The founder of Russia’s most popular social networking site is under investigation by Russian authorities in connection with a hit-and-run incident with a traffic officer.
The home and offices of Pavel Durov, 28, have been searched following accusations that he may have been behind the wheel of a white Mercedes that ran into a Russian policeman earlier this month in St. Petersburg.
According to Russian media reports, an unidentified male driving the vehicle had attempted to outrun a police car, hit a traffic officer on the ground, causing minor scrapes and bruises, and escaped on foot while a passenger was detained.
Durov has denied any involvement, saying that he doesn't even own a car.
“This appears more like a media campaign. I did not have anything to do with any hit-and-run,” Durov said, Russia Today reported.
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The young media mogul, who started the social networking site, VKontakte (In Contact), in 2006, and has been likened to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, suggested he may be the target of a politically-motivated smear campaign due to his refusal to censor opposition groups.
In 2011, he ignored an order by the Russian government to delete an opposition group’s page on VKontakte.
Durov’s brother, and VKontakte’s co-founder Nikolai Durov, described the scene when Russian authorities arrived at his company’s offices.
“We are working … and suddenly 20 silent men dressed in leather jackets appear,” he wrote in a VKontakte post, the BBC reported. “I wonder what they are looking for. Or perhaps they are gathering information and planting bugs.”
"For now, it's unclear what their true motives are,” he wrote in another post, Gazeta reported. “My hypothesis is that they're trying to make a criminal case against Pavel and use that to pressure him to shut down opposition groups. But this is just speculation -- no one's said anything like that outright."
VKontakte is Russia’s most popular social networking site with some 200 million users, compared to about seven million Facebook users in the country. [VKontakte is also popular with Russian speakers in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Belarus, and Israel.]
The site has run into legal issues over allowing users to post and share pirated material, while Durov, who describes his political views as “libertarian,” recently angered some Russians when he remarked in a Twitter post that Joseph Stalin’s victory against Nazi Germany in World War II allowed him to continue repressing the citizens of what was then the Soviet Union.