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Criminal Prosecution of Mikhail Savva is Politically Motivated, His Wife Believes

15 April 2013

Source: Caucasian Knot

Director of grantmaking programmes at the Southern Regional Resource Centre in Krasnodar, Mikhail Savva, has been charged with developing a scheme to steal 366,000 roubles of government money. Investigators believe that Mikhail Savva did this ‘acting out of mercenary self-interest’. Mikhail Savva’s wife, Elena Savva, believes that the criminal prosecution of her husband is politically motivated. She has said that at the time of the search of their apartment, FSB officers showed interest in her husband's foreign contacts. 

As Caucasian Knot reported earlier, Mikhail Savva, doctor of political sciences, professor at Kuban State University, director of grantmaking programmes of the NGO Southern Regional Resource Centre, and a member of the Public Oversight Commission of Krasnodar region for places of detention, was detained on 12 April. On 13 April, the October district court in Krasnodar ruled that he should be held on remand for a period of two months.

According to the Krasnodar region FSB, Mikhail Savva is complicit in the theft of government funds, provided by the Krasnodar regional government as a grant. On 11 April criminal charges were brought against him under Article 159.2, Section 3, of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, 'Large scale fraud through receipt of payments by a person using their official position.' The Southern Regional Resource Centre believes that Savva is being persecuted because of his criticism of the inspections of NGOs conducted by the security services

Mikhail Savva’s wife says the FSB wants to prove her husband guilty of theft, but is paying particular attention to his contacts abroad. 

During the search of Mikhail Savva’s apartment, FSB officers wanted to know more about his contacts abroad, said his wife, Professor Elena Savva, who sees a political undercurrent to the prosecution of her husband.

She said that the inspections of NGOs in the Kuban region began on 14 March, on the eve of Mikhail Savva’s departure to the USA. ‘This trip was related exclusively to his academic work on migration. But 14 March FSB officers came to the Southern Regional Resource Centre. During the course of the many hours that the inspection lasted, the work computer of her husband was seized as well as a number of documents,’ Elena Savva told Caucasian Knot.

According to Elena Savva, initially her husband was not concerned about the situation. ‘He said that everyone was being inspected, and there was nothing terrible about it. But when he found out that at inspections in other NGOs that work closely with the Southern Regional Resource Centre people were being detained for up to 9 hours without being allowed to contact their relatives or to leave their offices, and all entrances and exits to and from the buildings were being blocked off, his view changed. He was worried and cancelled his trip to the USA.  From that moment on he tried to use all legal means to stop the aggressive tactics used by the FSB,’ Elena Savva says.

"On 18 March there was again an inspection of the Southern Regional Resource Centre, this time it was prosecutors, the fire inspectorate and so on. After that there was a lull for a while. But, from Saturday 6 April, the situation began to look very serious. From what my husband said, I know that on this day the FSB began to check another organization, in this case a for-profit organization, that had done work as a subcontractor on one of the Southern Regional Resource Centre’s grants,’ Elena Savva related.

The FSB is working very aggressively in an attempt to prove that these funds have been stolen.

Elena Savva says that a small marketing company, headed by Viktoriya Remmler, had conducted sociological research in relation to migrants in Krasnodar region.

"At the weekend, FSB officers visited the homes of all the organization’s staff (who are all women) and took them to the FSB headquarters where they were questioned under pressure. On Monday, 8 April FSB officers took Elena Shablo, the head of the non-profit organization the Levados Information and Training Centre, that had worked with Southern Regional Resource Centre in the framework of the same project, from her home for questioning. She was kept at FSB headquarters from 7 am until 5 pm. On Tuesday, 9 April, FSB officers again came to the Southern Regional Resource Centre and seized a large number of documents,’ Elena Savva said.

Elena Savva said that the FSB officers explained their actions at the Southern Regional Resource Centre on the basis of information they had received that a grant intended for socially beneficial project made by the Ministry of Social Development and distributed by the regional government of Krasnodar region had been allotted to the Southern Regional Resource Centre illegally, and that there had also been theft of the grant funds.

