Grigory Pasko: Dispatch from a Show Trial


March 31 will mark the one year anniversary of the start of the second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. When a court trial drags on for more than a year, I need not listen to the hearsay, but rather I have had the “pleasure” of observing one from the inside.

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This was not my first visit to the latest session of the Khamovnichesky Court in the case of the former YUKOS managers. I was amazed that, like a year ago, like half a year ago, like a month ago – there was a multitude of spectators. It is already obvious: interest in the trial, at the very least, has not weakened. And from the discussions in the net one can even say that it has grown: people understand ever more – the trial has obviously been ordered from above, is political, clearly unfair, and the power that has started it up in the first place clearly does not know what to do next.

That is, the repressive convoy-justice «machine» was put in motion long ago. Who will stop it and how – is something probably nobody understands or knows.


The «machine» does some very strange things at every step. Firstthey declared the trial to be open, so much so that they even puttelevision panels up in a separate hall – for direct broadcast of thetrial. Soon they rejected this idea: it’s just uncustomary thateverybody’s laughing at the prejudice, powerlessness and shabbiness ofthe thinking of the procurators, while they – are people of a delicatespiritual constitution.

In the courtroom it is cramped and stuffy. To record the trial on videoand to photograph is also not allowed, although the trial is open.They say that this – is also at the demand of the spiritually woundableprocurators.

A part of the «machine» are – the convoyers [Russian for the guardsresponsible for transporting prisoners–Trans.]. The young lads-robots,overdosed on bad action movies, with a delirious look and machine-gunsatilt, appear ludicrous and laughable. But nobody’s told them aboutthis. And they guard Khodorkovsky and Lebedev with such fury that oneis even scared – for them themselves first and foremost: after all, youcould get a heart attack from overdoing it like that.

The procurators carry their concerned look with a sense ofprocuratorial dignity. For some reason they’re dressed differently[Russian prosecutors generally wear matching light-blue military-styleuniforms to work–Trans.] “Straight as a shot from a gun”, Lakhtin – in asuit and tie; the half-asleep Shokhin – in a shirt with a short sleeveand without a tie; Ibragimova, smiling at something – in a shirt with along sleeve, but without a tie…. In a word, to use the terminology ofGo’lchehra Ibragimova, one’s like Stenka, in a hat; another, like Juan,in a sombrero. They are sometimes cheerful, sometimes don’t even posequestions to the witnesses. But with great pleasure, as it appeared tome, they attempt to object against the defendants, when these pose theirown questions to the witnesses.

Judge Danilkin is practically not even visible because of the table.He’s got a labored look and a dreary gaze. Both the look and the gazeliterally say: I’m here by accident and not by my will; I don’t knowwhat to do next and how to do next; we’re all in one boat, which isfloating who knows where and is being led by who knows who.

He even pronounced a phrase that was pure genius for a judge:

– I’m covering for myself, so there wouldn’t be a situation…

A situation, moreover foul-smelling, nevertheless exists.

And it is this: the witnesses are stubbornly not testifying in favor ofthe prosecution.

If they (and after all, the procurators had presented them asprosecution witnesses!) had come to court and said: yes, we saw (heard,know, have proof in the form of documents, etc.) that Messrs.Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were pilfering oil and were getting for this unaccounted-for incomes, going away from the payment of taxes, havingunlawfully in such a manner enriched themselves, then this whole trialwould have ended a long time ago.

And there wouldn’t be any perpetually irritated procurators; lawyers anddefendants worn out by the pointless stupidity of what is taking place;a judge cornered by boredom…

One of the permanent observers at the trial shared impressions withme: “Shokhin ought to be writing textbooks on demagogy – the personsays remarkably much and not on topic.”

Unfortunately, that day Shokhineither kept his mouth shut, or slept.

Among the visitors in the hall – journalists, representatives ofinternational organizations, former employees of the YUKOS company.. .Imet my acquaintances and colleagues from Reporters without Bordersand International French radio.

The defendants, despite all this, look and hold themselves well andparticipate actively in the trial. Possibly more actively thananybody else. I understand them: I’ve been in such a situation myself.And here the matter is not that the lawyers have pulled back, no.It’s just that the trial is at such a stage that the prosecutionwitnesses have clearly fizzled out, but the trial itself does notpromise anything out of the ordinary at this stage.

The dismay in the heads of the organizers of the trial has led to asituation where telejournalists from REN-TV have all of a suddenwandered into the trial. Lakhtin nearly had a heart attack: he jumpedup, got all bent out of shape… But a court representative explained tohim that there is permission. (Later there was a story a whole twominutes long on the news).

The witness Kudasov was treasurer. Standing behind the lectern [aswitnesses do in Russian courts–Trans.] is uncomfortable for him, heneeds to bend down to the microphone all the time, but his voice doesn’tget any louder for this.

The conversation is taking place between him and the defendants. Theyare talking about things that are little-comprehensible or completelyincomprehensible to the majority of those present, including the judgeand the procurators. Drawing up contracts, financial accountingconsolidated reporting, capital investments, affiliated companies…Businessmen prattling away in their own language, and one thing neverdoes jump out from their dialogues: the guilt of the defendants.

– Did you transfer money to the personal accounts of citizens?, — asksKhodorkovsky.

