High price for probing Russian soldiers’ deaths in Ukraine
A 74-year-old Russian rights activist is on trial on fraud charges carrying a sentence of up to six years imprisonment. One of two alleged ‘victims’ has admitted that it was the police who suggested he lodge his allegations which emerged less than 2 months after Ludmila Bogatenkova, the head of a Soldiers’ Mothers Committee in Buddyonovsk ("Матери Прикумья") probed the deaths of nine Russian soldiers who were almost certainly killed in Ukraine.
She is now charged with two cases of fraud. In the first Vladimir Dubrovin claims that he paid Bogatenkova 800 thousand roubles to get criminal charges against either his brother or son reclassified in order to avoid criminal prosecution. Presumably it is the media, not Dubrovin, who can’t decide whether it was his son or brother, however Bogatenkova’s lawyer Andrei Sabinin reports that at the last hearing on May 19, the relatives of the alleged victim got mixed up about the amounts supposedly paid to Bogatenkova, dates, etc. At the previous hearing on April 23, Dubrovin admitted that police officers had come to him and suggested that he lodge the complaint. Bogatenkova is also alleged to have borrowed 100 thousand roubles from Svetlana Kharebina, and then denied even receiving them.
Bogatenkova denies all charges. It is a telling detail that a member of the President’s Human Rights Council, Sergei Krivenko appeared at the hearing on May 19 as a witness for the defence.
On Aug 28, 2014 Bogatenkova’s Committee drew up a list of around one hundred Russian soldiers whom they had reason to believe had been killed in eastern Ukraine as well as another three hundred injured. Bogatenkova herself also sent the Human Rights Council information about the deaths of 9 contract soldiers.
Instead of answers to her questions, the elderly activist received a visitation from the police. On Oct 17 a search was first carried out of the Soldiers’ Mothers offices, and then police turned up at her home and arrested her on suspicion of ‘fraud on a particularly large scale’.
A court on Saturday, Oct 18 ordered that she be remanded in custody and she was taken 140 kilometres away, to the SIZO [remand prison] in Piatygorsk. There, however, the SIZO staff noticed what the court had chosen to ignore, namely that the 73-year-old was in poor health, suffers from a number of serious illnesses, and is in need of daily medication. They were clearly concerned that she would die in the SIZO and refused to admit her. Despite this, she was still held for two nights in a police holding facility in Buddyonovsk.
Bogatenkova had refused to accept the lawyer whom the investigators provided and insisted on her own choice, Andrei Sabinin, who was only able to represent her from Monday. The investigator that day withdrew his own application for her detention and agreed to a signed undertaking that the elderly lady who has trouble even moving without assistance would not ‘abscond’. After the experiences of that weekend, the following day Bogatenkova was admitted to the cardiology unit of the local hospital.
Sabinin at the time pointed to the investigator’s about-turn between Saturday and Monday, and said that the publicity which her case had received was doubtless a factor.
A month later, the prosecutor of the Stavropol region informed the Human Rights Council that they had found no evidence of fraud by the rights activist. The Council had approached the prosecutor, Yury Turygin on Oct 20 asking that he take the case under his personal control and inform of his findings.
It appears, however, that those assurances were meaningless or else that somebody put pressure on Turygin to ‘change his mind’, and the prosecution is still continuing. It is indicative of the case that both the investigator and the courts have rejected reasonable applications, including the wish to have a face-to-face formal meeting with the alleged victims.
It should also be noted that while one of the alleged victims wrote his complaint at the prompting of the police, the other, who claims to have not been repaid 100 thousand roubles, first lodged her complaint in August. The police then decided not to initiate criminal proceedings. That decision was overturned by the prosecutor, yet a check still found no elements of a crime.
Human rights activists were adamant back in October 2014 that the charges against Bogatenkova were politically motivated. Each court hearing only confirms this, and publicity is again urgently needed.