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Saturday, September 23, 2006

More On Bakhmina














Jeremy Putley provides the following additional information on the Bakhmina story:

President George W Bush was told in person about the case of Svetlana
Bakhmina when he met with “embattled activists” in
St Petersburg last July. Irina Yasina, head of the NGO Open Russia, “appealed to Bush to raise with Putin the case of Svetlana Bakhmina, 36, a former attorney at Khodorkovsky’s oil company…. Yasina called the allegations bogus.” This quote is from the Washington Post. “Bush said later that he promised the activists he would convey their concerns to Putin”, whom he called his friend. It appears that, whatever President Bush told Putin, it was not sufficient to reverse or in any way mitigate this vicious and brutal miscarriage of justice.

Because it was and remains a miscarriage of justice. The embezzlement of which Svetlana was accused did not really happen, according to a Kommersant-Vlast article. “Svetlana Bakhmina was a mid-level manager: deputy head of the legal affairs department at YUKOS. Why has she been sentenced to seven years? The court gave her two years on a charge of large-scale tax evasion, but the main charge, which increased the sentence to seven years, was conspiracy to commit major fraud in relation to the property of the Tomskneft oil company. Bakhmina was also charged with coming up with the scheme for transferring Tomskneft assets abroad. Yet the "victim" in this case – Tomskneft - hasn't filed any complaints; on the contrary, it says that all its assets are safe and well.” The victim of the alleged embezzlement says it has no loss and no complaint against Svetlana. Here is the article in full.

Kommersant-Vlast
April 24, 2006
A VICIOUS SENTENCE
The YUKOS affair isn't over yet
Author: Mikhail Fishman

[Svetlana Bakhmina, formerly a YUKOS corporate lawyer, has been sentenced to seven years in prison. Many are surprised by the severe sentence, especially since Bakhmina has two young children. But this sentence is an object lesson: it's intended to demonstrate that the YUKOS case isn't closed.]

Like other arrested YUKOS personnel, Svetlana Bakhmina has received a harsh sentence, making her ineligible for any amnesty: seven years in prison. As in the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, the court sided with the prosecution completely, ignoring all the arguments of the defense, and showing showed some token independence and humanity by disagreeing slightly with the prosecution on the severity of the sentence. Thus, it only confirmed that the prosecutor plays the leading role in Russian justice today.

Svetlana Bakhmina was a mid-level manager: deputy head of the legal affairs department at YUKOS. Why has she been sentenced to seven years? The court gave her two years on a charge of large-scale tax evasion, but the main charge, which increased the sentence to seven years, was conspiracy to commit major fraud in relation to the property of the Tomskneft oil company. Bakhmina was also charged with coming up with the scheme for transferring Tomskneft assets abroad. Yet the "victim" in this case – Tomskneft - hasn't filed any complaints; on the contrary, it says that all its assets are safe and well.

This concerns the assets of Tomskneft-VNK, taken over by YUKOS. The management of VNK resisted the takeover; it used a technique that was widespread in the late 1990s - making up a fictitious debt for the company, so that VNK appeared to owe somebody $440 million. All the same, YUKOS succeeded in acquiring the controlling interest. It refused to pay the fictitious debt, and transferred the assets of VNK enterprises to offshore zones. When the state, a minority shareholder in VNK, called on YUKOS to account for the transfer, YUKOS explained that it was a safeguard against attacks on the company by the fictitious creditors. All the enterprises in question were returned to VNK ownership almost a year before the auction at which YUKOS bought out the state's remaining stake in the company - at a fair market price, as the state later acknowledged.

Obviously, YUKOS was an aggressive player - but regardless of its intentions, no assets were stolen. Nevertheless, Tomskneft (contrary to its wishes and to common sense) has been declared a victim, the temporary transfer of assets has been defined as theft, and the lawyer who carried out the orders of the company's real owners has been identified as the mastermind of the operation. And everyone understands that Svetlana Bakhmina, an ordinary manager from Moscow , is going to jail not because she's a thief, but because she worked for YUKOS, and because things happened to turn out this way - she's simply been unlucky. Yes indeed, just unlucky, since no one has any doubts that the target of Vladimir Putin's political campaign against YUKOS was the oligarch Khodorkovsky, not rank-and-file YUKOS personnel.

If Bakhmina had been sentenced to no more than the time she has already spent in pre-trial detention, or given a suspended sentence of a few years, public opinion would surely have responded with relief - insofar as it cares about Bakhmina at all. This would have been perceived as the state being merciful. After all, people feel sympathy for Bakhmina; not everyone, but many do. A year ago, when Bakhmina had already been arrested, even some members of United Russia's right wing expressed the opinion that the authorities should stop going after rank-and-file YUKOS personnel. Neither was there any particular practical sense in convicting and jailing Bakhmina.

But the state remained adamant, and everyone understands that Bakhmina's sentence is politically motivated. It's an object lesson, precisely due to its excessive severity - intended to show that justice is unconditional, taking no notice of titles or merit. The sentence seems to assert that the YUKOS case is nothing personal, and that Khodorkovsky, with his billions, is neither a victim nor a target, but a participant in an extensive crime ring. He has been sent to prison. So has his partner, Lebedev. Alexei Kurtsin, a petty clerk at YUKOS, was given 14 years for money- laundering, even though the prosecution actually asked for a lighter sentence (an unprecedented event).

But this isn't just a matter of the state sending the message that everyone is equal before the law. These show trials aren't about legality at all. They're about public morale. Any leniency with regard to Svetlana Bakhmina would have been revealing too, of course. It would have been a signal that the YUKOS page has been turned; that's enough, we're through with all that, let's return to a peaceful existence. Not generalized words from meetings and addresses to parliament, but a specific gesture that would have made people breathe a surprised sigh of relief: believe it or not, Bakhmina is free!

But the state has chosen to send a different message. For the repressive justice mindset which has been victorious in the YUKOS affair, there is no such thing as a minor, forgivable crime. There are only crimes that haven't been investigated yet.

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