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THE URALS JUDICIARY: THE MOST CORRUPT IN THE WORLD?
Let us recall that, on the night following the seizure of Uralkhimmash, Fedulev and the supporters of the deposed director were waving a collection of mutually exclusive legal rulings at each other.
The documents were not forgeries. As soon as you start looking into the documents relating to Uralkhimmash, the Kachkanar OEC, and the Lobva factory, you see that the armed invasions were sanctioned by the courts of Sverdlovsk Province. We find certain judges on the side of one party, while other judges are on the side of the other. It is as if no laws existed, as if there were no constitution. Even as the Mafia syndicates of the Urals were slugging it out to claim their territories, a civil war was going on within the judiciary. The courts were being used, and continue to be used, as rubber stamps for decisions in favor of one party or another.
Here is an excerpt from a letter to Vyacheslav Lebedev, chairman of the Supreme Court of Russia, from I. Kadnikov, Award of Merit of the Russian Federation, former chair of the October District Court of Yekaterinburg, and V Nikitin, former chair of the Lenin District Court of Yekaterinburg:
It is Ovcharuk [Ivan Ovcharuk, chair of the Sverdlovsk Provincial Court from Soviet times until the present] who over a period of years participates directly in the formation and training of the bench in the Urals, personally chooses and controls the selection of judges for each appointment. Without his personal approval not a single candidate can be appointed to the bench, and none of us can have his appointment extended. Any judges who fail to find favor with him personally are squeezed out and persecuted. They are compelled to leave their jobs, and individuals are often selected for membership of the bench who have neither qualifications nor experience of the work but who are in some respect vulnerable and hence manipulable. At the present time a great number of highly qualified judges who have worked for many years and have immense experience, who possess such important qualities as high moral principles, independence and firmness in arriving at verdicts, incorruptibility and courage, have been forced out of judicial work. The sole reason is that if you are not corrupt, it is impossible to work normally under the direction of Ovcharuk.
What, in the opinion of Ovcharuk, are the characteristics of a good judge?
Anatoly Krizsky, until recently the chair of the Verkh-Isetsk District Court of Yekaterinburg, was not just good; he was “the best in the profession.” For many years it was Krizsky who loyally looked after the interests of Ivan Ovcharuk. What did that entail?
The Verkh-Isetsk court is the quirkiest in Yekaterinburg. Yekaterinburg prison is located on its territory, which means that, in accordance with the law, this court examines all cases relating to the shortening of sentences of inmates in the prison. Everybody in Yekaterinburg knows that the main factor influencing the early release of a prisoner is not the nature of the crime, not what the inmate actually did and hence whether or not he remains a danger to society, but—quite simply—money. A crook from a powerful crime syndicate will usually spend less time in prison than other criminals. His colleagues will simply buy him out.
For certain district courts, this situation leads to prosperity. Russia’s district courts are, in general, as poor as church mice. They are chronically short of resources, even of paper; plaintiffs have to bring their own. The judges’ salaries are barely enough to make ends meet. At the Verkh-Isetsk court, the picture is quite different, however. The building is surrounded by Jeeps, Mercedes, and Fords costing several thousand dollars. The owners who emerge from these vehicles in the mornings are modest district judges whose salaries are a few thousand rubles. One of the flashiest cars invariably belongs to Anatoly Krizsky.
Krizsky had a close relationship with Pavel Fedulev. For many years it was Krizsky who presided over cases in which Fedulev figured in one capacity or another. Krizsky never allowed these cases to get bogged down in red tape. For the cases in which Fedulev was involved, the judge would always apply the fast-track system, letting nothing hold him back: neither the need to call witnesses nor the question of whether his decisions were in accordance with the law. If Fedulev asked Krizsky to rule that certain shares belonged to him, for example, Krizsky would not bother with the necessary proof. He would simply state: “These shares belong to Fedulev.” With such rulings under his belt, Fedulev appeared at Uralkhimmash after the armed invasion.
Another curious detail is that Krizsky’s rulings-to-order were sometimes obligingly made in the comfort of the customer’s place of business. Krizsky would record his decisions on Fedulev’s writs not in the courtroom, as the law specifically requires, but in Fedulev’s office. Sometimes it was not even the judge who made the ruling but Fedulev’s lawyer, in his own handwriting, with Krizsky merely adding his signature.
When in the autumn of 1998, Fedulev began to have problems with the prosecutor general’s office over his defrauding of a Moscow company, it was Krizsky who, accompanied by Fedulev’s lawyer, flew to Moscow to see the then prosecutor general, Yury Skuratov, to argue that the criminal proceedings against Fedulev should be dropped. Skuratov, who had been on friendly terms with Krizsky since they were young, received him personally, and although no one knows how it happened, the case was closed. On his return to Yekaterinburg, Fedulev’s wife met Krizsky, She made no secret of the fact that she thanked him for his trouble, and Krizsky, in turn, made no secret of how pleased he was: a few days later he bought himself a new Ford Explorer.
