Panova developed a working relationship with Kuyvashev when the future governor was the Kremlin’s envoy to the region, and she offered him public relations advice. Favors like that got returns, said Alexander Zadorozhny, a former ura.ru journalist. “We were the best-informed agency in the Urals,” he said.
But Panova had critics in high places. In 2011, she said, two businessmen, Artyom Bykov and Alexei Bobrov, told her that they had been ordered to buy her out. She refused. Electricity failures and computer hacks ensued. A Kremlin operative called and urged her to rethink her decision, she said. She talked it over with her staff members, and they agreed to sell 51 percent of the company.
The new owners — Bobrov said he and Bykov obtained Austrian citizenship when they realized how attractive Austria’s bank secrecy laws are — left them alone at first.
Then Kuyvashev became governor in May 2012, replacing an incumbent who had been appointed by former president Dmitry Medvedev and was embroiled in a fight with the city’s mayor for commercial dominance. (Each side controlled key local companies.) Kuyvashev asserted his power and squeezed the mayor out. Then his “junta” turned on Roizman. Despite pressure from the new owners, Panova broke with Kuyvashev and leaped to Roizman’s defense.
In the fall, after police detained the company’s accountant for four days, all but one ura.ru employee quit. Led by Panova, who said Bykov and Bobrov forced her out, they set up a competing Web site, znak.com, but she became distracted by the charges that were brought against her.
Under stress and pregnant, she gave birth in December, but the baby girl was stillborn. Panova said investigators went to the morgue to photograph the body, to prove to their bosses that she was dead.
“This whole story is about Russia today,” she said. “Who do we have in power now? Those who could take pictures of dead babies. We are talking about two different planets. We cannot coexist.”
Her trial starts soon. She is sure to be found guilty; acquittals are vanishingly rare in Russian courtrooms.