Khodorkovsky’s Cell Mate Names Names in ‘Forced’ 2006 Attack

Alexander Kuchma. Source: Gazeta.ruA Russian ex-prisoner has come forward with specific names and details about the law enforcement agents who he says forced him to attack his then-cell mate, oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in 2006. After a state television channel chose not to air an interview with the prisoner, he appealed to out of fear for his life.

Alexander Kuchma has long been known as the man who slashed Khodorkovsky’s face with a cobbler’s knife, claiming that “I wanted to cut his eye out, but my hand slipped.” At the time, the incident gave rise to speculation that Soviet-era tactics of recruiting mentally unstable prisoners to attack others were being employed against the jailed oligarch.

Indeed, on May 16, 2011, just months after finishing a seven-year sentence for armed robbery, Kuchma told that he had been forced to carry out the attack. He did not, however, name names. Shortly afterwards, an unnamed federal television channel paid Kuchma “a certain sum of money” and shot a ten-minute interview where he recounts the story of how he was made to carry out the attack – this time, complete with specific names and dates.

Kuchma was then told by an employee of the channel that the interview would not be aired because it had “caused alarm and was being reviewed by the general director.” A representative of the channel told that it may still be aired at a later time.

Fearing for his life, Kuchma again phoned and retold his story, complete with the details he’d given in the filmed interview. “After they taped the broadcast, I decided to tell you everything sooner than they could come crashing down on me,” Kuchma told editors. “What do they need me for if I’ve already told everything?”

In the interview with, published on Thursday, Kuchma explains how two law enforcement officers organized the 2006 attack on Khodorkovsky. The website stipulates that, in the spirit of innocent until proven guilty, they have changed the names and certain positions published in the article – but are prepared to release them in the case of an investigation. They also note that fact-checking has found that the people named by Kuchma indeed either worked or still work for the Federal Penitentiary System.

The incident began in March 2006, when Khodorkovsky and Kuchma were placed in disciplinary confinement as punishment for drinking tea. Shortly afterwards, two officers met Kuchma in a separate room and began beating him almost immediately. “They started saying I should take revenge on Khodorkovsky for supposedly getting me put in the disciplinary cell. They said that I should take a knife and stab him in the eye, like to stab it out. The plan was such that I needed to attack him in his sleep,” said the former prisoner. “I told them: ‘What are you getting at, guys? He’ll die.'”

“The first time I didn’t agree, they called me back, beat me again,” Kuchma went on. “They said that I already knew everything and if I didn’t agree they’d hang me in the disciplinary cell and say that I hung myself. The second time they convinced me that they’d kill me if I didn’t agree. I pretended to agree.”

Kuchma said the men, whose names he didn’t know, gave him a knife and that while they didn’t say directly to kill Khodorkovsky, “I understood that that’s what they meant. They said that they won’t add onto my sentence for it, that I’d live peacefully. That these were serious people from Moscow, that the government will defend me, very big people, that’s the sort of stuff they said.”

The ex-prisoner explained that he decided not to kill his cell mate, but just to slash him in the nose. “It was clear that there was more and more noise, that the bosses, lawyers, journalists had come running. I had hoped that those guys would leave me alone because of all this clamor,” he explained.

After attacking Khodorkovsky, Kuchma was put back in a disciplinary cell and the same plainclothes officers came back. “They beat me again and said: ‘what, you sleazeball, you didn’t do what we asked?!’ I apologized and said that I missed because I couldn’t see anything at night. They beat me some more.”

According to, representatives from the Federal Penitentiary Service refused to comment on Kuchma’s remarks. In addition, the editors have issued an open call for a criminal investigation.

Kuchma’s accusations come at a turbulent time in the Khodorkovsky case. The former oligarch’s extended prison term was upheld by a Moscow appeals court on Tuesday and he is now officially considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. Next week, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is set to rule on Khodorkovsky’s complaint against the Russian government about the legality of his arrest and conditions of his confinement.’s full interview with Kuchma can be read in Russian here.