The case of the former head of the Criminal Investigations of the Vetluga Police Department of the Nizhny Novgorod region Anton Merlugov who is charged with torture and battery of two local citizens and with threatening one of them to forge a criminal case for drugs storage if he did not change evidence, is submitted to court. Lawyers with the Committee Against Torture will be representing the interests of the victims in court.
As we have previously reported, Pavel Yakushev and Ivan Belov from Vetluga claim to have been beaten up by the police officers during apprehension in April 2017, and, in addition, physical violence was applied against Yakushev at the Vetluga Police Department. According to Yakushev, after he was taken to the criminal investigations room, one of the police officers broke his mobile phone and then started to beat Pavel up. Yakushev claims that during his beating materials at hand were used – he was hit by the panel of the desk drawer, as well as with the electrical heater.
According to the expert’s conclusion, numerous bodily injuries were registered on Yakushev: two injuries in the parieto-occipital region on the left and in parietal region, a bruise and an extravasation of suprascapular area on the left, extravasations of the iliac region on the left, injury of the third finger of the left hand, injury of the right hand, abrasion of the left knee joint, hemorrhaging under the nail bed and into the soft tissues of the nail bone of the first finger of the right hand.
Ivan Belov was registered with a hematoma and a swell of the soft tissues in the eyelid area, a hematoma in the region of the earflap, a hematoma and a bruise in the area of the back. In addition, according to Ivan, after the police officer hit his face he developed problems with his eyesight. Ophthalmologist diagnosed him with rhegmatogenous detachment of the retina and epiretinal fibrosis.
The investigation and the court did not establish Yakushev and Belov’s involvement in the theft. They both participated in the court hearing in the capacity of witnesses. Only the initiator of the night march to the sawmill – he was declared guilty of an attempted theft and sentenced to two hundred and fifty hours of compulsory community service.
On 27 April 2017, the Urensky Investigative Department started pre-investigative check based on the complaint of the citizens from Vetluga against the unlawful actions of the police officers. Different investigators conducted some activities, however, they were obviously insufficient to establish whether the actions of the police officers contained element of crime. With regard to this, the refusals to initiate criminal proceedings issued by the police officers were repeatedly quashed.
The red tape with the complaint of the citizens from Vetluga led to the fact Ivan Belov was questioned by the investigator from Uren only several months after the check commenced, and Pavel Yakushev – nearly a year after. And it happened only after repeated applications of the lawyers with the Committee Against Torture addressed superiors of the regional Investigative Department.
After activation of the investigation, the police officers whom the applicants accuse of the battery, manifested themselves. According to Ivan Belov, on 30 January 2018 two police officers came to his work, and he recognized one of them as head of the local police department Aleksandr Nazarov. As Ivan recalls, the latter started to talk him into changing his complaints against the law-enforcement officers. Ivan did not agree and left, but on the same evening he was apprehended near his house and taken to the police department, allegedly, on suspicion of storing drugs.
During search of personal belongings of Belov, no illegal items or substances were found. However, according to Belov, head of local Criminal Investigations Anton Merlugov warned him: “Do you realize that it was only the “rehearsal”? Next time it may end differently, next time something will definitely will be found!”
Ivan perceived this as a real threat by the police officers. He informed the lawyers with the Committee Against Torture about what happened, and on the next day he resigned from his job and left the town.
On the next day, Ivan, together with a lawyer with the Committee Against Torture applied to head of the regional investigative department Andrey Vinogradov. He listened to the applicant attentively and ordered to hand over the material of the check to the proceedings of the first department for major cases investigation of the Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Nizhny Novgorod region.
On 3 March 2018, investigator on major cases of the Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Nizhny Novgorod region Aleksey Shoshin opened a criminal case under item “a” Part 3 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“abuse of office with the use of violence”). Later on human rights defenders handed over six more complaints from the citizens of the Vetluga district concerning police torture.
And on 14 September a criminal case was opened based on the fact of threatening Ivan Belov. The ruling says that the criminal case under part 1 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“abuse of office”) is initiated with regard to head of the Criminal Investigations of the Vetluga Police Department of the Nizhny Novgorod region Anton Merlugov.
“The investigators established that in 30 January 2018 Anton Merlugov took a mobile phone of his acquaintance, a woman from the Krasnodar Territory who came to Vetluga for a visit, upon the pretext that he needed to make some call. Then he went out for a short time and handed this phone to another woman, who is not yet identified by the investigative authorities. Ordered by Merlugov, this woman called to the police duty station and informed that Ivan Belov was storing drugs. It is this anonymous call which became a formal pretext for Ivan Belov’s apprehension and threats”, – lawyer with the Committee Against Torture Vladimir Smirnov says.
The phone number was quickly identified by the investigation, and then its owner was also found, who by that time already left Vetluga for the Krasnodar Territory. The investigative group from Nizhny Novgorod came to Sochi where the phone owner was searched, the phone itself was seized and the woman provided evidence against Merkulov.
As to the case on illegal applying physical violence, in December 2018 Senior Investigator on Major Cases Investigation of the regional Investigative Department Mikhail Blagov found numerous traces of blood of different people in the premises of the Vetluga Criminal Investigations, and the DNA testing established that Yakushev’s blood was among them, as well. It is noteworthy, that it remained on the same panel of the desk drawer, as well as on old wallpapers, on which the pieces of the new ones were glued in haste.
23 April 2019, Anton Merlugov was charged with a battery and threats of forging a criminal case.
Yesterday, on 30 мая 2019, after the indictment was confirmed, the case was submitted to the Vetluga District Court of the Nizhny Novgorod region.
“A lot in this case is noteworthy. For example, how it was subjected to red tape for almost a year at the local level, until, as a result of our applications and complaints it came to the regional level. In addition, the local investigator twice was in the criminal investigations premises examining the incident scene, however, he never found any blood and did not even attempt to look for it. Instead, the regional investigator, with a use of special equipment managed to detect blood traces after one and a half years and ordered their DNA expert examination. What does it tell us? It tells us that even complicated cases of torture can be investigated in our country: if there is a will, there is a way. We are glad that this time our will fully coincided with the one of the Investigative Committee”, – Vladimir Smirnov commented.
The Committee Against Torture expresses gratitude to Head of the Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Nizhny Novgorod region, Colonel of Justice Andrey Vinogradov, as well as to the investigators, who in our opinion, contributed the most to the investigation of this case — Lieutenant Colonel of Justice Aleksey Shoshin and Captain of Justice Mikhail Blagov.