types of cases. For example, a doctor who broadcast their patient’s positive HIV result was condemned under this article.

This article has not previously been applied to journalists.

What is Roman’s status in this case?

Right now, Roman Anin is being treated as a witness.

If anything changes, will we update the information in this FAQ.

Is anyone else involved in this case?

So far, there are no other persons involved in this case. The investigators have yet to determine (or have yet to officially announce) who exactly, from their point of view, has spread the information.

Why was the case opened?

The case is linked to Roman Anin’s investigation ‘The Secret of Princess Olga. How is Rosneft Director Igor Sechin connected to one of the most luxurious yachts in the world?’ , which was published in Novaya Gazeta in 2016.

According to various estimates, the yacht was worth $150-180 million. Sechin is the director of Rosneft, a state-owned company. The BBC estimated that at that time his salary was around $12 million per year — that is a colossal amount of money. But even with such a large salary Sechin would not have been able to afford a yacht like that. Even just renting it would have been very expensive. That’s why this story about a director of a state-owned company’s lavish spending is of great public importance.

The report was based on photographs that had been published on Instagram by Olga Sechina, Rosneft director Igor Sechin’s wife at the time (they divorced in 2017).

The investigators state that at that time Sechina had a private account. By the looks of things, the investigators are interpreting the word ‘private’ as follows: If you obtain information from this type of account, then you have obtained it without the account owner’s permission.

Wasn’t there already a lawsuit based on this report in 2016?

Correct. On August 15, 2016, information came to light that Olga Sechina had filed a lawsuit against Novaya Gazeta demanding that the article about the ‘St. Princess Olga’ yacht be removed from the website and that the entire edition of the publication containing this investigation be destroyed. Sechina was claiming that the publication had violated her personal right to privacy. The court first refused to consider this lawsuit, then accepted it, and then rejected it again.

On August 16, 2016, Igor Sechin filed a lawsuit against the publication himself regarding the protection of his honor and dignity. The court ordered the newspaper to publish a retraction.

Why do you think this is a crackdown on the independent press?

The sudden reopening of a five-year-old criminal investigation, seven-hour raids, an overnight interrogation — there is absolutely no other way of looking at what has happened.

That is why we believe that what has happened is an example of direct pressure being put on independent journalism, an attempt to intimidate one of Russia’s most well-known investigative journalists and an attempt to stop the activities of his publication.