His son Gennady was the first to embrace Vyacheslav Ivankov in freedom.
Photo: Dmitry Lebedev
Vyacheslav Ivankov Justified Worries about Accusations
// Jury finds Yaponchik not guilty
Vyacheslav Ivankov (Yaponchik), whom Russian authorities consider a crime boss, was unanimously found not guilty by a jury in the Moscow Municipal Court. After nine years in prison in the United States, he was extradited to Russia on accusations of the murder of two Turkish citizens 13 years ago. The verdict will be read to the already released Yaponchik today, strictly as a formality. “A knockout, pure victory over the prosecutor,” Ivankov's lawyer, Yury Rakitin, called the verdict. The prosecutor not only lost the case, the outcome of which was in doubt almost from the beginning, he was forced to fire Grigory Shinakov, his office's head of the department for the investigation of banditry and murder, because of the scandal.
The Jury Earns a “Thank You”
Ivankov turned to the jury, pressed his right hand to his heart and said “thank you” when he heard the verdict.
Judge Zurabev ordered him to be released on the spot. That order did not take effect instantly, however, because the convoy guards had to relay the order to the convoy center, where Ivankov had to sign documents freeing him and receive his personal possessions. At that moment, friends and relatives flooded into the courtroom to congratulate him. The trial had been closed. There was a bottleneck of well-wishers, and only his son Gennady and two friends were able to get to him. As Ivankov was released from the armored glass cage in the courtroom, his son was able to hug and congratulate him before they were separated by guards.
The relatives and reporters who did not make it into the courtroom charged at his lawyers.
“Well, well?” Ivankov's wife Faina Komissar demanded.
“Not guilty!” lawyer Alexander Gofshtein answered.
Journalists threw themselves at prosecutor Maria Semenenko as she left the courtroom.
“How do you evaluate the jury's verdict? Will you appeal?”
“Of course we will appeal,” Semenenko answered, “Because we are not satisfied with the verdict. Goodbye!”
“On what basis will you have the verdict overturned?” the onslaught of questions continued. “Were the jury members pressured? Was the law broken when they passed their verdict?”
“We will examine all of those questions and respond then,” Semenenko answered closing the door of the prosecutor's room behind her.
It took about 40 minutes for Ivankov to be freed. Shouts of “hooray” greeted Ivankov at the court's emergency exit, where prisoners are led to and from court. His son was the first in line here as well. “Just don't write that he was met by thieves and Mafiosi,” one of his lawyers told journalists. “These are his friends and relatives.”
“We are all happy for Slava [Ivankov],” patron Alimzhan Tokhtakhunov told Kommersant by telephone. “We knew long ago that he was not guilty. Justice has triumphed. I hope they will leave him alone now.”
Ivankov left the journalists without comment and went from the court home.
Charges Did Not Recommend Mercy
The verdict was predictable. The charges themselves point to it. Moscow Prosecutor's Office investigator David Oganyan stated in the preliminary hearings that he was taking the case to court with violations, since the case had few chances any way. That statement had the effect of a bomb dropping in the prosecutor's office. New preliminary hearings were scheduled and Oganyan was fired. He was followed out the door by Grigory Shinakov, head of the department for the investigation of banditry and murder, who had managed the case. He had handled almost all the big murder trials in Moscow in recent years.
Thus the accusing side showed the weakness of its position even before the beginning of a trial. The prosecutor could have closed down the case because of the ten-year statute of limitations. Ivankov would have been released from criminal responsibility in that case, but at least acknowledged to be guilty. The prosecutor did not stop the case. “And so they found him not guilty,” lawyer Rakitin said on that topic. The final hope died when the defendant opted for a jury trial. Information about the personality of the defendant cannot be presented in a jury trial and that was what the case against Ivankov was based on: several volumes of material in the case were devoted exclusively to Ivankov's criminal past.
Even after that, the prosecutor wouldn't give up. Yesterday, prosecutors Semenenko and Sergey Borisov tried to draw the jury's attention to fact that the prosecution's witnesses identified Ivankov as the person who shot the Turkish citizens. Although the witnesses changed their testimony in court, Borisov came to the conclusion that Ivankov's guilt in the murders of Hanan Gultihen and Husein Uigan and the wounding of Ahmed Tarangi at the Fidan restaurant in Moscow on February 29, 1992, had been proven. Borisov also admitted that the proof was meager. He asked the jury to find Ivankov guilty anyway.
Lawyers Gofshtein, Rakitin and Sergey Kotelevsky held a diametrically opposed point of view. Gofshtein noted that the prosecutor didn't present any evidence at all. The charges were completely based on the testimony of policeman Alexey Ozerov, who was working as a guard at the restaurant at the time of the murders. He refuted his testimony in court, however, saying that he did not recognize the defendant as the murderer. The prosecution was unable even to find witnesses Akhmetova, Ashirzhanova and Fedko, all natives of Kyrgyzstan, who told investigators that the shooting in the restaurant began after one of the guests asked them, in dialect, “Do you have any marijuana?” It is interesting to note that the same witnesses identified another person as the murderer in 1992, Vyacheslav Balashov, who is 25 years younger and 20 cm. shorter than Ivankov. Later, Balashov, who had an alibi and was not in the restaurant, was cleared.
