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"You understand linguistics..."

By Vera Vasilyeva

Published on Human rights in Russia (
Home > Inmates > Political Prisoners > The case of Yukos > "You understand linguistics ..."

Created 11/11/2009 - 01:11

The November 10, 2009 session of Moscow’s Khamovniki district court in the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev proved to be a short one. Not one witness for the prosecution turned up in court. Perhaps this is why the zeal of prosecutors found its expression in two speeches they made. The first of these was a response by Gyulchekhra Ibragimova to a petition filed by Mikhail Khodorkovsky the previous day. The second was the prosecution's motion to extend the defendants’ detention, which had a very serious motivation.

The session began with the traditional late appearance of the prosecutors. The defendants had already been in the "tank" of bulletproof glass for a long time, the lawyers were at their places, the audience languished in the hall, and the court secretary kept peeping impatiently from the judge’s retiring room. Only the chairs of Dmitry Shokhin, Gyulchekhra Ibragimova, Valentina Kovalikhina and Valery Lakhtin remained empty.

After a wait of more than forty minutes, the prosecutors proceeded into the hall with confident steps. The face of Gyulchekhra Ibragimova was lit with a smile. The look of each of them expressed an assurance in their status, both for the present and the future.

Gyulchekhra Ibragimova, who in the trial’s previous months had spoken but rarely, now got up and began a speech, the very beginning of which caused a stunned whisper in the hall.

The defendants, their lawyers and regular visitors to the trial expected to hear a legal evaluation by the prosecutors of the petition brought forward by Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Monday[1]. In the petition the former head of YUKOS asked the court to invite the prosecution to explain to him the meaning of the terms used in the indictment. Khodorkovsky also suggested alternative courses of action: "to provide me with an interpreter, or to invite an expert linguist, if they again refuse to explain what the indictment means, or if it proves that my knowledge of Russian is not adequate to understand their explanations, and the restatement of the indictment in terms more easily to be understood by the defendants is difficult.”

The reason for such a petition was the events of previous days, about which portal has already written [2]. Let me remind you that last Tuesday, November 3, Gyulchekhra Ibragimov called trustees, acting in agreement with various companies and in the interests of those companies, in accordance with the Civil Code of the Russian Federation, "shell" entities.

"Between the trustee or an employee of the company, professionally acting as a trustee, called the secretary of the company, and a “shell” entity there is a clear difference, evident to people who speak Russian," Khodorkovsky pointed out.

It seemed that the defendant’s words about the Russian language affected the minds of the prosecutors in a special way. As a result of these mental processes Gyulchekhra Ibragimova concluded that Mikhail Khodorkovsky was discriminating against her on the grounds of ethnic origin (the notorious “fifth point” of the [Soviet-era] questionnaire):

"I note with what delicate precision Khodorkovsky determines for whom Russian is a native language, and for whom it is not. In this case, if he is not satisfied with the contents of the “fifth point” of my questionnaire, he should not merely request me to do something, but demand my recusal as prosecutor," said Ibragimova.

The prosecutor called Mikhail Khodorkovsky a “man indifferent to his own image who has no self-love”, “a specialist of the highest class in the Russian language" and "no less an expert in jurisprudence”.

Probably, the prosecutor was seeking to show her outstanding sense of humour. But the attempt was in vain. The courtroom (judging by its reaction) was unable to appreciate this humour as it might.

Finally, Ibragimova dwelt on the term "borehole fluid", the "originator" of which, in the words of the prosecutor, was Mikhail Khodorkovsky. From borehole fluid Ibragimova suddenly switched to "donkey’s fluid" - apparently confusing Mikhail Khodorkovsky with witness for the prosecution Yevgeny Rybin, because the latter of the above-mentioned fluids figured in his testimony.

"The hat doesn’t fit Semyon,” Ibragimova summed up, and immediately flashed her knowledge of Spanish: "The sombrero doesn’t fit Juan.”

"At Khodorkovsky’s age, it’s too late, as it’s too late for everything else," she concluded.

The end of Gyulchekhra Ibragimova’s speech was drowned in laughter from the public seats. The court bailiffs, also stunned, did not even attempt to restore order.

Judge Victor Danilkin estimated the legal weight of the arguments brought by Gyulchekhra Ibragimova and, without retiring to his deliberation room, but consulting with himself there at his desk, rejected Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s petition. He immediately announced a “technical break” in a nervous voice.

When the session resumed, defence lawyer Vladimir Krasnov raised objections to the judge’s actions.

"Your indulgence to the prosecutors exceeds all norms. Despite the fact that the trial began 40 minutes late today you made no comment. You allowed prosecutor Ibragimova to pronounce a philippic that has nothing to do with the trial, or with jurisprudence in general. Her words did not contain a single reference to law.”