"This grant was for 820,000 roubles. It is the only grant that the Southern Regional Resource Centre received from the government in the course of its history. A number of other organizations did work under this programme as subcontractors for the Southern Regional Resource Centre, and against them the FSB  is behaving very aggressively, trying to get evidence that these funds were stolen. At the same time, at the end of 2012 Mikhail Valentinovich [Savva] travelled with regional government officials to Moscow where he received an award for first place among the socially beneficial projects funded by grants from the Ministry of Social Development. It is beyond comprehension how the government could give such a high assessment of the project if the money had been stolen,’ Mikhail Savva’s wife pointed out.

She said that she had witnessed the search of Mikhail Savva’s apartment before he had been detained. "At 6 am on 12 April the bell of our apartment rang. A large group of FSB officers – 7 people including two witnesses - came in. I have to be fair to the FSB officers who tried to behave themselves with the utmost correctness in our apartment,’ Elena Savva said.

The search lasted six hours. "During this search it was clear that the FSB officers were not interested at all in the grant made by the regional government, but in the links between Mikhail Valentinovich [Savva] and foreign organizations, especially in the United States,’ Elena Savva said. ‘During the search virtually all electronic sources of information were seized, including memory sticks, my husband’s documents, including manuscripts, many photographs, and above all reports about the trips abroad and meetings with representatives of NGOs.’

They were even interested in Mikhail Savva’s exercise books for learning English and photographs of him as a student.

Elena Savva also said that she witnessed how her daughter’s old school exercise books were taken out of her bedroom with the words: ‘Here are also foreign words, probably we should also take these.’

"The FSB officers were even interested in an old postcard that, sometime when he had been a student, in about 1987, a Chinese graduate student had given to Mikhail Valentinovich [Savva]. In addition, two bank cards were seized, one my husband’s and the other my own, on which we received our salaries. When the search of the apartment was over the FSB officers, together with my husband and his lawyer, went to our garage for that to be searched. About two hours later the lawyer phoned me and said that my husband had been detained for 48 hours," Elena Savva said.

Commenting on her husband’s detention and the charges brought against him, Elena Savva said the court decision that he be held on remand for two months used ‘such language that, one would think, the person in question was at the very least a member of the Italian mafia.’

"The court believes that he could hide from the investigators, using his corrupt links with other participants in the crime, and also could commit further crimes and ‘put pressure on the staff of the Southern Regional Resource Centre who are effectively his subordinates’, and threaten witnesses,” Elena Savva said. “Anyone who knows Mikhail Valentinovich could only laugh at such words. I am convinced that this prosecution is politically motivated.”

The court ruled that it was not possible to apply any other kind of restraint in the case of Mikhail Savva except custody.

The hearing on 13 April was held behind closed doors. The court agreed with the arguments of the investigators of the need to detain Mikhail Savva in custody for two months. 

In deciding to grant the investigators' motion, the court, as stated in the ruling, took into account the specific circumstances of the crime which Savva is charged with, which under the law is categorised as a crime of medium gravity, and the nature of the offence he is accused of. In the opinion of the investigators, if released, Mikhail Savva may abscond from the preliminary investigation and trial, as well as continue to engage in his criminal activities, or otherwise obstruct the progress of the criminal case.

"The court considers these conclusions justified, insofar as such intentions on the part of the accused could arise, with the aim of avoiding criminal liability for his actions. In light of the above, the court considers it impossible to impose other, more lenient, pre-trial restrictions which would not entail detention in custody. The court has not established that there any circumstances which would prevent Mikhail Savva being placed under conditions of a pre-trial detention centre," states the ruling of Judge N. Kazansky, a copy of which is in the hands of a correspondent for Caucasian Knot.

According to investigators, Mikhail Savva, "acting for mercenary motives, developed a scheme to embezzle funds belonging to the Russian Federation in the amount of 366,000 roubles."

"In order to carry out his criminal intentions, Mikhail Savva, grants manager for an NGO of which he is in effect the head, the Krasnodar regional NGO the Southern Regional Resource Centre, in August 2012 developed a programme called Building Peace (strengthening interethnic relations between the main diasporas and the long-standing population of Krasnodar Territory) in order to enter his NGO in a competition for subsidies (grants) to support socially useful programmes of socially oriented non-profit organisations, announced by the Krasnodar Territory administration on 4 August 2012. The programme included a study The Potential for the Socialisation of Migrants in Krasnodar Territory," reads the justification for the investigators' motion filed in support of imposing pre-trial restrictions on Savva.

