[Note from the editor: On 11 July, the Chita Oblast Court satisfied a petition of the Investigative Committee alongside the Procuracy (ICP) of the Russian Federation to extend the pre-trial detention of former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky until Nov. 2. On July 14th, this same court plans to examine an analogous petition of the investigation in relation to Platon Lebedev. It’s not hard to guess that it too will be satisfied. In the near future, the Ingodinsky District Court of Chita may commence the latest examination of a cassational appeal by Platon Lebedev on the falsification of the criminal case file against him. In his latest dispatch, our Russian correspondent Grigory Pasko takes a look at the methods used by the prosecutors and investigators, at times severely pushing the envelope of the law, with the aim of putting additional pressure on accused and their defenders.] The “trifles” of life Grigory Pasko, journalist There are in the papers that Russian investigators of the MVD, FSB and procurators, as well as court secretaries (naturally, with the silent blessing of the judges themselves), fill out about their victims certain “trifles” that literally poison life for persons being investigated, accused, or convicted, as well as for their lawyers. In reality, these “trifles” are the grossest violation of criminal-procedural legislation. But, despite this, they have existed for decades, and representatives of the investigation of the MVD, FSB and procuracy are in no hurry to get rid of them. Because they’ve gotten accustomed to lawlessness. Because they know: the state is on their side – on the side of lawlessness.
What are these “trifles”? Let’s take a look at some of them.Let us say, for example, that an accused receives the materials of “his” criminal case. The first thing that catches his eye is that bound into the volumes are not the originals of documents, but their copies. Moreover copies – of very bad quality, so bad that many of them are simply illegible. In response to complaints or petitions the investigators reply: we’ve got bad copying equipment. In so doing, they don’t answer where the originals went. And they don’t admit that in such a manner they’re attempting to obstruct the defense of the accused against an unfounded charge. Why “unfounded”? Simple. Because in the event that a real criminal is locked up before trial, then, as a rule, his materials are given to him for familiarization both in the originals, and legible, if in copies, and without procrastination, that’s why…The procuracy of Chita, where is taking place the familiarization of Khodorkovsky with the materials of the case (photo by Grigory Pasko)Nor does the accused notice immediately that the pages of the materials of the criminal case are numbered with an ordinary pencil, in such a manner that it’s simple to change the numbering with the aid of an eraser.[An explanatory note for our readers from the translator: In Russian criminal law, the “case” is a compendium of documents put together by the investigators, with only secondary input from the defense. When the investigation has been completed, the case materials are hand-bound into several volumes of book-like folders with consecutively numbered pages, and an official seal is placed on this binding to ensure that the documents are not tampered with. The “case” is now officially closed, and formally handed to the accused and his defense for “familiarization”, after which it goes to court, where the trial consists of the prosecutor tediously reading out all the pages in the folders and the defense objecting to or refuting these materials. A completed “case” is a legal document that can no longer be altered in any way, so it is quite unnerving that the prosecution can subsequently alter it by adding or removing and renumbering pages and then applying a back-dated seal.]And some more about the numbering. Imagine that you are an accused in Russia (heaven forbid, of course…). Having studied the case and made transcriptions from it, you write your counter-arguments. Reading them out in court, you will make reference to the volumes of the case and to the pages that you had studied earlier. And suddenly it turns out that your page references are incorrect, because during the time before the trial that the case file was once again in the hands of the investigators, the numbering has been changed for some reason.Objections against such a numbering method ALWAYS remain unanswered. I for one have become firmly convinced that investigators are specially taught to do this.Moving on, as you read the materials of the case, you, if you’re the accused, will notice that the words of witnesses are written either inaccurately, or just plain falsely. You, naturally, will declare a petition in this regard, and in response will receive a decree on denial in the satisfaction of your petition.Therefore, the following “trifle” is this: ALL your petitions will be left unsatisfied! Moreover, they deny satisfaction even in those situations where this is prohibited by law: for example, in the event of a petition to have witnesses questioned, to conduct an expert evaluation, etc.The