The lawyer continued: "... The comments of prosecutor Ibragimova, without taking into account the “fifth point”, were essentially boorish in nature but did not evoke any comment on your part. If things continue like this, it could lead to what happens when the referee loses control of the football match. People will no longer rise when you enter the court, they will leave when they choose, and the prosecutors will arrive at court ever later and later. I hope that this will encourage you to pay more attention to manner in which participants in the trial conform to the requirements of law.”

The judge made no reaction to these remarks and asked the prosecutors to continue.

Lakhtin agreed to continue, but in four hours’ time. The judge, in turn, immediately agreed with the prosecutor, but suddenly remembered that the trial also involved another side: the defence. Then Victor Danilkin asked the opinion of the defence about the decision he had just made.

"The judge makes a ruling, after which he allows lawyers for the defence to raise an objection. We express one more objection to your conduct of the trial!" said Vladimir Krasnov.

As a result, the judge changed his mind. Then prosecutor Lakhtin brought forward a new petition concerning the extension of the detention on remand of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev until 17 February 2010. The current period expires on November 17, 2009, that is, in a week’s time. The prosecutor laid down in front of him a thick stack of papers, but then proceeded to say that the petition was oral in nature. In other words, the prosecution did not intend to give the defence a hard copy of the petition.

The speech of prosecutor Lakhtin proved no less incendiary than that of prosecutor Ibragimova.

From Lakhtin’s speech it follows that it is a necessity that the former head of YUKOS and the former head of MFO Menatep remain in custody. If they were at liberty, "they could continue to engage in criminal activity." Moreover, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev had been previously convicted at Meshchanski district court, "accused of grave and heinous crimes" and were "leaders of an organized criminal group".

"The process of seeking out the named individuals continues. Some of them have been found," said Valery Lakhtin of those YUKOS associates who had proved beyond the reach of the punishing sword of Russian justice. Who exactly the Russian authorities had succeeded in finding the prosecutor did not elaborate.

"The defendants are a great danger to the public,” continued Lakhtin. “They are a threat to the defence readiness and security of the state."

"A certain Bruce Misamore headed the legal crusade against Russia," said the prosecutor, referring to the filing by YUKOS’ former executives and shareholders of applications to the European Court of Human Rights.

Moreover, as it followed from this same petition, the insolvency and subsequent bankruptcy of YUKOS were far from caused by the actions of tax and other government bodies after the arrest of the defendants. They were caused by the hiding of money by Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev from the shareholders.

To confirm his theses, Lakhtin referred to the testimony of prosecution witness Yevgeny Rybin who had addressed the court previously [3] and the testimony on file of Alexei Golubovich. The latter is well known for his testimony against YUKOS given in the court proceedings against Leonid Nevzlin [4] and Alexei Pichugin [5]. As also by his scandalous appearances on TV, in which Golubovich accused the heads of YUKOS of attempting to poison him with mercury. It is noteworthy that this accusation has not figured in any of the court proceedings against YUKOS.

When the YUKOS affair was just beginning, former colleagues at the company warned Alexei Golubovich that the clouds were gathering over the company and the situation was becoming unsafe. Now Golubovich interprets all these warnings as "threats" made to him by the heads of YUKOS.

Prosecutor Lakhtin considerably promoted Aleksei Pichugin, who headed the section on economic security within the security department at YUKOS, calling him one of the heads of this department. Meanwhile, the prosecutor preferred to say nothing about the actual head of the security department, Mikhail Shestopalov. But the fact that Pichugin was sentenced to life imprisonment, apparently, in Lakhtin’s view, serves as a strong argument in favour of extending the detention on remand of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev.

Further proof of the criminal tendencies of the defendants, in Lakhtin’s eyes, are a number of publications in the newspapers Rossiiskaya gazeta and Kommersant.

Having heard the prosecutor’s speech to the end, the defence asked for a copy of the minutes of the day’s proceedings and for an adjournment until Friday to formulate their position.

"On no grounds must there be an adjournment! Everything is printed in an acceptable, accessible and understandable form," cried the prosecutor Lakhtin, once again expressing the suspicion that the defendants and their lawyers were deliberately trying to draw out the trial.

Evidently, the regular lateness of the prosecutors at the beginning of each day’s hearing does not represent a drawing out of the trial.

According to Lakhtin, one hour is quite sufficient for the defence lawyers to acquaint themselves with a pile of documents about ten centimetres thick.

In the end, Victor Danilkin adjourned for an hour-and-a-half. After this break, the judge decided to adjourn again, this time until 2pm on the next day.

· The case of Yukos

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Rights in Russia,
11 Nov 2009, 04:46