Grigory Pasko: Exclusive Interview with Yuri Schmidt

[Editor’s note: this interview was conducted in late January 2007, just before the new charges were filed against Mikhail Khodorkovsky] Exclusive interview with Yuri Schmidt in Chita By Grigory Pasko, journalist yuri_schmidt.jpg It is already known that investigators from the procuracy-general of Russia have filed formal charges on February 5 in Chita against ex-YUKOS head Mikhail Khodorkovsky and former MENATEP chief Platon Lebedev, accusing them of “legalization of monetary funds obtained as the result of the realization of stolen property”. They face up to 15 years of deprivation of liberty. The new charges do not come by chance. The fact is that the convicts Khodorkovsky and Lebedev will already be eligible to apply for parole as early as next year, especially in view of the fact that numerous reprimands given to Khodorkovsky for supposed disciplinary infractions during his time at the Krasnokamensk penal colony have been repealed as unlawful by the courts. (These reprimands, in fact, are imposed precisely in order to deprive a prisoner of the right to an early release on parole. It is obvious that today’s power – cruel and cowardly – does not need either Khodorkovsky or Lebedev at liberty. All the more so in a year of elections to the State Duma and on the eve of elections of the president of Russia. While I was in Chita, I had a chance to meet with Khodorkovsky’s lead counsel and the head of his defense team, Yuri Schmidt, and to ask him some questions. Q: Yuri Markovich, why, in your opinion, did they choose Chita specifically? A: Because this is the most hard-to-get-to place in Russia. There are other distant places, but I don’t think there’s anyplace else that you have to fly six hours in a plane, and then go 15 hours by train, to get to. Q: But here we see once again – as we’ve already seen when they sent Khodorkovsky and Lebedev to Krasnokamensk and Kharp – a violation of current legislation in the selection of a place not only for the serving of punishment, but also for the conducting of investigative actions… A: To be sure. In accordance with Article 152 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of the RF, a preliminary investigation shall be carried out at the place the crime was committed. Khodorkovsky is suspected, according to the new charges, of committing operations with respect to the legalization of monetary funds. Chita was not the place of this legalization, as is seen from the documents presented to us. Essentially, this is yet another example of the arbitrariness of the investigation. Q: What is your reaction, as a lawyer, to this arbitrariness? A: I appealed the decree on the transfer of Khodorkovsky to Chita in the Basmanny Court of Moscow. The court was supposed to render a decision within 5 days. However, it’s been a month now and there is still no decision. Nor have I received a response to my appeal addressed to the procurator-general. Q: It would seem that the power can’t seem to calm down with its fabrications relative to the destruction of Khodorkovsky. A: Yes, I agree. This is precisely why Mikhail Borisovich has refused to participate in further investigative actions, at the very least until he is presented with specific and comprehensible charges, and he himself is transferred to an investigative isolator of Moscow. Q: What do you think – if the investigative actions are being carried out in Chita, then will the trial take place here as well? A: To all appearances, the organizers of the YUKOS case have such a thought. But then, they probably are going to have to think about getting the witnesses in the case over here. On the other hand, they don’t want to conduct the court sessions in Moscow, either: they’re going to have to “repair” the road surfaces again, disperse the demonstrators and the journalists… [Editor’s note: During the final phase of Khodorkovsky’s trial, after supporters had obtained legal permission to stage demonstrations outside the courthouse, authorities quickly turned the area into a road construction zone, and brought in a vast armada of heavy roadbuilding equipment that didn’t actually seem to do any work.] Q: While the new charges are at least remotely associated with the name of Khodorkovsky, what does Lebedev have to do with any of this? A: Nothing at all. They brought him along for company. Obviously so all the attention wouldn’t be focused on Khodorkovsky alone. Besides, don’t forget that this year Lebedev too will have served enough of his sentence that he can file a petition for early release on parole. It’s clear that the power doesn’t want to release even one of the figurants in the YUKOS case on the eve of the elections. Q: By the way, I’ve noticed that Khodorkovsky seems to be back in the media spotlight again. A: Yes, and on a whole new level in fact, in my opinion, because there was a European Parliament resolution, there was a statement by German Chancellor Merkel on the conditions of Khodorkovsky’s imprisonment, the application in Strasbourg has been communicated, the court in Krasnokamensk reversed the reprimands that had been imposed Q: Yuri Markovich, you and your client are confronting a very powerful bunch. What are you hoping to achieve? A: A change in the situation in the country. I would say that we have hope for getting something positive out of Strasbourg as well. True, Mikhail Borisovich has declared that he wants to obtain justice in Russia. I think that he will obtain justice when those who are at the top today are gone. When Putin and Sechin leave. Q: What are Khodorkovsky’s conditions like now? A: I’ve never seen anything like the way he and Lebedev are being guarded. You have to go through five yards to get to them, a whole slew of security checkpoints, a parade of spetsnaz brigades, dozens of doors… Q: …I know from personal experience that a change in situation is really hard on you. When you start to settle in to the whole idiotic mess that you’re surrounded by and start to get used to it, it’s easier to endure it. But when they jerk you out for a prisoner transport, another round of charges – that’s hard. How is Khodorkovsky handling this situation? A: Mikhail Borisovich is the kind of person who can always find something to keep him busy. He reads a great deal, subscribes to over a hundred periodical titles, and answers letters. In a word, he’s hanging in there. Q: May God grant him health! And you too, Yuri Markovich. Thank you for the interview.