Russian authorities are investigating the murder of a senior space official in a Moscow prison cell as reports emerged that he died from a deep stab wound to the throat.
Vladimir Yevdokimov, a 55-year-old executive director at the Russian state space agency, died while in detention on fraud charges over his previous role at the MiG aircraft company, which makes fighter jets.
A law enforcement source told Tass state news agency on Monday that investigators’ preliminary finding was that he died from “a gaping stab wound to the neck” which caused “great loss of blood”.
Yevdokimov was detained in December over a 200m ruble ($3.5m at the current exchange rate) embezzlement case dating back to 2007. He insisted he was not guilty.
His body was found in the early hours of Saturday and Moscow’s investigative committee, which looks into serious crimes, opened a murder case. It said that Yevdokimov suffered stab wounds to the chest and throat.
The case has shocked Russians due to Yevdokimov’s high-profile role and the strange circumstances of his death, with speculation that it could have been a premeditated killing.
Since 2015 Yevdokimov had been in charge of quality control at Roscosmos, which runs Russia’s space programme.
The agency’s director general, Igor Komarov, said in a brief statement: “We will undoubtedly press for the clarification of all the circumstances of his death and an exhaustive investigation of his death.”
Yevdokimov was found by guards in the cell’s toilet, the law enforcement source told Tass. His cellmates said they did not hear or see anything.
He had been transferred a month earlier to a cell with 11 other inmates and no security cameras, said Vadim Gorshenin, the head of the Public Observation Commission of Moscow, which monitors conditions in the city’s jails, in comments to Interfax.
“To be honest I don’t understand the motive of this transfer,” Gorshenin said, specifying that Yevdokimov was moved from a smaller cell for six to one with 11 young prisoners.
“There were no security cameras there,” Gorshenin said.
Another law enforcement source told Interfax news agency that Yevdokimov had tried to fend off his attacker or attackers.
“Based on changes to the body, it is possible to initially surmise that the dead man before his death tried to put up resistance but was not strong enough,” the source said.