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Grigory Pasko: Political Prisoners in Today’s Russia – Alexey Pichugin

Political Prisoners in Today’s Russia: Alexey Pichugin By Grigory Pasko, journalist

Few people remember these days how the so-called “YUKOS case” first began with the arrest of this very person. It should also be noted that Pichugin’s name is heard less often in the mass media than the names of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev. Pichugin is a former employee of the YUKOS oil company’s security service, and it was with his arrest in June 2003 that the so-called “YUKOS case” formally began. What we do know about him is that he has awards for distinguished service in the organs of internal affairs and state security. In March 2005, he was found guilty of a double murder and sentenced to 20 years of deprivation of liberty. A month after this, the Procuracy-General presented him with new charges. The court once again found Pichugin guilty and sentenced him to 24 years of deprivation of liberty.

pichugin.jpg Alexey Pichugin was born in 1962 in the city of Orekhovo-Zuyevo of Moscow Oblast. In 1979, he finished school and began studies at the Higher Command School of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Novosibirsk. Since 1983, he underwent service in military units of the MVD [Ministry of Internal Affairs—Trans.] in Tula Oblast. In 1986, Pichugin entered the school of the Committee of State Security [KGB—Trans.] of the USSR in Novosibirsk. From 1987 to 1994, he worked in the Military Counterintelligence Administration of the KGB (subsequently the FSK). In 1994, he quit the FSK [Federal Counterintelligence Service—Trans.] with the rank of major. After leaving the FSK, Pichugin was hired to work in the security service of bank “MENATEP”, and in 1998, after the bank had acquired “YUKOS”, he transferred to work in this oil company. There, he headed the internal economic security department, which was part of the “YUKOS” security service. Alexey Pichugin was detained in June 2003 and placed in the «Lefortovo» SIZO isolator, which is under the jurisdiction of the FSB. Prior to this, searches had been conducted of Pichugin’s apartment and workplace. Pichugin was denied the right to the presence of his lawyer during the search. Taken from Pichugin’s office was a safe, which was then opened in the building of the Procuracy-General. On 21 June 2003, the Basmanny Court of Moscow issued a sanction for Pichugin’s arrest. On 4 October 2004, the Moscow City Court began consideration of the case on the merits. On 24 March, a jury found NK YUKOS employee Alexey Pichugin guilty on all counts. In the verdict of the jurors, it was noted that A. Pichugin is not deserving of leniency. Defence lawyers noted that before the jury’s verdict was issued, judge Olikhver voiced a parting word, which lasted two hours and was more reminiscent of a retelling of the bill of indictment. Ms. Olikhver, in particular, familiarized them with the testimony of previously convicted participants in the Tambov grouping who had appeared as witnesses in the given case. And the judge ended the valedictory by asking the jurors not to pay attention to contradictions existing between the testimony these had given in court and during the time of the investigation. The jurors only issued their verdict at 9:30 at night. By a majority of votes (eight versus four), they found Pichugin guilty on all counts and not deserving of leniency. True, at the same time, they considered that Mr. Pichugin had contracted not the murder of former head of the ZAO «Rosprom» business administration department Sergey Kolesov, but his beating. On 30 March 2005, Moscow City Court judge Natalia Olikhver issued a verdict to Alexey Pichugin. The NK YUKOS employee was sentenced to 20 years of deprivation of liberty in a strict-regime penal colony. The third All-Russian Civic Congress (ARCC) took place in Moscow on 11 and 12 December 2006. Around 500 persons took part in it. If anything, the greatest interest, both among the participants and among the mass media, was caused by the panel on “Restrictions on the forms of public-policy activeness and persecution for political and civic activities”. Its moderators were Lyudmila Alexeyeva (Moscow Helsinki Group) and Lev Ponomarev (the «For human rights» movement). The speakers told with bitterness about how political prisoners have once again appeared in Russia, which considers itself a democratic country. The participants, having unanimously supported the resolution of the second All-Russian Human Rights Congress that took place the day before, named, among others, have called the victims of the “YUKOS affair” as such [political prisoners—Trans.]: the businessmen Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, the lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina, the lawyer Vasily Alexanian, the head of the economic security branch of the oil company Alexey Pichugin, and others arrested in this affair. It is noteworthy that the charges against Pichugin evoked bewilderment from the legal point of view not only among lawyers. Here, for example, is what Alexey Venediktov, editor-in-chief of radio «Echo Moskvy», had to say in the program «Essence of events» in December of last year. “The verdict of the court that found Pichugin guilty did not convince me… They did not prove to me that he is a criminal. Several books have come out dedicated to this case, so to speak, to the so-called murder. There are no bodies. All the clues – this has been proven in the trial records – were found a year after the murder. Moreover, they had looked and not found anything, and then they found them in the very same place – in the same place, on a little stone. Everything else is based on the testimony of people who have been sentenced to life imprisonment. They find people in the prison camp who say ‘Yes indeed, he gave us instructions’. Many years after the event. For me, this is not convincing… There is a rule ‘No body, no case’. In the given instance, this is maybe even the only instance where this rule was overridden. Why such an exception? Whence such an exception? Why did such a thing happen? Super-such [sic]. How many murders in Russia, how many disappearances in Russia – and there are no such cases. And here, this is the only one, unique, and it just happens to be associated with ‘Yukos’.” Of all the people convicted in the “YUKOS case”, Pichugin received the longest sentence – 24 years. In the conditions of Russian prison camps, this is the same thing as a life sentence. Why such an enormous term? For what? What did Pichugin know and not tell the investigation that he was so demonstratively sentenced to a long term? We may suppose that Pichugin did not want to besmirch Khodorkovsky and the others charged in the “YUKOS case”. In addition, experience shows that former officers of the KGB-FSB receive much longer sentences than those who did not serve in these organs. This is revenge of sorts from their colleagues at the firm. Shop-floor revenge. The same thing that Alexander Litvinenko was sent to kingdom come for.