To the Western reader, Krizsky’s purchase may seem like no big deal. The chairman of a North American or European court is hardly going to be a beggar, so it is not surprising if he drives an expensive car. But for the chairman of a district court in Russia to afford such a car means one of two things: either he has just come into a large (by our standards) inheritance, or he is taking bribes. There is simply no third explanation. In Russia a Ford Explorer is something only a successful businessman can afford, and under Russian law, the chairman of a court is not permitted to engage in business. A Ford Explorer costs the equivalent of a judge’s salary for twenty years.
Nor was this the end of Krizsky’s miraculous good fortune. Barely a month had passed after the appearance of the Ford Explorer when Fedulev was again in trouble with the prosecutor general’s office. The judge again flew off to talk to Skuratov, not in Moscow this time but at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where the prosecutor general was on holiday. The storm clouds hanging over Fedulev were again dispersed. Krizsky exchanged his Ford Explorer, which had already sent shock waves through Yekaterinburg society, for a Mercedes 600, the ultimate status symbol of a New Russian.
Krizsky’s birthday parties were the talk of Yekaterinburg, festivals of conspicuous consumption to rival the name-day celebrations of overstuffed prerevolutionary merchants. On those occasions the court was suspended, and, by order of the chairman, the doors were locked. Krizsky hired a restaurant in the center of town, money flew right and left, and vodka flowed in torrents. Every bureaucrat in Yekaterinburg kicked over the traces under the astonished gaze of the mostly impoverished public. What did those drinking and dancing care that a judge had no business conducting himself in such a manner, not only according to unwritten rules of common decency but according to the writ of law? The law on “the status of judges in the Russian Federation” requires that they maintain a modest demeanor outside work (and certainly during business hours). They are to avoid any personal associations that might adversely affect their reputation, and show the greatest circumspection at all times, in order to maintain the highest level of respect for the authority of the judiciary.
So what are we to make of the fact that it was Krizsky, with his associations with Fedulev and others like him, who was the favorite of Ivan Ovcharuk, chairman of the provincial court? What was going on? At every assembly Ovcharuk would emphasize that Krizsky was one of the best judges in the Urals.
The simple truth is that most of us living in Russia were born in the land of the Soviets and, to a greater or lesser extent, lived by the Soviet code of conduct. For Ovcharuk, the Soviet ways of thinking and behaving were second nature. In other words, he was a typical die-hard legal boss. He had been trained not, under any circumstances, to argue with his superiors; he had learned to do as he was told, carry out his superiors’ orders, even try to anticipate their moods, which way their eyebrows would move. This is no journalistic exaggeration but a description of Soviet servility. Ovcharuk is what we have inherited from our past, a man whose career progressed because he never challenged the opinion of his superiors, no matter how lawless or stupid it was.
When the new times came, and democracy and capitalism with it, there was a moment, eyewitnesses tell us, when Ovcharuk panicked. Whom could he serve now?
His perplexity was soon dispelled. A special Soviet flair for sniffing out whom it was most profitable to subordinate himself to, who the new powers were, soon came to his rescue. Ovcharuk chose two new czars. The first was the nascent business world, where capital was accumulating at a vigorous pace. The second was the civil-service bureaucracy, which, however much people complained about it, remained as monolithic and as solid as a granite cliff. For Ovcharuk it was represented by Governor Rossel. Since these twin czars had united in Yekaterinburg in tender friendship and a new Mafia had emerged alongside the old Uralmash, Ovcharuk had no further qualms: he began serving Rossel and Fedulev.
Only at the end of 2001 did Yekaterinburg get rid of Krizsky as chairman of the Verkh-Isetsk District Court. It was a messy business, and the outcome was hardly satisfactory.
The provincial directorate of the FSB was well aware that Krizsky had been servicing Fedulev’s criminal activities in the Urals for many years, but its agents had never caught him red-handed. In the end, covert (and illegal) around-the-clock surveillance was set up, and the chairman of the Verkh-Isetsk court was caught engaging in… pedophilia. The FSB presented its evidence to Krizsky himself, to his patron Ovcharuk, and to Rossel. The outcome? There was no public scandal. Krizsky was not stripped of his judicial status, but he was redeployed, to become the mayor of Yekaterinburg’s legal adviser, and that was that.
