On 23 May 2014, after two-week recess, the Urus-Martan City Court of the Chechen Republic resumed the trial in the case of Ruslan Kutaev, a Chechen social activist and political figure. This time the court heard prosecution witnesses’ testimonies. However, as well as the previous witnesses, these ones remember next to nothing concerning the arrest.
(Ruslan Kutaev. Photo courtesy of Kavpolit)
As we have previously reported, Mr Kutaev is charged with criminal offenses under Article 228 (2) of Russian Criminal Code (illegal acquisition and possession of large quantity of drugs without intent to sell). Human rights defenders with the Joint Mobile Group (JMG) are convinced that the man is being persecuted for political reasons, and has given the self-incriminating statements under torture.
Apparently, the trial was planned to be as speedy as the preceding pre-trial investigation of the alleged serious criminal offense, which had been completed in record-breaking time. Nevertheless, the very first witnesses questioned in court made quite contradictory submissions, and in fact cast doubt over prosecution case, according to which the man had been arrested with three grams of heroine.
The next hearing, scheduled on May 16, failed due to a sudden sickness, which Judge Dubkov went down with ten minutes before the hearing – and interrogation of the rest witnesses was postponed for one week. On May 23 all the witnesses started their testimonies surprisingly alike: they all wanted to listen to their statements given in the course of the pre-trial investigation, assertedly because they had forgotten those distant events. One of the witnesses, an external guards regiment officer, complained not only of poor memory, but also about his poor knowledge of the Russian language, and indeed made a grammar mistake when asking to call for an interpretor. This made the Prosecutor lose his temper: «I assure you, the defense will freshen up your memory, so that you will remember everything at once!»
The new prosecution tactics (seemingly aimed at avoiding meticulous questioning by the defense team) didn’t work out. It is notable that the officers with the criminal investigation unit under the Urus Martan Department of the Interior behaved in much more intelligent and gentle manner, and were much better prepared to be questioned by the defense, than the officers from the republican criminal investigation directorate under the Ministry of the Interior for the Chechen Republic.
Nevertheless, there were a lot of profound discrepancies in those testimonies.
The witnesses’ statements regarding their use of cell-phones during so-called operational prophylactic activities during which, according to the prosecution account, Ruslan Kutayev was arrested, seem important. Almost all witnesses – police officers and witnesses attesting the arrest – insist that they could not use their phones that day. Some of them had left them home, some had left them charging in the police premises, some «in father’s car», and so on. It is evident for advocates that such statements had been invented in advance in order to prevent the defense from asking the court to obtain from cell-operators billing information on the witnesses phone numbers. This could have helped to establish where the servicemen and the witnesses who attested the arrest actually were on February 20 at 2 pm.
Witness Yusupov appeared to be the only one to confess that he had used his phone on the day in question. He also submitted that he had that day talked on the phone with his colleagues who effected the arrest. This testimony gives the advocates grounds to ask court for obtaining billing information on at least officer Yusupov’c cell phone calls on the day in question.
Moreover, this witness described all the existing signs of drug intoxication, and was quite certain about the fact that Mr Kutaev displayed none of them that day. To the advocate’s question about the «exact suspicious traits in Mr Kutaev’s behaviour», which attracted the attention of the police, this witness had no answer.
None of the questioned witnesses could plausibly explain to the court how exactly the main material evidence – the pack with narcotic substance – was seized and opened during the personal search. It appears that the servicemen learned what narcotic substance it was from Ruslan Kutaev, who had never tried drugs in his life. Even according to the prosecution account of the events, Mr Kutaev «incidentally found a pack with unknown substance in the taxi». However, all the witnesses submitted the same: before the substance was examined in due manner, they all had learned it to be 3 grams of heroine.
«How did you discern from a 15 metre distance that there was heroine in the pack, and that there were 3 grams of it?» Advocate Petr Zaikin asked witness Beriyev. «Do you possess that brilliant vision? Are you a sniper?»
«No, rocket launcher operator», the witness sounded vexed. «I didn’t see what was inside the pack, I don’t know what color heroine may be of, but I’m sure it was definitely heroine».
Then the witness kept silent for a while, and suggested that advocate Zaikin should write whatever suits him.
After this phrase everyone, including the judge and prosecutor, broke into laughter, while the irritated witness addressed Ruslan Kutaev in the Chechen language: «I have never participated in a case like yours, with that farce and noise!»