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Monday, June 9, 2008

Russia Trumps U.S. in Cleaning Up Court Corruption

Hopes for Court Reform Stir in Russia
Judge's Testimony Describing Political Pressure Seen as Hint of Medvedev's Intent
The Washington Post Foreign Service by Peter Finn - June 9, 2008

MOSCOW -- Yelena Valyavina, a senior judge at the Federal Arbitration Court, electrified a Moscow courtroom last month when she stated openly what had long been unspoken, at least by influential insiders: The Kremlin has pressured and threatened the Russian judiciary to secure favorable rulings.

The testimony by such a senior judge was cause for some cautious optimism that calls by Russia's new president, Dmitry Medvedev, for an independent court system might actually be genuine. Valyavina's boss, Chief Justice Anton Ivanov, is one of Medvedev's oldest and closest associates, and that connection was lost on no one. During the eight-year presidency of Vladimir Putin, courts were politicized as part of a broad centralization of power in the Kremlin that also brought controls on the news media, the effective renationalization of strategic industries and the marginalization of opposition political parties. With the formal handover of power now a month old, Russians are watching to see if the country will head in a new direction.

During the election campaign and since becoming president, Medvedev has stressed the primacy of the law as a guarantor of democratic rights and an antidote to endemic corruption, themes that carry implicit criticism of Putin's rule. "Our main goal is to achieve independence of the courts as a reality," Medvedev said at a meeting last month in the Kremlin with senior judges and legal officials. He added that unjust decisions "come as a result of different kinds of pressure like telephone calls and, there's no point in denying, offers of money." Putin's public statements have a different tone. Now prime minister, Putin said last week that the "judicial system is developing and proving that it is viable."

Medvedev's predecessor has often appeared to overshadow him in his first days as president. Putin symbolically sat in his own old seat at the Kremlin when the two met. He has held forth on foreign policy -- the president's prerogative, according to the Russian constitution. And in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, Putin appeared to forget momentarily that he is no longer president. When he was asked whether he could convince the French president that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, Putin said: "I assure you that the president of France is no less well informed than the president of Russia." He paused before adding, "Let alone the former president of Russia." So far, there has been little daylight between Putin and Medvedev on economic, social or foreign policy issues. The new president, like Putin before him, has rejected any further eastward expansion by the NATO military alliance or the stationing of a U.S. missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

But legal reform could be a key mechanism through which Medvedev could distinguish himself. And, according to political analysts, it could siphon to the new president some of Putin's popularity because the public is disillusioned with the legal system, whether it's the traffic police or the Supreme Court. "It was not the rule of law, it was the rule of fear," said Yevgeny Kiselyov, who hosts a political talk show on Echo Moskvy, a Russian radio service. "Everyone feared that the present system could crush him. Ordinary people feel defenseless and frustrated. But if the idea appears that because of Medvedev's decisions there is suddenly a place to go in Russia to protect your rights, his popularity will grow."

Judges long associated with Kremlin justice are suddenly looking over their shoulders, Kiselyov said. He noted what he called credible reports that Olga Yegorova, who turned the Moscow City Court system into a crude extension of the Kremlin's rule, is being pushed out. But legal reform is one of Russia's oldest empty promises. Putin, too, spoke about the rule of law, but in practice it meant the supremacy of the Kremlin in all matters. "I pray for Medvedev, but I'm reserved," said Sergei Pashin, a former judge and a professor at the Moscow Institute of Economics, Politics and Law. "We have often heard the correct words and seen no action. There is great resistance." So far, there are plenty of examples of the old style of law enduring.

In a speech in Moscow this week, Tony Hayward, chief executive of the British-based oil giant BP, called for the "consistent application of the rule of law" after the head of BP's joint venture in Russia, TNK-BP, was called before the tax authorities. That followed a raid on the company's offices by the security services and the withdrawal of visas from some of its foreign employees. The various investigations appear to be linked to a struggle between BP and its Russian partners for control of the venture. The probes illustrated the continuing ability of connected insiders to mobilize the police and other legal structures to press private disputes.

