Vera Vasilieva on the Pichugin case: "I personally cannot help feeling ashamed when a major country goes beyond mere banditry and behaves like a small-time hooligan"

posted 20 Mar 2017, 05:57 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Mar 2017, 06:06 ]
13 March 2017

By Vera Vasilieva


Russia’s failure to comply with the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)  in the Yukos cases was criticised at the session of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe which took place last week.

In the first of these cases, former shareholders in the oil company Yukos were awarded EUR 1.9 billion in compensation by the ECtHR in 2014.

The second case involves Aleksei Pichugin, the former head of the Internal Economic Security Department of Yukos, and has not attracted anywhere near as much media interest or commentary as the first “economic” case.

Aleksei Pichugin has now been recognised as a political prisoner by the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Centre, and I believe that his situation is so unjust that it should not go uncommented.

The ECtHR handed down a ruling on 23 October 2012 on the first complaint submitted by Aleksei Pichugin and his defence team in relation to the first criminal case brought against him.

The Strasbourg court found that Russia had violated Article 6 (“right to a fair trial”) and Article 5 (“right to liberty and security”) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms during the proceedings against the political prisoner Pichugin.

The unjust conviction was overturned and the case referred to Moscow City Court, since there was no other way to remedy the violations committed by the judge Natalya Olikhver in connection with Pichugin’s trial.

The rulings of the Strasbourg court are more than mere recommendations; they have a binding effect on Russia, which is part of the European legal system. Article 15(4) of the Constitution of the Russian Federal enshrines the precedence of international over national legislation.

Regardless of this fact, on 23 October 2013, or exactly one year later, the Presidium of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation ignored the ECtHR ruling on Pichugin’s case, even though the latter had waited almost 10 years for his unjust conviction to be overturned.

The judges of the highest judicial instance in Russia (Petr Serkov, Vladimir Davydov, Magomed Magomedov, Vasily Nechayev, Nikolay Timoshin, Anatoly Tolkachenko and Vladimir Khomchik) merely annulled the conditions of extended arrest which had been imposed on the ex-Yukos employee by the Basmanny district court and the Moscow City Court during the proceedings.

Before the end of 2013, Pichugin and his defence team had appealed to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in connection with the unjust conviction.

In 2014, the Russian authorities notified the Committee (which monitors compliance by national authorities with the rulings of the Strasbourg court) that they had complied with the ECtHR ruling on the Pichugin case.

Pichugin had to spend another three and a half years waiting in a prison colony for lifers known as the “Black Dolphin” (Federal Government Institution Penal Colony No. 6 in the city of Sol-Iletstk in the Orenburg Region) and the “Lefortovo” maximum-security pretrial detention facility, which boasts the harshest conditions in Moscow.

In my personal experience as a journalist, this is unquestionably the longest wait I have ever seen for an appeal granted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to be put into effect.

Pichugin did not even receive the compensation of EUR 9,500 granted for court expenses and moral damages (which is merely symbolic, since no money can make up for the fact that an innocent person spent 13 and a half years behind bars); the money was frozen in his bank account.

Lawyers attempted in vain to find out why the money was frozen. Aleksei Pichugin, who has always protested his innocence, had long repaid any monies owed to persons found to have suffered damages in connection with the civil actions against him.

It was only on the day before the latest session of the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe that the court bailiffs unfroze the compensation which had been awarded to Pichugin by the Strasbourg court.

The defence team learned from the court bailiffs that the archives proving payment of the monies owing under the civil actions in 2007 had somehow been destroyed, which is why the account had been frozen.

So why were the documents eventually found after all? There is of course no point asking whether anyone will be held legally accountable for the unwarranted freezing of the account.

Financial compensation is naturally of secondary importance in this situation, but I personally cannot help feeling ashamed when a major country goes beyond mere banditry and behaves like a small-time hooligan.

The main task now is overturning the unlawful conviction.