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Sensation: Interview with Judge Danilkin’s Assistant

Source: (info), 14/02/11

· The Courts · The Yukos Case · Moscow City & Moscow Region
Roman Badanin, Svetlana Bocharova: The verdict in the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev was authored by Moscow City Court judges and forced on Judge Viktor Danilkin against his will, according to Natalya Vasilieva, assistant to the judge and press spokesperson of the Khamovnichesky court, who decided to speak openly to The head of the press service of Moscow City Court, Anna Usacheva, described the interview given by Natalya Vasilieva as a ‘predictable provocation on the eve of hearing by Moscow City Court of the appeal against the decision by the Khamovnichesky court.’ Anna Usacheva expressed confidence that Natalya Vasilieva ‘will disclaim what she has said’ and underlined that ‘at the time when Natalya Vasilieva gave the interview, she had already given in her resignation to the personnel department…’

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- Natalia, please describe for us what your powers were at the Khamovnichesky Court. What are you responsible for there on the whole, and what were you responsible for during the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev?


- My position is called judge's assistant, I have also been entrusted with the duties of the

Khamovnichesky Court's press secretary. I put together responses to enquiries that are sent to

the court, draft responses to appeals, documents that go to the judicial department's

accounting department. Plus personnel management. Plus adding all the court statistics to the

general records. These things - and this is a huge amount of work - were done by me.

During the trial against Khodorkovsky my duties included working with the press. I had to, if

I am to speak in more detail, organise where press representatives could be, let them in on

time, monitor the taking of photographs, lead the press out of the building.


- Why are you talking about your duties in the past tense?


- Because I think that this will all come to an end today. That's what I think - there will be repercussions for me...


- Which elements of your job, which people you spoke with in the court, or other

sources of information, gave you a picture of what was going on in the trial?


- My personal communication with the judge in this case was in the main to do with media

issues. It was, of course, not rare for certain phrases to be uttered by him... because this

person was simply in such a state that he could say something of this sort.


On journalism at the trial


- As this is your area of immediate responsibility, can you tell us how, by whom and in what manner media operations were controlled at the trial? What were the arrangements?


- Media operations were also regulated by the Moscow City Court. Instructions were given as to how many pictures to take and how to take them.


- From whom? To whom? When?


- I was given instructions personally... Viktor Nikolaevich would tell me that the Moscow City Court had said this, this and this, and that we would be working under this and this specific arrangement. Accordingly, it would then be articulated that OK, we'll be letting in the press who are here, and they have three minutes there to take pictures. Or perhaps there wouldn't be anyone there yet, in which case take as many pictures of the cell as you like, and that would be that. I was supposed to show the press around.


- Was there any selectivity with regard to the press?


- No, there wasn't. The only problem was that the courtroom isn't very big and it was hard to fit everyone in, particularly when something important was happening. But generally there wasn't anything unusual. The arrangement was that a request would be sent, Viktor Nikolaevich would check they were accredited, and that would be it, I would collect all the signed accreditations and let the media in.


- Was it Danilkin who decided whether to allow access?


- Of course. Not Moscow City Court. And there were never any instructions either about whom to let in and whom not. Everyone who had sent a request was allowed in.

And things that had nothing to do with Khodorkovsky were, of course, also discussed, and in great detail. Because a large portion of my workload had to be discussed with Viktor Nikolaevich.


Secondly, I know a lot from a person who was close to the judge, and also from conversations had in the court.


- Would you care to name this person?


- No.


- Because, you see, this question could be asked by everyone as soon as this interview is made available to the public.


- Yes, I know that.


- And this question could also become legally binding for you...


- I will probably have to answer the question of who this person is. And then he can be asked.


- Was there anything that made the trial against Khodorkovsky stand out from the

other trials that go on in the Khamovnichesky Court?


- Or course the fact that the trial attracted a lot of media attention. But, on the whole, there

were no violations in the trial to make it stand out from the others.


- Was Danilkin independent when he conducted the proceedings? What do you know

about his relations with his superiors?


- I can say that from the very beginning, before Danilkin went (to the deliberation room on 2

November - ed.) to reach a verdict, there was constant control, and this control probably did

not disappear after 2 November either.


- What was the nature of this control?


