Finding the innocent guilty: part III


A lowly researcher finds himself subject to the forces of the Russian security service and a flawed justice system. The third part of exclusive extracts from Zoya Svetova's "Finding the innocent guilty". Part I click here. Part II click here

Zoya Svetova
21 May 2011

Foreward from the editors 

In 2004, the academic Igor Sutyagin was imprisoned for 15 years for alleged espionage. He was released last summer as part of a deal that saw Russian intelligence officers detained in the US returned to Moscow. Huge doubts remain about the fairness of his original trial: about the jury that was dismissed half way through the original process; about the original judge who was sent away on “annual leave” and replaced by one renowned for government loyalty; and about the coincidence of former intelligence officers appearing in jury of the second trial. On 3 May 2011, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that the trial was conducted in breach of Sutyagin’s rights, in particular the rights to a fair trial, and to liberty and security of person (articles 6 and 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights respectively).

Campaigning journalist Zoya Svetova followed Sutyagin’s case over many years, frequently for the oppostionist magazine “The New Times”. Her article “Jury duty is a nasty business” (in Russian) was quoted at length in the ECHR ruling. Struck by the fantastical absurdity and injustice of the process, she turned her trial notes into a novel, “Finding the innocent guilty”, which was recently published in Russian by publishers Vremya. Although the main characters appear under pseudonyms, they are instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with the process, and with the carefully calibrated machine of Russian “justice” in general. This third and final extract presents an entirely credible scene of security services and court officials engineering the composition of the second jury. 

Read Part I here and Part II here.

The selection of jurors

Judge Elena Alekseevna Filippova was sitting in her office and reading case files. That is, she was not studying thoroughly all details of the cases being considered in the city court. It would be more correct to say that she was selecting cases of particular interest to her from a general pile of folders, and checking them against records in her notebook. In this little book she noted exactly which judicial proceedings ought to be accorded special attention.

Selecting those cases which she needed from the general pile of folders, Filippova set about studying the sentences. Especially their substantive parts. She compared the length of punishment handed out by her subordinates with those terms indicated in her notebook. Generally the figures matched, and Filippova would tick off the case with satisfaction and move on to the next folder. She was carrying out this simple but important work to the music of Vivaldi. On the desk stood a portable radio, and Vivaldi corresponded with the peaceable mood of the office’s owner.


Sutyagin has claimed that the composition of the second
jury at his trial was engineered by the authorities. The
proven links of some of the jurors with the security
services would seem to confirm this

The secretary came in silently. She lightly touched Elena Alekseevna’s elbow and whispered ‘Mr Verdashku would like to speak with you.’ The secretary was a young, sweet-looking woman whom Judge Filippova had become acquainted with when, as a court reporter on one of the central newspapers, she had come to interview the judge. And although the interview that she turned out wasn’t particularly complimentary, Filippova had liked the journalist, and after a while had offered her the post of press secretary to the judge. The young woman accepted, and very swiftly became Elena Alekseevna’s right hand, an indispensible helper who understood her boss perfectly. Her name was Vera. And Judge Filippova especially liked this name. She had been baptised not that long ago, and built a small chapel in the grounds of the city court. It seemed to her that the secretary’s name was in tune with her new outlook on life, which meant it would help improve the public image of the city court’s chairperson. Vera simultaneously performed the functions of personal secretary to Elena Alekseevna and press secretary to the court. Having resigned from the newspaper and gone to work in the court, Vera now looked down upon her former colleagues. She swiftly forgot that very recently she herself had been a court reporter and had tried vainly to get information out of the judges. Now, strolling along the corridors of the city court with an important air, Vera conveyed by her whole appearance that only she was permitted to filter information to the press. Skilfully cutting off her former colleagues, she confidently read out press-releases previously prepared and polished to sterility before the television cameras. She quickly learned to supply them with information which, while appearing completely plausible, was not always trustworthy. Vera prided herself in the fact that the Chair of the Moscow City Court trusted her with her secrets and sometimes shared confidential information with her.

Vedrashku’s visit was unscheduled, but Elena Alekseevna guessed that it was about the case of Alexei Letuchy. She placed the folders with the sentences in the right hand drawer of the desk, and the little notebook, covered with secret figures comprehensible only to her alone, she tucked into the left hand drawer. She asked the secretary to summon Judge Mukhina. Vedrashku, bowing and scraping, apologised to Elena Alekseevna for arriving without prior warning.

‘Not a problem! I understand that you have important business’ Judge Filippova assured him. ‘I have already called for Judge Mukhina. Let’s get straight down to business.’

Galina Mukhina literally ran into the office of the Chair of the Moscow City Court.

‘You sent for me?’

‘I did. Sit down, please. We are discussing, as I understand it, your new case.’

'The wording of the presented charge ... is so non-specific that it becomes completely impossible to understand which particular information is supposed to undergo judicial scrutiny.'