BUT WHAT ABOUT those judges who did not want to take part in turning an independent judiciary into one totally subservient to the criminal underworld?
In Yekaterinburg in recent years, a majority of judges have been found to be intractable. Those who chose not to serve the emergent crime syndicates have been dismissed from the bench by the dozens, and have had insult and abuse heaped on them.
Olga Vasilieva worked for eleven years as a judge, a fair stint. Outwardly she was a calm, unfussy person, the kind of judge who refused on principle to rubber-stamp the directives and rulings that Fedulev needed for the games he played. She simply refused. Vasilieva worked in the same Verkh-Isetsk District Court, with Krizsky as her immediate superior, and was subjected to immense pressure, including occasional threats to her life and her family. She remained unbowed, never once gave in, and turned down not only Fedulev but Krizsky when he demanded summary directives from her for the early release of one or another of the judge’s criminal protégés.
The last straw was when Vasilieva accepted a writ against the chairman of the provincial court, Ivan Ovcharuk. Krizsky insisted she should have rejected it in order not to create a precedent. The plaintiffs were citizens of Yekaterinburg whom Ovcharuk had subjected to unreasonable judicial delay, willfully failing to examine their application to the court within a reasonable time because it was directed against the interests of high officials in Governor Rossel’s administration.
For Yekaterinburg, a city under the heel of the Mafia, where everybody knew that stepping out of line in such matters usually ended not in a quarrel but in a shooting, accepting a writ of that kind was revolutionary. Other district courts, in order not to bring major trouble down upon their heads, would refuse even to register such writs, although by law they had no right not to do so.
The system took savage revenge on Olga Vasilieva for acting within the law. She was not only fired; she was endlessly vilified. Complaints were appended to her personal file when it was submitted, in order to have her expelled from the bench. They came from Krizsky’s criminal protégés whom she had refused to release from jail. The complaints were written by inmates on official court forms that they could have received only by Krizsky’s having brought them to the prison himself.
Vasilieva had to start a pilgrimage around official institutions to prove that the accusations against her were false. It took a year for the Supreme Court of Russia to restore her rank, but even then her difficulties were not over. The Supreme Court sat in Moscow, but she practiced in Yekaterinburg, where she was entirely on her own. As soon as she got back home, she handed the Supreme Court resolution to Krizsky, but he refused to allow her to return to work and wrote an official representation against her to the Provincial Judges’ College of Qualifications, an institution of the Russian bench. He advised its members that, despite having been restored to office, Vasilieva “had failed to mend her ways,” a formulation traditionally used in reference to prisoners.
Judges in Russia are required to have their status reconfirmed periodically—in effect, to be reappointed—and hence must obtain a recommendation from the College of Qualifications in their republic or province. Approval from the college leads to more or less automatic reappointment by directive of the president. Now, however, Ovcharuk added his weight to Krizsky’s denunciation, and the College of Qualifications resolved “no longer to recommend” Vasilieva for appointment as a judge.
As might be expected, nobody in this Mickey Mouse College of Qualifications made any attempt to corroborate the facts. These were the very allegations, based on the statements of convicts, that the Supreme Court had just rejected as unsubstantiated.
Olga Vasilieva, a courageous, principled woman, applied once again to the Supreme Court, insisting on her right to justice. Years of her life are being wasted on this exhausting, debilitating campaign, however, and in the meantime she is being prevented from working for the good of the state.
Can we expect the majority to tread the path Olga Vasilieva has chosen? Many Yekaterinburg judges commented, begging me under no circumstances to publish their names: “It is easier for us just to rubber-stamp the rulings Ovcharuk demands than to find ourselves in Vasilieva’s shoes.” They had many harrowing tales about what had happened to colleagues of theirs. The story of Alexander Dovgii, another Yekaterinburg judge, is one such saga.
Dovgii’s offense was the same as Vasilieva’s. On one occasion he ignored Krizsky’s demand to release a crony from prison. A few days later, the judge was savagely beaten with iron bars in the street. The police refused even to look for the attackers, although, as a rule, they investigate attacks on judges thoroughly. Dovgii was hospitalized for a long time, came out crippled, and, although now back at work, hears only divorce cases. He asks not to be given any other kind of case.
With things as they stand, professionalism is regarded as the ability not to have one’s own judgment. People who cannot dispense with Bolshevik methods are appointed in the name of the State to administer justice. They wag a finger in admonition and see nothing amiss in demanding the passing of a particular verdict. They call judges to account before the present-day equivalent of the Communist Party activists, the College of Qualifications. They see nothing wrong with condemning or pardoning in our name and by our hand….