- Viktor Nikolaevich had to speak to the Moscow City Court about all questionable matters

that arose during the court sessions. I.e. when something happened, when something was not

quite as it should be, he had, was obliged, to pass on this information to the Moscow City

Court and, accordingly, he would receive precise instructions from them about how to

conduct himself thenceforth.


- Can you remember any points in the trial when Danilkin consulted the Moscow City

Court? For example could this have been well-known clashes when some or other

witnesses were summoned to the proceedings?


- Yes.


- How would this take place?


- Over the phone.


- Whom would he phone?


- The chair, I think (the chair of the Moscow City Court is Olga Egorova - ed.).


- Did you witness any of these conversations?


- There were moments when I might go into his office during a break, bring him some

documents to be signed, and I might be told: not now, Viktor Nikolaevich is speaking with

the Moscow City Court. Or he would say himself: "I'm talking with the 'city'" That's slang for

Moscow City Court. So some sort of instructions were being given...


- But under the law, would a judge in charge of any other criminal trial really be

blocked from receiving instructions from his bosses? Does he have the right and the

opportunity to consult with his superior court with regard to any contentious issues that

may arise during the trial? I mean, was what judge Danilkin was forced to do, or did at

his own initiative, was that general practice or was it a violation?


- It is more likely that judge Danilkin was forced into doing what he did. Under the law a

judge is not obliged to consult with anyone or to give effect to anyone else's opinion.


- He is meant to deliver a verdict in compliance with the law. And nobody has the right to

interfere in judicial proceedings. And so this (the necessity of consulting with Moscow City

Court - Gazeta.Ru) is a specific type of violation, one that occurs because there is a superior

court that can put pressure on you.


- How did Danilkin respond to the need to report to Moscow City Court? Were there

any problems, did he complain or get upset or nervous?


- Yes, he was nervous and upset, he wasn't happy that he was going to have to do whatever

they told him. He really wasn't happy about this, that was obvious.


- Did he say this to his colleagues?


- I can't tell you what he said. I just saw what condition he was in, again, because I used to be

in his office pretty often.

...At one point I went in, I needed to discuss some questions with him, I started asking them,

but he was already in such a perturbed state, and he blurted out the phrase:

"I can't give you any answers to these questions because I don't know where I will be

tomorrow or what will be happening to me."

Another time too, I was asking about media work, this time he just threw up his hands like a

man resigned to his fate and said:

"Do what you like, I don't care anymore."

At one point he started to have heart problems. I went into his office and there was a really

strong smell of Corvalol or Valerian or something, some sort of heart medicine. I asked the

secretaries whether everything was OK, and they said: "It is now."


- Do you remember at what points in the trial these things happened?


I think his heart started playing up on maybe the second or the third day of reading out the

verdict. The phrase about how he didn't know what was going to happen to him, that was said

before the judge retired to consider the verdict. The one about how he didn't care anymore -

that was during the reading out of the verdict. I can't remember any other details - it was a

very long trial. I just saw what his reaction was like when he used to return from the Moscow

City Court after being summoned there...


- Was he summoned often?


- Yes, he used to go there once a week for certain. ... There is a certain established practice:

when a trial that has some degree of significance is going on, if it is an ordinary judge he is

supposed to consult with the chairman of his court, or to keep him informed.

But if it is a trial like the Khodorkovsky case, in that case the Moscow City Court has to

know everything and regulate things in some way, to direct what actions are taken.


- Is there an understanding of what sort of risks the judge would have been taking by

refusing to consult with the Moscow City Court on this case and get its approval for his



- Do you know, when you refuse, the best case scenario is that you will be asked to resign.


On relations with the prosecution


- Do you know how the chairman felt about the actions of the prosecution during the trial? If you think about it, he often came down quite hard on them. Were there any

consequences for him because of that, did they complain about him?


I do not think that they were able to punish him in any way for that, but he does not like prosecutor Valery Lakhtin at all. Once I went to his office to get something signed, I came

in from the other side. The trial was going on, and Danilkin stopped the trial for 5 minutes, came in upset and said of Lakhtin “What is he doing? How can he do that?” As I found out later, the prosecutor had really tormented the defendants with the same questions, and moreover he was pushing hard and the undertone was unpleasant. And this extremely annoyed Danilkin.


But nevertheless he made most of the decisions in their favour...


I think that he was forced to do that, he could not have acted any differently..

