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Friday, August 04, 2006

Russian Courts Routinely Deny Bail, Violate Constitution with Impunity

The Moscow Times reports that Russian courts routinely deny the Constitutional right of criminal accuseds to receive reasonable bail, which of course should not surprise anyone given the fact that every other aspect of the Constitution that bears upon civil liberties was ash-canned long ago:

When U.S. businessman and former chess champion Maxim Dlugy went on trial last September, his lawyers asked that he be freed on bail of 500,000 rubles ($18,600).

Solikamsk City Court Judge Galina Imamaliyeva flatly refused.

When it turned out that the prosecutor had no hard evidence against Dlugy, the lawyers upped the ante and offered a bail of $9 million and 48,000 rubles.

Dlugy was charged with attempting to defraud a Perm metals plant of $9 million and of embezzling 48,000 rubles ($1,800), which he had written off as entertainment expenses.

The judge again refused to grant bail.

Dlugy was eventually acquitted and set free, but his case is a glaring reminder of the reluctance of Russian judges to grant bail under most any circumstances.

Even the country's top prison official has admitted that the authorities keep too many innocent people in custody.

"Last year, 65,000 people were released right in court, about 2,000 of them because they did not commit a crime," Federal Prison Service chief Yury Kalinin said in an interview published Friday in state-run Rossiiskaya Gazeta. "This means that these people spent time in detention for nothing and no one bore any responsibility for this."

No official statistics about how often suspects are released on bail could be obtained over the past week, despite numerous calls to various federal law enforcement agencies. Several lawyers interviewed for this report could not recall any instance of a suspect being granted bail, although they noted that judges do release suspects who sign pledges not to leave town.

In comparison, many Western countries, including the United States, prefer bail over detention as a cost-efficient way to deal with suspects.

Some lawyers criticize the Russian method as little more than an attempt to force suspects to admit to crimes.

"Investigators choose arrests because they are unprofessional and usually pressure suspects to confess instead of looking for hard, independent evidence," said Yury Kostanov, a veteran defense lawyer. "An arrest opens the door to a wide array of methods to influence suspects."

A former police investigator said bail is unpopular among law enforcement officials because it requires extra work: Police need to gain permission from prosecutors who, in turn, need to set the amount of the bail. "It is a less habitual thing for us that demands more procedures," said the former officer, who asked not to be identified because he hoped to rejoin the police force one day and did not want his name associated with the disclosure of internal police tactics. "Really, in some cases it is easier to release a person on a written promise not to leave town."

Bail was often granted in tsarist Russia, and the practice continued through the 1920s. However, Josef Stalin quickly turned law enforcement agencies into a tool for repression, rather than justice. Arrests became the only -- and the most brutal -- way of restricting a suspect's actions before a court verdict, said Sergei Vitsin, an analyst with the Independent Council for Legal Expertise, a Moscow think tank. "Also, it turned out that the average Soviet citizen did not have enough property to secure his own bail," he said.

Bail returned under the 2001 Criminal Code, but institutional restraints still hinder its application.

The former investigator summed up the police's side succinctly, saying: "Imagine if a suspect released on bail escapes and the bail goes to the state budget. I get nothing, and my superiors are left with an unsolved case and bad statistics."

A police officer's performance is determined by the number of crimes he solves, a practice that encourages officers to ignore complaints, pressure suspects to confess, and quickly send cases to court.

Dlugy, the U.S. businessman, recalled his disappointment over being denied bail.

"I felt utter despair at that moment, as if I had found myself in the Stalin era," Dlugy, who is now in Moscow, said by telephone Tuesday. "In fact, the system has not changed in the past five decades. Those people did not even understand what bail was about."

The prosecutor and court would have had much less to lose than Dlugy if they had agreed to release him on the $9 million bail, said Dlugy's lawyer, Marina Mikhailova.

"If Dlugy had failed to appear in court just once, all that money would have been funneled to the state budget. But still he was left to rot in jail for another two months," Mikhailova said.

The charges were linked to Dlugy's chairmanship of the Solikamsk Magnesium Works from June to August 2003. His associates said he was accused because the plant's new management wanted to write off debts incurred by previous management.

Dlugy emigrated in the early 1980s from Russia to the United States, where he received U.S. citizenship. He was ranked No. 1 in the World Blitz Chess Association from 1988 to 1993.

One of the best-known cases of bail being denied was of Azeri businessman Fizuli Mamedov, better known as "Frank Al Capone." He was arrested in June 2001 on charges of illegal possession of heroin. During the 18-month trial, his lawyers repeatedly asked the judge to name his price for bail, saying the sky was the limit. The judge refused. Two years after his arrest, he was acquitted and released.

While denying bail to many, the authorities readily post bail when one of their own runs afoul of the law abroad. Former Kremlin property manager Pavel Borodin, for example, was released from a Swiss prison on a bail of 5 million Swiss francs ($3.5 million) provided by the Russian government in April 2001. Borodin was arrested on a Swiss warrant in January 2001 in the United States. He was suspected of involvement in an embezzlement scheme during renovation of the Kremlin by Swiss construction companies. Borodin was eventually fined 300,000 francs plus court expenses of 35,000 francs, which were deducted from the bail. The remainder was returned to the Russian government in 2002. It remains unclear whether Borodin ever reimbursed the government.

Just several days before Dlugy went on trial last September, two Russian diplomats working for the United Nations were arrested in the United States and charged with money laundering in the UN's oil-for-food program in Iraq. One of them, Alexander Yakovlev, did not contest the charges and was released on a $400,000 bail that he paid himself. The second, Vladimir Kuznetsov, denied any guilt and was released after 79 days when the Foreign Ministry paid a bail of $500,000. The investigation concerning the two is still going on.

In the most recent case, the government approached a Swiss judge late last year with a request to release former Nuclear Power Minister Yevgeny Adamov on bail. Adamov was arrested in May on a U.S. warrant accusing him of embezzlement. Bail was denied, but the judge later ruled in favor of a Russian request to extradite Adamov to face charges of fraud and abuse of office. Adamov returned to Moscow in December and was released from custody in July after signing a pledge not to leave town. His trial is expected to start later this month

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