Judge Alexander Gusev on the original set of charges brought by prosecutors against Sutyagin

With permission from the ladies present, Vedrashku lit his obligatory cigar. Then he drew two thin little folders from the old fashioned leather briefcase which beautifully matched his unusual appearance (that of an intellectual tired of life). The dark blue one he passed to Elena Alekseevna. The red to Galina Vikentyevna.

‘These are the lists of those very candidates for jury service you must summon on 15 January 2004.’

Judge Filippova let out a whistle. ‘What a collection! The oldest is 67! The average age of candidates is 45. Where did you get this lot from?’

‘One needs to know where to look,’ Vedrashku noted, smiling with pleasure.

‘There’s only three pensioners amongst the whole thirty. The rest have serious occupations: owners, directors – well I never!’ Judge Mukhina did not hide her surprise. ‘Will such people really agree to leave work to come and sit in court?’

‘In the first place you, my dear, as I have already said, will conduct proceedings extremely quickly – two weeks maximum,’ Vedrashku warned Mukhina. ‘Secondly there is no question about whether these people will participate. They have been asked to come and they will come. It’s been explained to them that if they are chosen, they must participate in the trial.’

‘You mean to say that all of these thirty people have been properly prepared and know what is required of them?’ Judge Mukhina asked.

‘I can’t vouch for all of them. But the vast majority of candidates are former employees of the security services or people who were, by the nature of their work, linked to the security services. We haven’t wasted any time. We ended up having to work through the card catalogue of former agents and staff who’ve left. Bear in mind that those coming to the selection are serious people. Your task, Galina Vikentyevna, is to ensure that the defence lawyers don’t suspect anything. There are two people on this list who seem to me entirely suited to the role of informal leaders, it is Aleksandr Druzhinin and Roman Briun. They know each other, as it happens, studied together in the same prestigious institute. Mark their surnames on your own lists. These are reliable people. Now they both work in large manufacturing firms with Western connections. Therefore in the selection process they are not obliged to convey anything about their pasts, or about their membership in the security services. Moreover, few people could trace their sojourn in the secret service. Note also that there are several Intourist translators on the list: these are also people who may be depended on. There are a few former FSB employees who are now active in business. They know what to answer if they are questioned about their former work. They won’t hide where they used to work. One of them will refuse to accept nomination to the jury. The defence lawyers will eagerly reject them, thus freeing up those very places for our informal leaders.

There are also several women on the list. These are also candidates for exclusion from the jury. You need to get rid of those who seem to you too intellectual. You may have problems with them during the proceedings. They will not pay attention to the evidence, they may accept the word of the accused. Women, you know, are far too compassionate. They start to pity the defendant. And God forbid that we end up with six people who consider that he deserves leniency. We need a clean guilty verdict, without any sort of discount. For this case simple people are appropriate, people who don’t think much. We’ve included a labourer, a joiner and a cleaner from the Hotel Peking in the list. It will be easier to work with them.

‘How can I influence the selection? After all, the defence lawyers have the right to challenges for cause and peremptory challenges…’ asked Judge Mukhina.


Sutyagin eventually managed to exchange Russian
prison for freedom in London

‘You need to exclude only 17 people from the list. Pay attention to my calculations: eight candidates for jury service will refuse nomination. Some of them will be dismissed by the defence lawyers. You must pay close attention to ensure they don’t touch our ‘queens’, don’t reject our informal leaders. I’ve made provision for almost everything, and in the worst case scenario we have understudies on the list. I’ve talked to the prosecutors. They understand who particularly needs to be on the jury and who, preferably, should be excluded.’

‘What will we do about the published list of jurors, the one that comes out of the Mayor’s office’, Filipova interrupted. ‘Are your “candidates” on that list?’

‘I think publication of that list will have to wait a little’, explained Vedrashku. ‘After all, you know how the mayor’s office formulates this list. A special computer programme makes a random selection from the electoral register. I confess that I took a few of the candidates from this random sample. But the majority of those who will be coming to you for selection on 15 January did not figure in the random sample. I took their surnames from a list of our former agents. There’s nothing criminal in this – in time we will introduce them on to the list of jurors for the city court. Then we will give this back to the mayor’s office and they, like little darlings, will publish their list with our jurors in the Bulletin of the Mayor’s Office. But that will be after the verdict.

‘I’m sorry to ask this, respected Nikolai Vasilyevich, but I simply must’, Judge Filippova removed her glasses, rolled her eyes slightly and lowered her voice. ‘The list of candidates for jury service has been agreed by our supervisors?’

‘Don’t worry, dearest Elena Alekseevna, your honour. It has not only been agreed. It has been approved in the Presidential Administration.'

 ‘I’ll sleep better now.’ Judge Filippova exhaled and, turning to Judge Mukhina, sternly declared, ‘you may return to your office and continue work, Galina Vikentyeva!’

Judge Mukhina pursed her lips, placed the list of her future jurors in the folder. Without saying goodbye she left the office of the Chair of the Moscow City Court.

Vedrashku took out a cigar and his lighter, formed in the shape of a pistol.


Zoya Svetova's novel, Finding the innocent guilty, is published in the Russian by Vremya

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