But when you have these sorts of political cases, these things where someone has given an

order, they are targeted in advance toward a specific result. And if you refuse that means

you're out of your court. And that’s that.


I can tell you that the entire judicial community understands very well that this case has been

ordered, that this trial has been ordered. And everyone sympathises with and understands

Viktor Nikolaevich. But most probably nobody knows how he could have come out of this

situation with dignity.


- We know that initially the verdict was scheduled to be delivered on 15 December. Then, without any explanations, the date was moved to practically New Year's Eve - to 27 December? Do you have any idea why?


- I suspect the reason for this long delay was the fact that something in the verdict had to be corrected. In other words, the verdict was not finished by 15 December. And another reason for the postponement from 15th December to a later date - our prime minister's address (Vladimir Putin, who announced on 16 December on "Direct Line" that he believed that

Khodorkovsky's guilt had been proven - " Gazeta.Ru). In order not to divert attention away from the prime minister's address with Khodorkovsky's trial. This was never said in the court, but this thought, this subtext, was implied everywhere.


- Who wrote the verdict?


- Danilkin started to write the verdict. I suspect that whatever was in that verdict did not suit

the higher authorities. And as a result he got another verdict, which had to be read out.

But because (the other) verdict was not finished by 15 December, perhaps this is why the

delay became even longer.


- Does this mean that the verdict written by Danilkin may have been read by someone

before it was delivered?


- Not read, but just, how can I explain this...When there is total control, one does not need to

read it but simply ask what is in it.


- Can you please explain, from the point of view of the law, how does the life of a judge

change from the moment he "retires for the verdict"? Second question: what is a

verdict from a technical point of view? Who writes it, how, and where is it kept during

all this time?


- The judge writes the verdict single-handedly. He writes it in his office, during working

hours. Naturally, all this is done on a computer, in 'Word'. Nobody else has the right to

interfere with this process.


- To what extent is the judge's contact limited in the deliberating room?


Access to the deliberating room is forbidden to citizens and court employees until the work

on the verdict is complete.


- Let's get back to the text of the verdict. Are there any signs, in the delivered verdict,

that this text was not written by the judge Danilkin, as the defendants' lawyers claim?


- Indirect ones, in the text [of the verdict] itself. After the verdict was read out ( in the New

Year) I myself saw the secretaries amend the verdict in its electronic version. They were

correcting technical mistakes - deleting some paragraph, commas, incorrect spacing. This is

why there was a delay in handing out copies of the verdict to the parties.


- And in common practice, don't the secretaries normally correct these small mistakes

in the text?


- No, the verdict must be prepared by the judge single-handedly, without mistakes or typos, it

cannot contain any corrections. It must be clear, precise, laconic, in compliance with the law.

The court secretaries have nothing to do with the verdict whatsoever. The secretaries only

prepare the records of court hearings.


- Are there any ways of proving, from the text, that the verdict was not written by



- This can be done by means of an expert analysis. By taking the previous verdicts issued by

him in criminal cases, and comparing them stylistically.


- You said that Danilkin received the verdict from the top. Who wrote it and how did he

pass it to him?


On speed-reading the verdict


- Everyone noticed that the judge read at an unusually quick pace and due to that the text of the verdict was inaudible. What was the point of that?


- Well, first of all, he had been given the order to simply finish reading it by the New Year. Although he is naturally a quick reader, he reads really quickly. But on this occasion

this was not important because the deadline needed to be met, because on top of the 700 pages of the verdict there was also a ruling of 200 pages and so time was needed for this as

well. And also, and I am probably expressing not just my own opinion but the opinion of people around me: he was sort of a bit ashamed of the fact that what he was reading out was

not his own, and so he was in a rush to be rid of it. I know for a fact that the verdict was brought from the Moscow City Court, of this I am sure. And the fact that this verdict was written by the judges from the courts of cassation instance for criminal cases - i.e. the Moscow City Court. This is obvious. No one else at the Moscow City Court could have written it. And those erasures, that is because it was done in such a short space of time.


- Who wrote the text at Moscow City Court?


- Someone in Danilkin's close circle whom I spoke to named these judges, I know their

names, but I would prefer not to disclose them at this time.


- Was the verdict brought [to the court] after 15 December?


- After, of course. It was close to the time when it was to be read out and some parts of it

were even brought to the court during the reading.



