Vera Vasilieva: Supreme Court of Russian Federation to return to case of political prisoner Aleksei Pichugin

posted 1 Nov 2017, 06:35 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 1 Nov 2017, 06:54 ]
24 October 2017

By Vera Vasilieva

Photo of Aleksei Pichugin

As reported in the media, on 8 November 2017 the Presidium of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation will consider the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of a former employee of Yukos, political prisoner Aleksei Pichugin.

This has also been reported on the Supreme Court website. According to the portal, the Strasbourg court took its decision on 6 June 2017. 

It concerns the second criminal case of Aleksei Pichugin, who was accused of organising the murder of the mayor of Nefteyugansk, Vladimir Petukhov, and consequently sentenced to life imprisonment.

The ECtHR found that during the proceedings Moscow City Court violated the former Yukos employee’s right to fair trial (Article 6 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) in two ways.

First, the principle of the presumption of innocence was not observed. Secondly, Moscow City Court refused to take into account the opinion of the handwriting expert Volodina, who could testify to the innocence of the defendant.

According to Article 413, Section 4, Paragraph 2, and Article 415 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of the Russian Federation, the violation of the provisions of the European Convention – as established by the European Court – by a criminal court of the Russian Federation is the basis for the resumption of proceedings in this case, in view of the new circumstances.

Therefore, the Chairperson of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, Vyacheslav Lebedev, made a submission on the matter to the Presidium of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. The question now is how the ECtHR decision will be dealt with in the Aleksei Pichugin case.

I am absolutely certain that if there is a fair trial, it will quash the unjust verdict. In addition to the fact that this implies an established violation of Article 6 of the European Convention, I think it can be seen that in this case the violation was blatant.

After all, the presumption of innocence is one of the fundamental principles of judicial procedure. Without its observance, in my opinion, the court is not much different from Stalin's “three-man courts” and “Special Sessions.” 

No one can be considered guilty until his guilt is proven in law and established by a court verdict.

And Vladimir Kolesnikov – who at the time (2005) was Deputy Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation – and Yury Burtovoi – then head of the investigation team in the Pichugin case, declared Aleksei Pichugin's guilt on the TV channels ORT and NTV even before the trial began.

Because of this, Aleksei Pichugin was forced to abandon trial by jury. Jurors watch television too, and can form their opinions on the basis of TV programmes.

In my opinion, the decision of the Presidium, which should follow in this situation is predetermined by law.

However, the problem is that the law now triumphs in our courts very rarely indeed. Sadly, this is not much of a surprise.

We already have an example of an ECtHR ruling on the first case of Aleksei, which was delivered on October 23, 2012 and has not been implemented – to date. Meanwhile, Russia, which signed the European Convention, was obliged to execute it.

In addition, the Pichugin case is a very unpleasant case for our authorities. It's about how a small man was crushed by a brutal system just because he worked for the oil company Yukos, whose former head, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, had decided to stand up to the president. Because he turned out to be too decent to do a dirty deal with his conscience and trade perjury for his release, though investigators promised it to him more than once. It’s unlikely the authorities will want to return to this matter, stir up old business and change the illegal sentence.

However, Vladimir Putin has a way to avoid all this and, at the same time, restore justice – as far as is possible after the fourteen and a half years that Pichugin has spent behind bars.

In May of this year, Pichugin asked President Putin for a pardon (without an admission of guilt). The Orenburg regional commission, through which this petition must necessarily pass on the way to the president, refused the request.

However, the president has the final word on the matter. The commission for pardons has the right only to recommend; he decides. To date, he has not responded.

The president still has time to pardon Aleksei Pichugin before 8 November and put an end to this rotten affair once and for all. And at the same time, demonstrate to the whole world, which already knows a lot about the case of Aleksei Pichugin, his best qualities.

Translated by Anna Bowles