Lev Ponomarev: Igor Sechin, one of the regime’s most powerful figures, has still not appeared in court. What happens if he doesn’t show up?

posted 4 Dec 2017, 06:20 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 4 Dec 2017, 07:44 ]
14 November 2017

Extract from "Tuesday with Lev Ponomarev," Radio Sol

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group (original source: Radio Sol)

[…] VALENTINA IVAKINA (Radio Sol) – At present the media and many human rights activists are wondering whether Igor Sechin will be successfully dragged into court. He is a key witness in the corruption case of ex-Minister [for the Economy] Alexei Ulyukayev. He has twice been issued a summons to appear in court, the media say, but he has yet to turn up.

LEV PONOMAREV It’s very interesting. I’m pleased that it’s all so cut and dried. Whatever ideological clichés the propagandists have come up with on our State television – a conspiracy against Sechin, a plot by the US State Department or the CIA – I don’t know in advance how it’s going to play. I don’t watch those TV channels and I don’t know how they are portraying it.

The situation is quite clear. The court called Sechin as a witness. The first time his colleagues at work refused to accept the summons. The court announced that it was again sending a summons. Sechin certainly can’t avoid receiving it. If he fails to appear a second time, the court should decide to bring him in by force. What Sechin will do then, I don’t know. It’s all out in the open: the court cannot avoid for a third time taking a decision to force him to come. The bailiff must go to Sechin’s office and say, “Come with me to the court hearing.” That will be an extremely important moment, because it’s psychologically crucial for the whole system that has been established in Russia.

Collective, “robber-baron” capitalism was established in Russia. A small group of people gained access to the country’s resources, took over the regime, and became billionaires before our eyes. Sechin can take no credit for this. He’s no major businessman who started with nothing and, thanks to his talents, became a big entrepreneur. He was simply given this money. He got everything as a gift. Yet, at the same time, he behaves as if he’s too big to fall. This is a man who despises our Russian laws. He’s obviously no friend of the law and a great many revelations have been made about him. Rosneft is not a prosperous company, by the way – far from it.

And yet we know he is the second most influential person in Russia. The first is Putin, the second is Sechin. Circumstances have arisen, and he should go to court, but he doesn’t want to. Clearly, if he didn’t come the first time or the second time, he was showing his contempt for our Russian courts. As we know, this often happens. Then there’s the question of how our courts behave. They are unjust, and often don’t pursue people with great political clout. Our judicial system is tame, it avoids prosecuting people close to the authorities. In this case, I don’t know why it happened. What did they summon him for? Could they have avoided calling him? Those are separate issues. Once he has been summoned, however, this process cannot stop, and it will be interesting to see how he behaves. Perhaps, the judge [Larisa Semyonova] will change her mind, and once again the court will publicly disgrace itself.

IVAKINA – And might the court change its minds? Can it do that?

PONOMAREV – When a court is under orders from above, it can do anything. The opposition will cry that our courts do as they’re told, but who doesn’t know that?

Everyone is aware that Russia’s courts can be controlled from above. Ask people on the street if they trust the Russian courts: I bet more than half will say, “No”. Polls have shown that result. The Russian courts have long since been discredited. It’s a supervised structure.

Sometimes they make a fair decision. When ordinary people are at odds with each other, when our citizens take each other to court, it’s possible to get a fair trial. If one of the parties is someone close to the regime, however, or someone who is himself powerful, like Sechin for example, then an ordinary citizen will certainly lose the case. Everyone has known about our courts for a long time; it’s no secret. Yet for some reason Sechin’s opponents have been trying their hardest. The chances are that the prosecutor’s office is behind it. If anyone were to ask me what is going on, I would say it’s a shambles.

I don’t understand these power struggles. The only way I can make sense of it is to suggest that the prosecutor’s office, to start with, made public the transcripts of the conversation between Sechin and Ulyukayev. It was a leak and it was big news that a minister was being taped by an ordinary police investigator. For Sechin, it was like being stripped naked in front of everyone. He was completely exposed, his snitch-like personality was exposed, even though he’s the second most powerful man in Russia. Obviously, he wasn’t happy about it.

IVAKINA – He’s been cooperating with the investigation. But now they say that if Sechin doesn’t show up in court, he could be locked up for four months.

PONOMAREV – Yes, they are obliged to make him come. The bailiff will simply go and suggest that Sechin should accompany him.

IVAKINA – It’s difficult to say what will happen next. Isn’t it likely that the court will change its mind and not summon Sechin?

PONOMAREV – That would seem the easiest way out for the regime. The judge will get a phone call from someone or other (from the presidential administration, perhaps), and she’ll change her mind. I think that’s what will most likely happen.

IVAKINA – But it’s also being said that Igor Sechin is a key witness. Without his testimony, Alexei Ulyukayev may not be found guilty.

PONOMAREV – The scenario has already been written and, I think, it will go exactly according to plan. It’s always possible, of course, that a particular judge may feel that she could go down in the history of Russian justice as the first independent judge of the Putin era, someone who acted independently in a trial of great political significance. I don’t know the person who’s conducting the trial. She could be that wonderful person. I would certainly applaud her if she did. That’s also possible – why shouldn’t we believe in people? It would be a remarkable event, nevertheless.

Translation Anna Bowles, Nicky Brown and Lindsay Munford