Russian Website Under Fire After Investigation Of FSB Chief

A Russian news site has come under fire from authorities -- and, according to the editor-in-chief, its own investors -- after it published an investigation into possible undeclared real estate secretly held by the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB).

Some Russian Internet and mobile providers blocked shortly after the investigation into FSB Director Aleksandr Bortnikov went live on January 23, and the website was subsequently blacklisted by federal media watchdog Roskomnadzor over allegedly "extremist" content.

Meanwhile, Russiangate editor in chief Aleksandrina Yelagina told RFE/RL that she was informed by the site's investors that they were pulling financing for the project, which was launched in 2016 and has focused on investigations of Russia's business and political elite.

"They said: ‘There won’t be any more financing, so you of course won't be working here anymore,'" Yelagina said, adding that she believes the decision was made in response to the article on Bortnikov.

Bortnikov has presided over the FSB since 2008 and was hit with EU sanctions in 2014 over his role in "shaping" Kremlin policy connected to Russia's seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backing of armed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The investigation by cited public property records as indicating that Bortnikov may own a pricey home and plot of land in an elite settlement outside St. Petersburg -- assets not reported in his legally required income declaration.

The investigation also reported evidence that documents from Russia’s federal real-estate database, Rosreestr, may have been deliberately manipulated last year to hide Bortnikov’s name.

Hidden Wealth

Investigative journalists and Russian opposition activists in recent years have used public real-estate records to expose expensive property allegedly held by senior Russian officials and their relatives.

Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny’s team has alleged that Rosreestr entries are being edited to shield hidden wealth of powerful officials.

Yelagina said she was cooking dinner on January 23 when she received a call from a friend who informed her that Russiangate had been blocked in Russia within hours of the Bortnikov investigation being published.

She says she then discovered the site had been blacklisted by Roskomnadzor and that Russiangate’s technical staff had pulled the article from the site at the request of its investors.

The website was still accessible outside Russia on January 25, though the Bortnikov investigation has been taken down. It has since been posted elsewhere.

Yelagina told RFE/RL that authorities had not notified her about the formal reasons for the blacklisting of the site, which has declined to name its investors.

Russiangate calls its investors "natives of Russia" in the IT industry "who are not connected to Russia at all anymore." It says the decision to keep them anonymous was made "due to the risk of pressure on them from Russian authorities."

Yelagina also declined to name the investors when asked by RFE/RL.

A Hong Kong-registered firm called Citadel Media Group identifies itself as the owner of the website. Phone calls and an e-mail to the company seeking comment on the Russiangate website went unanswered on January 25.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Russian Service