The legal system under Putin was often a weapon to neutralize business or political enemies, most famously the tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is serving eight years for tax evasion and fraud. His oil company, Yukos, was broken up. Courts in Britain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Cyprus, Liechtenstein and Lithuania described the Yukos proceedings as politically tainted when they rejected motions from Russian prosecutors seeking the extradition of Yukos officials or material for trials in Russia. Khodorkovsky's lawyers say their client's fate could become the measure of Medvedev's reform agenda. During a visit to Berlin on Thursday, Medvedev was pressed on the issue by German leaders and appeared to tamp down speculation that he might pardon Khodorkovsky. "The issue of a pardon shouldn't be discussed at an international level, or by politicians," Medvedev said at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "The procedure of a pardon, for which any convict can appeal, including Khodorkovsky, should rely on Russian law."

Yuri Schmidt, one of Khodorkovsky's lawyers, said the issue of a pardon is a red herring because Khodorkovsky will never apply for one. Such an application, he said, requires an admission of guilt on the part of the petitioner, which is anathema to the jailed businessman. "We've been watching Medvedev's statements attentively, not about the pardon, but that court procedures should be used to resolve the Khodorkovsky case," Schmidt said. He said Khodorkovsky's attorneys were working on an application for early release, which Khodorkovsky now qualifies for after serving nearly five years in prison, including his pretrial detention. "The application to the courts will be sort of a test, and I'm cautiously optimistic," he said. "For the legal community, Valyavina's statement, in particular, was a hopeful sign that change is possible."

Valyavina made her statement as a defense witness in a libel case. Valery Boyev, a Kremlin official, had sued Vladimir Solovyov after the broadcast journalist said that "there are no independent judges in Russia. There are judges who depend on Boyev." Valyavina told a Moscow court that Boyev came to see her in 2005 after she handed down a ruling against the Federal Property Fund. "He spoke about state interests, saying that apparently I did not understand clearly what those interests were," said Valyavina, who was in her first six-year term. "I was told directly that if I was going to request reappointment for the second term, I would have problems." After Valyavina's testimony, Boyev withdrew his suit before three other judges could testify. "This case is a vivid example for the community of judges and society that you should and you can tell the truth," said Shota Gorgadze, Solovyov's attorney. "And the fact that it coincided with statements by Dmitry Medvedev confirms, in my view, that the time has come when words and the deeds coincide."


Anonymous said...

It's a pattern of corruption all over the world. The senior Judge says that the Russian Judiciary has been pressured and threatened to secure favorable rulings.

I'm waiting for some honest Judges in the State of NY to come forward and make similiar statements. We all know that Judge here are also pressured and threatened! And we the people that don't get Justice know it first hand!!!!!!!!!! Who will be the first?

Anonymous said...

Judicial reform in Russia is ahead of NY STATE?
We must be the absolute bottom of the barrel of ethics and accountability. No wonder corruption is still blantantly happening today in NY courts, even with all this world wide internet exposure, because our system is just an arrogant organized crime judicial entity! Maybe the Russians Feds can help us in NY?

Anonymous said...

Judge Kaye should go to Russia, she might learn a few things.

Anonymous said...

yeah, Kaye should go to Russia with all her friends and don't come back!!!!!!!!!!!! NYS would be much better off!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

we are more corrupt than good old Russia, now that's something to be real proud of! This announcement is being brought to by your local bar association! Stand with Pride, scumbag (Billy said it, so it must be OK) lawyers/attorneys!

Anonymous said...

I'd feel a lot better if this whole case was handled by someone other than notorious famewhore lawyer Shota Gorgadze. Mr. Gorgadze does not do anything unless it either a) gets him more publicity, b) gives him access to celebs, or c) gives him access to little girls.

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See Video of Senator John L. Sampson's 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption

The first hearing, held in Albany on June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:

               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
               The June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:
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