Savva and Remmler stole funds belonging to the Russian Federation from the Territory administration

Furthermore, according to the investigators, Mikhail Savva involved "his friend, sole founder and director of the Pilot Marketing Agency, V. Remmler, to help him commit the crime he had planned." The investigators believe that Remmler prepared false documents on the carrying out of a study by the Pilot Marketing Agency, The Potential for the Socialisation of Migrants in Krasnodar Territory, using funds from the grant allocated by the Krasnodar Territory administration in the amount of 366,000 roubles, as part of the Building Peace programme, after which, according to investigators, "the money was embezzled and disposed of as private property."

"Meanwhile, this study was carried out in November-December 2012 using money from sources of finance other than the subsidies (grants) from the administration of Krasnodar Territory," the investigators claim.

Thus, according to the investigators, Savva and Remmler, "who was acting under his leadership and control," "on 11 December 2012, acting by prior agreement and using fraudulent means, making use of Remmler's official position in the Krasnodar Territory administration, embezzled budget funds in the form of subsidies belonging to the Russian Federation in the amount of 366,000 roubles, which is in excess of 250,000 roubles and is therefore a large sum."

The penalties under Part 3 of Article 159.2 of the Russian Criminal Code (Fraudulent obtaining of payments, ie embezzlement of money or other property through the receipt of benefits, compensations, subsidies or other social payments established by law or other regulatory legal acts, through deliberately presenting false and/or misleading information, as well as by failing to disclose facts which would lead to the termination of such payments, carried out by persons abusing their official position, as well as in large sums) take the form of a maximum punishment of a term of imprisonment of up to five years plus a fine. 

His lawyer believes there are no grounds for Mikhail Savva to be held in custody

Mikhail Savva has pleaded not guilty, says his lawyer Andrei Savchenko, who says that the court decision to detain his client is unfounded.

The case of Mikhail Savva is being handled by Senior Investigator for Particularly Important Cases at the FSB Directorate for Krasnodar Territory Lieutenant Colonel of Justice D. Gnativ, Andrei Savchenko told a Caucasian Knot correspondent.

He said that his client gave evidence on each of the charges, "adding that the charges are unfounded and absurd, and the case is fabricated."

The lawyer believes that the decision of the court on 13 April to retain Savva in custody was taken in violation of a resolution of the Plenum of the Supreme Court of 29 October 2009, which states that in each specific instance the court must verify the grounds for suspecting that an individual was involved in the committing of a crime.

"But the "official" charge against Savva is contrived and unfounded," Andrei Savchenko says.

"What's more, the criminal case materials submitted to the court to support the motion filed by the investigators to hold Savva in custody contained only procedural documents and interrogations of Savva, but no legally binding transcripts. No evidence was submitted indicating that Savva was guilty of the crimes he is charged with," the lawyer points out.

Placing Savva in detention could aggravate his chronic illness, which could lead to tragic consequences

The lawyer also pointed out that in deciding to detain someone in custody, account must also be taken of the possibility of the suspect or the accused absconding from the investigating authorities, the preliminary investigation or court, continuing to engage in criminal activities, threatening witnesses or other participants in the criminal proceedings, destroying evidence or otherwise obstructing the progress of the criminal case.

"Such circumstances must be realistic and justified, in other words backed up by solid evidence, and there is nothing of the kind in the criminal case materials," says Andrei Savchenko. "Mikhail Savva has a permanent place of residence and work, has no previous convictions, is a decent family man and Russian citizen, and is of mature years and in poor health. Placing him in detention could aggravate his chronic illness, which could lead to tragic consequences."

Savchenko is convinced there are no grounds for holding Savva in custody.

"Savva poses absolutely no danger to the public. Custodial detention should only be applied when there are no other, more lenient restraint measures available, and such measures were available to the court and the investigators," Savchenko stresses.

He also said that during the taking of this decision Mikhail Savva's constitutional right to defence was violated. "Since, in accordance with Part 2 of Article 49 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a motion was filed by Savva to allow a lawyer from the Southern Regional Resource Centre to act as his defence lawyer, in addition to the presence of his counsel, which the court unreasonably refused," says Andrei Savchenko.

On 12 April, in Krasnodar journalist Andrei Koshik and coordinator of the regional branch of the Golos Association David Kankiya organised a series of one-person pickets outside the building of the Territory's FSB Directorate to demand the release of Mikhail Savva. The pickets were broken up by the police, who arrested the participants. They were subsequently released without charge.