After the pleading, the jurors had to answer four questions: Was the fact that the crime, that is, the murders in the Fidan restaurant, was committed proven? Did the defendant Vyacheslav Ivankov commit that crime? Is Vyacheslav Ivankov guilty of that crime? Does he deserve (if guilty) mercy? The jury acknowledged that the murders occurred, and unanimously answered negatively to all the questions on the guilt of Ivankov. Thus, the reading of the verdict today is strictly a formality.
It is not known yet what Ivankov will do now. His lawyers say that, as someone who has been incarcerated for ten years, he is has fallen behind in life, mainly from details of daily life. “He is interested, for instance, in what cars are popular now and he wants a cell phone with a camera... They have already given him a Russian passport; they sent him from the U.S. without any papers. So he has his citizenship, but no registration. He is still registered at the Matrosskaya Tishina holding facility. Other people have long been living in the apartment where he was registered.”
His lawyers say that Ivankov may take up literary pursuits. They say that he wrote a cycle of poems while in confinement, as well as tales for children and his autobiography, which has the working title Against the Wind.
The “Restaurant Case”
A fight broke out between diners at the Fidan restaurant on Ryazan Prospekt in Moscow on February 29, 1992. The disagreement ended in gunfire, resulting in the deaths of two Turkish citizens and the wounding of one other. The criminals fled. In 2000, law enforcement agencies received information that Vyacheslav Ivankov had been a participant in the murders. At that time, Ivankov was serving a nine-year, seven-month term in an American prison for extortion of $3.5 million from Russian-born bankers there and for a fictitious marriage. According to the investigation, Ivankov and his friend Vyacheslav Sliva, who died of cancer in 2000, fought with the Turks in 1992 because the coat-check staff at the restaurant, hoping for a large tip from the foreigners, served them first. In June 2000, the Moscow prosecutor charged Ivankov in absentia on article 102 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“Intentional murder with Aggravating Circumstances”). In 2002, the Prosecutor General and Ministry of Justice
began negotiations with the United States on the extradition of the convict to Russia. On July 13, 2004, after his release from American prison, Ivankov was handed over to Russian authorities. On July 14, he was brought to Moscow and placed in the Matrosskaya Tishina holding facility. On July 15, the Moscow prosecutor charges him under article 105, part 2, of the Criminal Code (“Murder of two or more persons”). On April 19, 2005, the case reached the Moscow Municipal Court. On April 29, preliminary hearings began. On May 4, the court satisfied a petition of the defense to have the case returned to the prosecutor for correction of violations of the Criminal Procedure Code. On May 17, the case reached the court a second time. In the course of the trial, which began on June 1, the court satisfied petitions by the defense to hold a jury trial and to hold a closed trial.
Other Famous Trials
Reserve Captain First Class and expert for the Bellona Association Alexander Nikitin was arrested on February 6, 1996, for transferring data on radiation in the Northern Fleet. On December 29, 1999, a court in St. Petersburg found him not guilty. The verdict was appealed and, on September 13, 2000, the Supreme Court refused to overturn the verdict.
Platon Obukhov, second secretary of the department for North America of the Russian Foreign Ministry
was arrested for participating in intelligence gathering for Great Britain. On July 27, 2000, the Moscow Municipal Court sentenced him to 11 years in prison. However, on January 16, 2001, the Supreme Court annulled that sentence on a petition from his lawyers and, on May 17, 2002, Obukhov was declared incompetent and assigned treatment.
Former head of intelligence of the paratrooper forces Col. Pavel Popovskikh was taken into custody on February 4, 1998, on suspicion of the murder of Moskovsky Komsomolets
journalist Dmitry Kholodov in October 1994. Six more suspects were arrested later. On June 26, 2002, the Moscow District Military Court found all of them not guilty due to lack of evidence. The Prosecutor General was able to have that decision annulled and begin a new trial. However, they were found to be not guilty a second time on June 10, 2004.
On October 29, 1999, Anatoly Bykov, chairman of the board of the KrAZ carmaker, was arrested in Hungary on the request of the Prosecutor General. He was charged with money laundering, illegal arms possession, involvement in the murder of businessman Oleg Gubin, organization of an attempt on the life of businessman Pavel Struganov and violations of rules on operations with precious metals. Some of the charges were dropped in the course of investigation. On June 19, 2002, the Meshchansky Court in Moscow sentenced Bykov to six and a half years in prison, instead of the nine the prosecution had asked for.
In January 2002, president of the SIBUR
Co. Yakov Goldovsky and his deputy Evgeny Koshchits were arrested on a statement from Gazprom
. Goldovsky was accused of theft of property entrusted to him, money laundering and use of false documents, and Koshchits was named as an accomplice in all those crimes. On September 25, 2002, the Gagarinsky Court in Moscow found them guilty only of abuse of office and sentenced them to the seven months that they had already spent in confinement.
On January 14, 2002, Special Forces Capt. of the Main Intelligence Department Eduard Ulman, Maj. Alexey Perelevsky, Lieut. Alexander Kalagansky and Corp. Vladimir Voevodin were arrested on accusations of killing six Chechen civilians. On April 29, 2004, jurors in a North Caucasus Military District court found them not guilty. On August 26, 2004, the Supreme Court annulled that verdict on petition from the prosecutor and ordered the case retried. On May 25, 2005, a military jury found them not guilty a second time.
All the Article in Russian as of July 19, 2005