THERE has been a shock twist in the Crimea bridge blast probe after it was revealed a top Russian judge involved in a sensitive Gazprom case was killed in the explosion.
Sergey Maslov, 42, was driving a black Cadillac next to the truck believed to have been at the epicentre of the explosion.
The well-respected and "independent" judge had been overseeing cases involving state-run energy giant Gazprom and the Moscow city council when his luxury car was taken out in the blast, according to major Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets.
Maslov was also working on a groundbreaking trial into the daughter of Ramzan Kadyrov, Putin's warlord crony who leads Chechnya.
For unknown reasons, the judge's name was not released at the same time as two others in his car – tour guides and documentary makers Eduard Chuchakin, 53, and his wife Zoya Sofronova, 33, from St Petersburg.
A fourth victim in the Cadillac was reported to be Gleb Orgetkin, 26, a fitness instructor.
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It comes as a number of Putin critics died in mysterious circumstances since the start of the war in Ukraine.
In this instance, Maslov's car plunged into the freezing waters below when it drove through a blasted section of the crossing on Saturday.
Russia has blamed the bridge blast on Ukraine's secret service as well as Bulgaria and Britain.
The judge’s death – if confirmed – may alter the way the explosion is viewed.
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It comes as suggestions swirl that the explosion may have been a Russian false flag attack to justify deadly missile strikes on Ukraine, which killed 19 and injured dozens more on Monday.
The dead couple "had long been acquainted with the judge of the Moscow Arbitration Court, 42-year-old Sergey Maslov," the paper reported.
"It was in his Cadillac that the group [including Orgetkin] went to the Crimea."
Maslov has owned the car since 2017 and told colleagues he was taking a vacation in annexed Crimea, where he owned land.
A legal source said he was "unusually independent-minded and incorruptible" and ruled on "sensitive cases" involving high profile business disputes.
Cheka-OGPU Telegram channel said Maslov "was driving a huge and heavy Cadillac, which was at the epicentre of the explosion".
The media outlet speculated that explosives may have been in the vehicle, rather than in the truck.
The judge had "considered high-profile cases [involving] gigantic sums", it said.
"The last case that fell into the judge's proceedings was where Ramzan Kadyrov's daughter acted as the defendant".
Aishat Kadyrova, 23, is a fashion designer and one of his 14 children.
In September, Ivan Pechorin became the seventh suspicious death within the Kremlin's inner circle in just a matter of months.
Pechorin – Putin's point man for developing Russia's vast Arctic resources – fell off the side of a boat in waters close to Russky Island, reports Russian paper Komsomolskaya Pravda.
His body was found after a search lasting more than a day.
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Earlier that month, Ravil Maganov, 64, the chairman of the Russian oil giant Lukoil, reportedly died after falling from a hospital window.
Lukoil has openly criticised Putin's invasion in Ukraine.
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