Killed Russian journalists said to have been working on story involving mining in CAR

Three Russian reporters murdered Monday in an ambush while working in the Central African Republic (CAR), were said to have been investigating the activities of a mercenary group linked to an ally of President Vladimir Putin, an exiled oil tycoon who funded their trip says.

They were looking into Russian private mercenaries as well as on Russia’s interests in the local diamond, gold and uranium sectors.

Orkhan Dzhemal, Kirill Radchenko and Alexander Rastorguev were working on “an investigation into Russian private mercenaries, in particular the Wagner group,” Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former Yukos Oil Co. chief said on Facebook Wednesday.

The Wagner group, said to be active in the CAR, also operates in Syria, where it is believed to have as many as 2,500 fighters, and has been placed under US sanctions for its alleged involvement in the Ukraine conflict.

The crew was also said to have been looking into Russia’s interests in the local diamond, gold and uranium mining industries.

“These were brave men who were not prepared simply to collect documentary material, but wanted to ‘feel’ it in the palms of their hands,” the Kremlin critic wrote.

Media reports said the men were ambushed, kidnapped and later killed near the village of Sibut, about 300km (185 miles) north of the CAR’s capital, Bangui.

Their bodies were brought to the capital and Russian diplomats are working with CAR officials to find out what happened, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Khodorkovsky lives in London after spending 10 years in a Russian prison in a case widely seen as politicly motivated. From exile, he supports a number of civil society groups and media projects in his home country.