The following is an exclusive translation from the French newspaper Liberation about the story of Yukos lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina. Also see recent pieces by Yulia Latynina and Mark Franchetti. You can sign a petition to support her release here.
Svetlana Bakhmina, victim of the Kremlin’s ruthlessness Her two sons, now 11 and 7 years old, think she is on a “business trip”. A trip that has been on for four years now, during which she could only call a few times. In four years, Svetlana Bakhmina was able to see her sons only once during a 10 days leave. In that same short period of time she became pregnant with a third child who is now likely to be born in prison, unless last minute pardon. Svetlana Bakhmina’s case is one of the most pathetic ones in the “Yukos case” and an example of the Kremlin’s ruthlessness against ex CEO Mikhail Kodorkovsky’s team. His own case is so tragic that it started a controversy in Russia, supporters and opponents fighting on Internet.
The story of this young and pretty lawyer working for Yukos had started just like a fairy tale: She is the daughter of modest workers – her father was a welder in building sites and her mother still works as an employee in a grocery store – she was the first one of her family to complete her education – graduate studies. She graduated from Moscow’s university, specializing in Law. She was hired by Mikhail Kodorkovsy’s group in 1995, first as simple lawyer then she got promoted to more and more important positions, until she became deputy manager of the legal department.In autumn 2004, Mikhail Kodorkovsky was arrested, officially for tax fraud but especially because he had dared defy Vladimir Putin. Svetlana Bakhmina then made the biggest mistake of her life: while her managers ran away abroad, she stayed calmly in Russia, assuming that in her subordinate position and with her children, she would be left alone.In December 2004, she was arrested and then sentenced for 6 years and half for theft and tax fraud. According to the sentence, she supposedly helped embezzle more than 18 billions rubles (500 million euros) worth of Tomskneft shares, a branch of Yukos. She supposedly underestimated Tomskneft’s value, twice less than its real value. After Mikhail Kodorkovsky’s arrest, she participated in selling off the shares of Yukos in order to embezzle as much money as she could before the Russian state took over Yukos.Obviously, this young mother was not the major target but her managers were: her direct manager, Dmitri Gololobov who managed to flee to London and Leonid Nevzlin, former shareholder of Yukos, who took refuge in Israel.Svetlana Bakhmina’s lawyers are trying to avoid controversy on this subject. “In any case, Russian Law does not include holding hostages or collective responsibility in the behaviors of a company”, underlines one of her lawyers. Svetlana Bakhmina is nevertheless paying for her managers’ deeds and even the Kremlin suggests: “how despicable are these men, Nevzline and Gololobov, who ran away abroad leaving a poor mother, be imprisoned at their place”.Mobilization: just a month before the due date of her third child (beginning of December), Svetlana Bakhmina’s case is eventually moving the public in Russia. A petition on Internet (Bakhmina.ru) begs President Medvedev for pardon. Within a few weeks, 82 000 signatures were gathered, a mobilization seldom reached in Russia. Several personalities, such as former President Mikhail Gorbatchov or the writer Viktor Erofeev joined in. Unusual as it may seem,a counter-petition was however launched on Internet (bakhmina.net) asking President Medvedev to let Svetlana Bakhmina “serve her sentence till the end”. “Hundreds of other prisoners also have children and whose cases are even worse, but nobody cares.” “Mercy is not only for a few privileged people” states this counter-petition which now counts 2500 signatures. This former Yukos lawyer’s fate is in President Medvedev’s hands, he could make a difference and show his humanity by giving pardon to this young mother.But the fate of other prisoners in the Yukos case does not encourage optimism: as well as Mikhail Kodorkovsky who is still serving an eight year sentence in Siberia, two former heads of Yukos are seriously ill and nevertheless imprisoned: Platon Lebedev and Vassili Aleksanian, who suffers from AIDS and a liver cancer.Abandoned: when she was arrested, Svetlana Bakhmina, convinced that she would be rapidly released, had decided, with her husband, not to tell her children she was in prison. “She was afraid to shock them” explains a friend of the family. “Her children knew she was a very good lawyer, not a criminal”. But today, the eldest knows something is left untold. One day he told his nanny: “Mummy abandoned us”. Four years later, prison did not change the brilliant lawyer of Yukos, “expect for one point”, admits a friend of hers, “now she no longer believes in the efficiency of the Law in our country”.From our correspondent in Moscow: Lorraine Millot.