— Money, transferred from such companies as «Fargoil», «Energotrade»,per agreements for the purchase-sale of oil, which passed through thetreasury, was put on the accounts of «Tomskneft», «Yuganskneftegas»,«Samaraneftegas», — replies the witness Kudasov.
Lebedev first asked if they are acquainted. «I personally am notacquainted with Platon Leonidovich, a couple of times I saw him atcorporate holidays», — clarified the witness to the court. «What isknown to you about my activity in the YUKOS oil company?» — «Nothing isknown to me». — «I gave you assignments with respect to payments?» –«Did not give». 

There were, noted Kudasov, no «global problems» on the part of theorgans of currency-and-export control. Nor were there delays in ornon-receipt of foreign-exchange proceeds…
And so on, and so forth…

So where, exactly, is the evidence with respect to the indictment?Where are all these articles enumerated on the courtroom doors: «Items«a», «b» pt.3, art.160, pt 3 art. 174, pt.4 art. 160, pt. 3 art.174,pt.4 art. 174-1 CC RF [Criminal Code of the RussianFederation–Trans.]?

… For a while, the trial moves completely to a stage of torpidity. Thejournalists stopped clicking on the keyboards of their notebooks. Thebailiff at the cage is playing games on his telephone. Shokhin isobviously sleeping. Danilkin is yawning. The lawyers are bored. Thewitness is drinking a second glass of water. Khodorkovsky moved asidethe thick stack of papers which he had been reading until then, and issitting in the aquarium [in the current trial, the prisoners are not in acage, but in a bulletproof glass box–Trans.], head bent down – he’sresting. Lebedev is leafing through the volumes of the case and withoutany hurry posing questions.

With the volumes there’s a problem in general. In order to pose aquestion, Lebedev first needs to speak about how the sheets of the casefile had already been read out. To ask for the volume from the judge,the judge serves it to a lawyer, the lawyer transfers to the witness,that one reads and only then responds to the question that had beenposed. Then the used volume floats slowly in the opposite direction -to the judge’s table.

There are more than a hundred and thirty volumes, I will remind!

(From personal observations: the more volumes, the less the likelihoodof an acquittal. Otherwise you’d have to admit the impenetrablemoronity of those who carved out these 130 volumes).

For an instant the trial was jolted awake from the universal stuporand boredom.

Judge: – Lebedev, you have the 64th volume?

Lebedev: – I don’t have it!

Judge: – So where is it?

Lebedev: – I returned it to you.

Judge: – When? Where can it be? Searches on the table). Ah! Found it!(with a sense of empowerment).

I’m thinking: if in 15 minutes he’s forgotten about where he’d stashed avolume and whether the volume ever existed in the first place, then howdoes he remember everything that they’ve already examined over a year?

After this the trial once again falls into a semi-sleeping state.

After lunch an enliveliage is sensed. Skirmishes arise between theprocurator Lakhtin and Platon Lebedev. The procurator is attempting,posing a question to the witness, to implant in him his incriminatoryinterpretation of the proffered document. Lebedev, having studied thesetricks well, objects against this. A lawyer and the judge join thefray. There are objections and objections to objections. Then theyremember about the witness, who, shifting from foot to foot (he – theonly one who is standing the entire trial) asks to be reminded what thequestion was about, because he’s already managed to completely forgetit.

Observers of the court trial, which has lasted a year already, have longago become convinced that Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are asserting theirrightness solidly. Which you can’t say about the representatives of thestate prosecution.

This is not the first time I have been present at a court trial in the«YUKOS case» and I have long ago observed: the level of preparedness ofthe procurators for the court sessions is very low. It goes withoutsaying that nobody has the right to demand of Shokhin or Lakhtin thepresence of a candidate’s [Ph.D.–Trans.] degree in the realm ofeconomics. From them – by law – is required merely the scrupulousobservance of criminal-procedure legislation and the provision of allthe evidence according to the charge. Both with the former and with thelatter the procurators have obvious problems. These gaps both in theformer and in the latter, as it appeared to me, judge Viktor Danilkinoften forgives the procurators.

And how not to forgive, if he himself, as it appeared to me, does notcompletely understand the essence of many of the economic intricacies ofthis case. Or does not want to understand? BUT such a thing ispossible only in the event that the text of the verdict is known inadvance.

…The trial continues. Four procurators, seven lawyers, two defendants, ajudge and a secretary, over a dozen convoyers-bailiffs… A whole bunchof people engaged daily and not for the first year already in somethinglittle-comprehensible.

Observers from Mars in an hour would say: forget about you all, it’snot interesting, because it’s unlawful. It’s better to look at thestars and listen to the rustle of eternity on the wings of the cosmos.

Instead of this we are listening to the rustle of the volumes of thecriminal case and through it – the phrase of judge Danilkin:

– I’m covering for myself, so there wouldn’t be a situation…

* * *
In an interview Mikhail Khodorkovsky says: “I understand perfectly well that there are several bureaucrats whoinitiated the second trial and who want me behind bars forever. Butwhatever happens, I am going to defend my position and my innocence.Firstly, I don’t think the outcome of the case is preordained. Andsecondly, I don’t want to allow anyone the possibility to think that Iam guilty of something. So I’m going to prove that I am in the right socomprehensively that nobody will have any room left for doubt.

…I personally have not had any doubts in his rightness for a long timealready. If someone of the readers does have some – go down to thecourt session. There is much you will understand.