Writing on Robert Amsterdam’s blog, hero journalist Grigory Pasko reminds us of the tortuous saga of YUKOS lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina (pictured, left), whom he calls a “hostage of the prosecutor” and a “political prisoner.”
Svetlana Bakhmina worked at YUKOS in the post of deputy head of the legal department. The nature of her position was such that it was quite impossible for her in any way to influence those decisions that were adopted by the upper management of the company. Nevertheless, in December 2004, Svetlana was arrested and placed in women’s investigative isolator No. 6 of the City of Moscow. Prior to this, she had been interrogated during the course of six hours. The interrogation ended when the interrogatee suffered a heart seizure.
Why was Bakhmina locked up? It isn’t difficult to guess that this was done after she had refused to give false testimony with respect to her managers. A second reason was to force her immediate superior – Dmitry Gololobov – to voluntarily return from abroad and appear before the procuracy.
Later, Svetlana was charged under Article 160 of the Criminal Code of the RF (acquisition or misappropriation of the property of others [i.e. embezzlement—Trans.]). From the moment of the arrest, the Procuracy-General of the RF declared numerous times about the impossibility of changing the remand measure of restraint from confinement under guard to a written pledge not to leave town, despite the fact that Svetlana Bakhmina is the mother of two young children and does not present a menace to society.
In the opinion of human rights advocates, the procuracy is using the arrest of a woman who isn’t guilty of anything as an instrument to exert pressure on the already convicted YUKOS chiefs, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, as well as with the objective of blackmail with respect to those members of the company who are found abroad. That is, Bakhmina is a hostage of sorts for the procuracy.
Consideration of the case with respect to Bakhmina commenced on 17 October 2005 in the Simonovsky District Court of Moscow. The verdict was read on 19 April 2006: Bakhmina was sentenced by the Simonovsky Court to seven years of deprivation of liberty for the theft of monetary funds from YUKOS-owned OAO “Tomskneft-VNK” in a sum of 8 billion rubles and for the non-payment of taxes. Later, the Moscow City Court, where the “YUKOS-Moscow” lawyer’s defence applied with a cassational appeal, reduced the punishment for Bakhmina from seven to six and a half years. The court struck out the tax evasion charge against Bakhmina due to the expiration of the statute of limitations, leaving only Article 160 of the Criminal Code of the RF (“acquisition or misappropriation, that is theft of the property of others”).
The Procuracy-General of the RF charged Bakhmina with having committed theft by way of the acquisition in the years 1998-1999 of the property of OAO “Tomskneft” with the use of her official position within the makeup of an organized group in a large amount for an overall sum in excess of 8 billion rubles.
Bakhmina herself has never – either during the course of the investigation or in trial – admitted her guilt with respect to a single count of the charges, and asked the court to rule for an acquittal. She brought the court’s attention to the fact that she could not have committed the actions imputed to her, inasmuch as in the year 1998, she had occupied a low-ranking position at YUKOS and could not independently adopt decisions with respect to “Tomskneft”.
In December 2006, the Moscow City Court denied the appeal of Svetlana Bakhmina’s defence lawyers against the decision of the Simonovsky Court of Moscow, which had refused to defer the execution of the punishment of the deputy head of the “YUKOS-M” legal department. The defence lawyers had asked for the punishment to be deferred by 9 years – until the attainment of the age of 14 by Bakhmina’s younger son.
The ruling of the Simonovsky Court indicated that the children aged 5 and 9 are found in the custody of the father and two grandmothers. The defence, on the other hand, had insisted that the grandmothers can not carry out the duties of guardians, because one is an invalid of the 2nd group, and the other is forced to work.
In his turn, procurator Nikolai Vlasov declared that a deferment of 9 years in the execution of the sentence is one of the forms of amnesty that can not be applied to Bakhmina.
Bakhmina’s younger child is now five years old, the older – nine. In accordance with the law, a female convict, if she has young children, may ask for a deferment in the execution of the sentence until the attainment of 14 years by her youngest child.
Russian human rights advocates consider Svetlana Bakhmina a political prisoner of contemporary Russia.