- The very end of the verdict was brought to the court whilst it was being read out.


- The part of the text where they give the sentences?


- Yes.


- How do you know that?


- From someone close to the judge.


- How did they hand them over?


- I can't say.


- There was a report that on the day before the second date of the verdict being read,

which was a weekend, on Saturday 25 December, Danilkin was called to the Moscow

City Court, where he spent some time, possibly discussing the Khodorkovsky case as

well. What do you know about that?


- I know this to be a fact. I know that he was at the Moscow City Court on that day, Saturday

25th December, and then he arrived at Khamovniki, and many people who were just finishing


On the final records


- The trial has essentially finished, but Khodorkovsky and Lebedev and their defence team have still not been supplied with the records of the court sessions. Do you know anything about the reason for this delay?


- There is a delay because it is very difficult technically to do this quickly. As well being their drawn up by the court secretary, the chairman then has to check them. As far as I know, all the records have already been drawn up now. But checking them takes time. Danilkin has the court's work to deal with, he cannot spend all his time sitting there checking records. This is what has caused the delay. And as for the actual content of the records, I don't think there are

any discrepancies there. People who work there, saw him. It was the weekend, but because it was towards the end of the year, and the books had to be closed, there were a lot of people working.


- Did you yourself see him on the Saturday?


- I was not at the court at the time. It was my day off.


- How was he when he came back, according to the court employees?


- Stressed, very stressed. You could even say that he did not feel well. He was under pressure

and he was not in a very good state.


- Did he say anything to anyone?


- No, he just looked very ill...


- Did he generally work on Saturdays?


- No, it is not a working day, he is not obliged to come to work.


- And the reason for his coming in...


No one knows.


- Just to clarify: at the stage of delivering the verdict, in principle, the chairman of the

District Court could visit his head organisation, the Moscow City Court?


- On a work day the judge must be in the deliberation room and work on the text there.


- Even if he is the chairman of some court or other, he should not go to a superior



- It makes no difference if he/she is a chairman. If the judge has retired to consider a verdict, he has to comply with the requirements of the law and he should never leave.


- Do the regulations governing the delivery of a verdict and the secrecy of the

deliberations room not apply on the weekends? i.e. is it considered that

the judge should be found in the deliberations room at weekends, or is he a free man then?


- Weekends - are weekends. He is free to do as he wishes at weekends. The secrecy of the

deliberations room is breached, if an individual, citizen or even one of the court employees

enters it during working hours.


- Which means that you cannot say that by summoning the judge to the Moscow City

Court they broke the law, if they summoned him there on a Saturday?


Yes, that's right. It is not a work day, he did not infringe [any law]. In his free time he can go

where he likes.


- Do you know anything about whom he met with there?


- A source of mine who was close to him said that he was waiting for some important person

who was supposed to give him some brief explanations about the verdict.


- So not the chair of the Moscow City Court?


- No, it was someone higher up than that.


- Do you know the time of his visit?


- He was summoned in the morning, they kept him there practically the whole day.


Do you have any idea about what's next for judge Danilkin?


- Well, judging from the talk in the court,

he will probably be dismissed after a certain interval of time on some convenient pretext.

Either he will be pensioned off, or he will be invited to work at the Moscow City Court and

then quietly dismissed.


- For what? He did everything that was required of him.


- Yes, he did. But... I don’t even know how to explain it. I suppose he just did something

wrong. Or too slowly.


- You mean because he tried to deliver a verdict that was different from the one he was

expected to give?


- Yes, amongst other things.


But the prevailing opinion is that he made the trial last too long. That he spent too long

listening to witnesses. Meaning that he tried to call certain witnesses who were not supposed

to have been called for certain reasons...


- Is your use of the word 'tried' accidental, or was there actually anyone he wanted to

call but was unable to?


- No. He was supposed to get approval from the superior court before calling each witness.

And then accordingly, if he got the OK, then he could call them.


- How is he feeling now?


- Physically he's fine. But in terms of his mental state, he has become very morose, he is

always downtrodden and sad... Like when you understand that something bad is going to

happen - that sort of state. He doesn't smile, he doesn't talk, sometimes he gets very irritable.


- That's compared to what?


- With how he was when I first saw him. In mid-2009 he was a different person, a completely

different person.


