Masaryk murder mystery back in headlines as Russian journalist speaks out

The mysterious death of Czechoslovakia's post-war foreign minister Jan Masaryk is back in the headlines. That's thanks to controversial claims by a Russian journalist, who says he knows for sure Masaryk was murdered, and also claims to know the identity of the killer.

Jan MasarykJan Masaryk Jan Masaryk's death has been shrouded in mystery ever since his pyjama-clad body was found beneath his bathroom window on March 10th 1948. For decades the official verdict was suicide, but many Czechs always believed that Masaryk - beloved son of the country's first president Tomas Garrigue Masaryk - was murdered. His humanist views and close association with the democratic First Republic, they assumed, had made him a threat to Moscow.

That theory was given weight in 2004, when a police forensics expert concluded that Jan Masaryk had been pushed. The official verdict was amended to murder.

This weekend the Czech News Agency published an interview with a Russian journalist named Leonid Parshin. Mr Parshin's mother worked in Czechoslovakia as a Soviet intelligence officer after the war. He alleges that several years after returning to Russia, she had attended an informal gathering of retired spies.

She claimed to have been talking to one Mikhail Illich Byelkin, former head of Soviet intelligence in Central Europe. She told Byelkin that she'd worked in Czechoslovakia, but joked that she hadn't killed Masaryk. Byelkin replied - "I know you didn't - because it was me who threw him out of the window."

This is not the first time Mr Parshin has made the claims. The Czech authority responsible for investigating Masaryk's death - the Office for the Documentation and Investigation of the Crimes of Communism or UDV - has known about them for some years. Jan Srb is the UDV's spokesman.

"What Mr Parshin is claiming is nothing new. And from the point of view of our investigation the claims are worthless because this information is not even second-hand, it's third-hand. His claims are based on those of his mother, and she made those claims thirty or so years ago. All the people involved are now dead, and so for the investigation these claims are essentially irrelevant."

Jan Srb says in 2001 the UDV made a formal request to the Russian prosecutor's office to interview Mrs Parshina. They also asked for access to archive material. The reply came nine months later: Mrs Parshina had died the previous summer, and all documents pertaining to the case were classified.

So there the story ends. Jan Masaryk's death remains a mystery. The Czech authorities are confident he was murdered. But even if there are any clues as to who killed him, they lie in dusty archives, far away in Russia. And those archives remain closed.