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Vera Vasilieva on the cases of Rybin and Tsigelnik and bargains with one’s conscience [Radio Svoboda]

posted 6 May 2018, 09:16 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 6 May 2018, 09:20 ]

19 April 2018

By Vera Vasilieva, journalist and human rights defender

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group  [original source: Radio Svoboda

Our country has enriched the international vocabulary more than once. Only if previously we added such words as “sputnik” and “perestroika,” now everyone knows “Novichok” and “Basmanny justice.” The concept of “plea bargains” exists in the judicial systems of many countries. Russia has managed to add a different meaning to this concept that radically distorts the original.

The institution of “plea bargaining” appeared in Russia in 2009. It provided for defendants who decide to cooperate with investigators in order to receive more lenient sentences and to have their prison terms reduced from those required by law. However, in practice, “plea bargaining” has turned into perjury, slander, and self-incrimination. Often, in fact, bargains with one’s conscience. The state not only uses these methods, it deceives without a second thought those who agree to cooperate with investigators in this way.

Two stories connected with the Yukos case appeared recently, almost simultaneously, in the press. In the course of a preliminary investigation, there was a large-scale seizure of documents by FSB personnel, who travelled especially from Moscow for the purpose, at the Ya. M. Sverdlov Factory in Nizhny Novgorod region. The general director of the factory, Vadim Rybin, went on vacation. Vadim Rybin is the son of Evgeny Rybin, the former manager of the Austrian oil company East Petroleum Handelsges.m.b.H., who figured in the criminal cases of the former Yukos employee Aleksei Pichugin and the former Yukos co-owners Leonid Nevzlin and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. In these court cases, Rybin figured as one of the injured parties and a witness for the prosecution.

In the 2009 trial of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev at Moscow’s Khamovnichesky court, Rybin gave evidence that wasn’t related to their second criminal case and called attention to episodes with regard to which the defendants had not even been charged. At the Pichugin trial, when Rybin was asked why, at the time that the incriminating actions were being performed (at the end of the 1990s), no officials made a connection between them and Yukos, Rybin responded without blinking: “There was no political decision.” Several commentators presume that the recent FSB operation at the state-owned and controlled Sverdlov Factory means that the mandate of government trust received by the Rybin family as a reward for the Yukos case has ended.

The other news in connection with Yukos is that another witness for the prosecution, Gennady Tsigelnik, a man with multiple convictions who has been behind bars for almost 15 years, has requested that he be transferred to Ukraine. Tsigelnik gave evidence against Yukos at the investigation stage and at the trial of Pichugin. He turned into one of the main “trump cards” of the prosecution, thanks to whom the former employee of Yukos was given a sentence that the European Court of Human Rights has since declared unjust. However, at a hearing of the Moscow City Court in the Nevzlin case on 21 April 2008, Tsigelnik admitted to perjury: “I incriminated Pichugin and Nevzlin at the request of investigators of the General Prosecutor’s Office Burtov and Zhebryakov and the operative Smirnov. I concluded a plea bargain agreement with Burtov on 4 May 2005."

The way he tells it, the investigators promised their protection and a minimal term in prison. He concluded a plea bargain—that is, a bargain with his conscience—and believed the promises. In truth Tsigelnik, as he stated, knew neither Pichugin, nor Nevzlin, and first heard of them from the investigator Burtovoy. But they deceived Tsigelnik. He got almost the maximum sentence possible for the offence with which he was charged —18 years.

Tsigelnik now believes neither Russian investigators nor Russian courts. After all, the Moscow City Court ignored his admission of perjury. Tsigelnik evidently thought that, if he told the truth, the court would somehow help him. But the “Basmanny” court has no need of the truth in political cases. And now Tsigelnik has again announced his readiness to give evidence, however he prudently prefers to be at a distance from Russia and has requested that he be transferred to Ukraine.

How he justifies this is not clear, since at the court hearings that went on for years, there was no mention, for example, of Tsigelnik’s Ukrainian citizenship. But in my opinion, that’s not the main point. What is most important is that, given his experience of the justice system, this person, possibly, clearly senses that, if you have been put on trial in a Russian court, then it is possible to promise anything, to do anything, without being burdened by thoughts of the truth and conscience. And in exactly the same way deceive the court, as that same court and the investigators deceived him. Because no one serious believes that, if Ukraine actually accepts Tsigelnikov, he would come to Russia at the first summons.

The system of “Basmanny” justice nurtures people like Tsigelnik. The courts are the foundation of the structure of the state. Without justice in the courts, it is impossible to have a market economy, elections, and democracy. Nothing. Without it we are condemned to live without any protection from arbitrary power and criminality. And, as the experience of Tsigelnik and Rybin show (would that it were only their experience!), those that agree to become an element of this system don’t get protection.

Translated by John Tokolish