next “trifle”: signatures under denials or other decrees are often placed not by the chief of the investigative group, but by someone of the members of the group, a person of little significance. This too is a violation of the law, but is done so that in the event that some sort of really blatant lawlessness is uncovered, all the blame can be laid on the person of little significance. Although everybody understands that he was just following the orders of the chief of the group. Instances where a criminal case was initiated in relation to an investigator of an investigative group on the basis of a fact of the exceeding by him of his official authority or on the basis of facts of falsification of the materials of a criminal case are completely unknown.The next “trifle” – forged signatures of official witnesses under the protocols of investigative actions. To uncover something like this is not easy in the least. After all, you first need to question the official witnesses, but the court doesn’t always go for that, stupidly trusting the investigation. Besides, then you’d need to have the court order a handwriting analysis of the signatures of the official witnesses. But courts go for that too only in rare cases.Moving on, you discover that far from all the papers and objects confiscated from you during the search are found in the case materials. They have mysteriously disappeared someplace. And these very documents and materials that are missing are invariably precisely those that provide evidence in your favor. But that’s exactly why they’ve “disappeared”, after all.But then, to your amazement, you will discover among “your” materials papers that have nothing whatsoever to do with “your” criminal case. (In “my” case, there suddenly appeared materials about narcotics and smuggled weapons). You needn’t think that the investigators are idiots. It’s just that this is the way they psychologically influence both you and the judges. On the other hand, sometimes such extra episodes of the charges all of a sudden roll into action, and a person finds himself being convicted also for something he had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with.Do not be surprised if the witnesses in court at first recant the testimony they had given at the preliminary investigation, and then once again say that they had spoken correctly precisely at the very beginning of the investigation. This means only one thing: that the investigators had “worked” with such witnesses already during the time of the judicial examination: they’d cornered them in some dark alley and threatened them with new unpleasantness, for example recategorization from witnesses into accomplices. (In the FSB, for example, such pressure on witnesses, and even on judges, is called “operative support of the case”).What is most interesting is that the judges nevertheless use the testimony of such witnesses when issuing a verdict.If the investigation’s case isn’t going quite as smoothly as it would like, they start making openly false declarations for the press. Here could serve as a vivid example the words of former president of Russia Putin about Mikhail Khodorkovsky at a press conference in France this year, when he “connected” the former head of YUKOS both with a prohibition on entry into the USA and with murders…By the way, you should be prepared for the eventuality that they won’t let you fully familiarize yourself with all the materials of the case, significantly reducing the term of familiarization with the case. They’ll say that you need to study something like 300 pages per hour. Of course, this too is pressure on you and on your defense. But the fact is that the law has still not established precise terms. All it says is that the accused and his defender can not be limited in the time necessary for familiarization with the materials of the criminal case. In practice, however, they are limited everywhere and all the time.You should also be prepared for such a “trifle” as a prohibition on the part of the investigation on making all the transcripts from the case that are necessary for the defense. The prohibition is imposed, for example, in such a manner that the entire case is declared to contain information that comprises a state secret. This method has become particularly popular ever since the chekists have come to power in the country.
A portrait of Mikhail Khodorkovsky in a room of the Chita Human Rights Center (photo by Grigory Pasko)
… I’ve named only a few, typical, examples of the violation of the rights of accuseds. All this is – the base little methods of the cowards and liars, reprobates and scoundrels of whom in the organs of the FSB, MVD and procuracy there are still more than enough. It should be admitted that there are many of them among the judges as well, otherwise all these methods would be ruthlessly intercepted and no longer allowed. Alas! These methods live for decades.… By the way: nearly all of the enumerated “trifles” are being used in the event with Mikhail Khodorkovsky. If he were really and truly guilty, it’s doubtful that the investigation would be using these illicit methods so actively and so frequently.