These words were written by a promising young judge, who also asked me to forget his name, after he had been pressured by Ovcharuk and Krizsky in much the same manner as Vasilieva. He buckled under the pressure and simply walked away. He wrote these lines in a letter addressed to Krizsky, applying for retirement, adding, “I request that the matter be considered in my absence,” and left Yekaterinburg for good.
This young judge had had no intention of resigning, but one day the inevitable happened. A case involving the latest criminal machinations of some Mafia groups came his way, and Krizsky demanded that he close the case immediately. The young judge asked for time to reflect. He received threats from persons unknown, anonymous telephone calls to his home, notes left where he would find them. “Coincidentally,” he was beaten up in the entry to his house, not too severely, just as a warning, and his assailants were never tracked down.
The young judge wrote requesting permission to resign, and the Mafia case was promptly passed to another judge. On the eve of the hearing, the new judge received a telegram from the provincial court, signed by Ovcharuk himself, instructing him to stop the proceedings. The following day that case was closed.
Sergey Kazantsev, a judge of the Kirov District Court in Yekaterinburg, ruled that a certain Uporov, accused of robbery and grievous bodily harm, should be imprisoned as a danger to society until his case could be fully considered. Judge Kazantsev then moved to consider another case. He was in a conference room and writing up the verdict—a time when, under Russian law, nobody is allowed to disturb a judge. To do so virtually guarantees that the verdict will be set aside by a higher court. Nevertheless, Ovcharuk called Kazantsev to demand that he alter the restraining order and let Uporov out of prison. Kazantsev refused and was told by Ovcharuk that he would be sacked.
He was sacked.
There are any number of such episodes in Yekaterinburg. As a result, the judges who are still working there are highly manipulable, willing to rubber-stamp any judgment, just as long as they can avoid unpleasantness from their superiors. Resistance has been crushed. It is the rule of duplicity under the guise of “the dictatorship of law.”
The situation explains why, when Uralkhimmash was seized, the two sides had, in their hands, contradictory rulings on the matter. For years any sign of judicial independence was brutally suppressed, and judges were conditioned to servility. Senior judges have long experience working in the shackled Soviet courts. Where, under these circumstances, are courageous and fair judgments to come from? Anybody prepared to stand up and refuse has long since been dismissed. Those capable of saluting promptly when required to serve the cause of lawlessness are hard at work and progressing up the career ladder.
BEHIND EACH OF Fedulev’s coups stood his special intimacy with the bench of the Urals. He was friends with judges, and they were friends with him. The most frequently heard names in this connection are those of Judges Ryazantsev and Balashov. Ryazantsev is a humble judge of the Kachkanar Municipal Court, which is subordinate to Ovcharuk. Ryazantsev it was who rubber-stamped the rulings Fedulev needed in the Kachkanar OEC case, validating the deals of the rogue firm that purchased promissory notes on the cheap and cashed them at face value, thereby sealing the fate of an enterprise of international importance. The second judge, Balashov, also very humble, works in the Kirov District Court of the City of Yekaterinburg. He ruled in favor of Fedulev in respect of Uralkhimmash and at several other significant moments in Fedulev’s business career. Here is how he did it.
It was Judge Balashov who effectively fired the first shot in the Uralkhimmash affair. On Friday evening he accepted a writ in support of Fedulev’s interests at the factory, and on Monday morning, with a rapidity unheard of in the history of Russian jurisprudence, he issued the ruling Fedulev needed. Balashov managed to do this without calling any witnesses, gathering supplementary information, or making inquiries of third parties.
In fairness, it has to be said that Balashov operates within the framework of the law. He is just very good at exploiting loopholes. The fast-track procedure he resorted to is entirely legitimate. The injunction he issued “in satisfaction of the plaintiff’s demands” is appropriate in cases where the defendants have taken executive decisions and measures leading to the embezzlement of property. The primary task of such an injunction is to freeze the situation. The court is within its rights in intervening to forbid any managerial actions until the substance of the dispute is resolved.
Accordingly, Balashov’s lightning resolution on Uralkhimmash had nothing to do with resolving the ownership dispute. He was merely preventing anyone from managing the plant or making use of its assets. On the surface, all was innocence, sweetness and light. The result, however, was asphyxia.
Under Russian law, if a verdict has already been given in a dispute, it is impermissible for another court to hear the dispute again. In granting the injunction required, however, Balashov purported not to know the crucial detail that an arbitration court had already pronounced on the dispute over Uralkhimmash. He had an entirely plausible explanation for his lack of information: there was no unified communication system in the province (which was true), and people in the district courts were the last to hear about cases elsewhere.
A few hours after his injunction was issued, the ink barely dry on his signature, Fedulev descended upon Uralkhimmash with his armed brigades, waving it before him.
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