- What is he usually like?


- He's cheerful, level-headed and communicative. He used to take an interest in everything

around him, the life of the court and everything else. But the more time passed, the more this

trial began to occupy him. As for the life of the court, well, that seems to have practically

ceased to exist for him. Even though it is very important for a chairman.


- Did Danilkin know what the press were writing about the trial and about him

personally? Did you tell him about this, or did he read it himself? Specifically, how did

he feel about the criticism, of which there was a great deal?


- He used to read everything - newspapers, magazines, the internet. He knows all this and is

very upset about it. On one occasion he talked about how the New Times magazine had

written an article about him containing inaccuracies about his son. Supposedly he had failed

to get into college. But he is actually an excellent student. He's a very clever boy.


- Should we get the impression that you are friendly with the judge outside court?


- Oh no.


- And how will what you have said affect what happens to Danilkin?


- I'm afraid for him.


- Specifically because of what you have said?


- Things would be bad for him either way. I can't even imagine how events will develop.

I just know that if I had not said all this, he would have been ushered out of there on the

quiet. Now I don’t know how it will happen.


- So do you think this could perhaps help him to defend his reputation, if this story

comes to light?


- If he has the strength to do this.


- But does he have the desire to do this?


- That I don't know. He has been trying recently not to talk to anyone at all.


- So are you acting on his behalf?


- He knows nothing.


- But what do you think his reaction will be to your interview?


- It's hardly likely to be positive. I don't know what they will say to him when they call from

the 'city'. Perhaps he will tell me I'm crazy. Or perhaps... I don't know.


- Natalia, we would like to ask you what could be the most important question: why did

you decide to tell us all this?


- Because I became disillusioned... I wanted to become a judge. And when I saw it all from

the inside, how it all operated, the myth that judges obey only the law and no-one else,



To be precise, the law itself has turned into a myth.


I understood that the supposed obedience of the judge to the law is a lie. The judge obeys the

higher authorities.


- You do understand that the first thing that will happen to you after this is published is

that you will be accused of having an interest in seeing a particular outcome, in seeing a

new outcome for this case, in having it reviewed, in casting doubt over the foundations

of the judicial system and the authority of the judiciary of the Russian Federation. Will

you be able to respond to questions concerning self-interest?


- I don’t have any self-interest. I have disappointment.


I simply wanted for the people to understand that a great deal of what is offered to them is

always cleaned up, always corrected and not always in line with the facts.


- Are you ready for the fact that you are most likely going to be dismissed from the

Khamovnichesky court?


- Yes, I suppose I will be dismissed.


- And what will you do after that?


- I don’t know yet.


- How are you going to prove what you have told us today? Are you ready to give

evidence if there are disciplinary proceedings?


- Yes. I cannot retract it. I saw all this.


- Do you know anyone among the court staff or among the judges who has the same

position as your own and is prepared to confirm your words?


- No-one will do it. The judges won’t do it in order not to lose their position. And other

members of staff have no interest in doing this as it would just cause extra problems.


- Judging by what you say, one gets the feeling that you did not come to the idea of

telling us all this overnight. It was an accumulation of discontent and doubts about what

you saw. Did you approach anyone and share your doubts? Your immediate superior is

Danilkin – did you go to him and complain?


- Never. There was no opportunity. The judge was constantly busy during the trial. I was able

to approach him in order to quickly solve some problems connected with the internal business

of the court and my duties, but I simply would not have had enough time to speak to him

about these problems.


I did not discuss this with anyone among the [court] staff, because before you can talk about

such things you probably need to understand whether the person actually needs to hear them.

With certain things, probably judging by behaviour and remarks, it is possible to understand

whether it is possible to speak about them with a person or not.


- And do you have any personal attitude to the Khodorkovsky and Lebedev case? Do

you pity them or do you believe that they should be in prison?


- Well, I don’t think they should be in prison. As for pitying them – no, this would not be

right. I sympathise with them; I understand that these people probably simply got caught in

this mincing machine.


- And did Viktor Nikolaevich express any attitude towards them?


- Viktor Nikolaevich treated the defendants as ordinary people. I never heard him speak of them in an inappropriate manner. Never.


Translation courtesy of Khodorkovsky & Lebedev Communications Center


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Rights in Russia,
17 Feb 2011, 05:44