THREE armed men have been arrested outside the home of an Australian freelance journalist in Moscow just a week after the federal government warned him it had confidential information he was in danger.
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The journalist, John Helmer, said he might have been targeted because of his aggressive reporting on powerful Russian businessmen, including 42-year-old billionaire Oleg Deripaska.
The [Australian] Department of Foreign Affairs has refused to tell Helmer what information led it to fear for his safety, and appears not to have provided any such information to Russian police investigating the case.
If you didn't live in Russia in the nineties, you don't know how weird this news is. I knew John Helmer pretty well. I used to pick on him and his affable buddy Fred Weir for their constitutional inability to keep Starlight Diner food from sticking in their impressively unkempt journo-beards. Helmer's tiny (and usually ink-smudged) columnist photo in the Moscow Tribune was one of the great literary Sasquatch sightings of all time.
I actually liked John quite a lot, but — and I mean this in the most complimentary possible way, if he happens to be reading this — I can certainly see wanting to kill him. That said I'm more than a little shocked that things in Russia have deteriorated to the point where people like aluminum king Oleg Deripaska are sending trios of bumbling assassins after him:
Helmer said Russian police who interrogated the three arrested men told him the men said they worked for a private security company that had been acting on behalf of Rusal, the Deripaska-controlled giant, which has major interests in the Australian aluminium and bauxite industry through holdings in Queensland.
Helmer said the three men were found to be carrying a dossier on him that included photos of him and his wife, and a sketch of the layout of his apartment building.
Anyway, John, best of luck to you and please try to avoid getting your face blown off.