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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Kremlin Sends Judge to Prison

If the Kremlin was willing to arrest a political foe like Khodorkovsky, steal his company and send him to Siberia, how long did we think it would be before it started sending judges to jail when the questioned Kremlin authority? The day is here, as the Moscow Times reports:

The judge who convicted former Colonel Yury Budanov of strangling a Chechen woman is himself being investigated on swindling charges in possible retaliation for the ruling, his lawyer and human rights activists said Thursday.

The Military Prosecutor's Office has been investigating Judge Vladimir Bukreyev, who lives in Rostov-on-Don, since last year, said his lawyer, Yelena Orlyankina.

Bukreyev convicted Budanov in July 2003 of strangling 18-year-old Elza Kungayeva in Chechnya and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. The high-profile trial was widely seen as a test of Moscow's willingness to crack down on human rights abuses in the region.

A spokesman for the Military Prosecutor's Office confirmed the investigation but refused to comment further, citing the ongoing case.

Bukreyev, who faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted, denies wrongdoing.

Orlyankina said the Military Prosecutor's Office was claiming that Bukreyev accepted $40,000 from a military prosecutor who hoped he would dismiss a case. The prosecutor supposedly obtained the money from a witness who wanted the case closed, but, unable to close the case himself, he purportedly forwarded the money to Bukreyev.

The witness is a former regional Defense Ministry officer, Orlyankina said, citing information she received from the prosecutor's office.

There's no evidence. The entire case is based on the words of these people," she said, referring to the prosecutor and the officer.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the head of Moscow Helsinki Group, and Lev Ponomaryov, head of For Human Rights, agreed that the case was without merit.

"The case of Bukreyev is retaliation by the military for the conviction of Colonel Budanov," Alexeyeva said at a news conference attended by the lawyer.

Bukreyev, in a statement handed out to reporters, said only that the investigation was "motivated by the wish to get revenge for my judicial work."

Formally, Bukreyev sided with the prosecution when he convicted Budanov, and he proved to be more lenient than the prosecutors, who asked for 12 years in jail.

Ponomaryov, however, said that even though the prosecutors had charged Budanov, they agreed with a widespread sentiment in the military that he did not deserve punishment. "In the end, the judge decided everything," he said.

Alexeyeva noted that judges had complained of pressure from authorities before. She specifically referred to former Moscow City Court Judge Olga Kudeshkina, who said she lost her job in 2003 after she refused a demand by the court chairwoman.

The Supreme Court sanctioned Bukreyev's arrest last month, Orlyankina said. He remains free as he appeals, however. Also, the Supreme Qualification Collegiate of Judges must authorize the arrest of a judge before he can be taken into custody, she said.

Bukreyev abdicated his judicial powers last year because of the charges. But he remains the first chairman of the North Caucasus Military District Court

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