On 7 May 2014 the Urus-Martan City Court continued the examination of the criminal case against Ruslan Kutaev, a famous Chechen public figure. During the hearing several prosecution witnesses were questioned, and the defendant made his statements in respect of the charges.
(Ruslan Kutaev; image courtesy of KAVPOLIT)
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 in Chechnya (JMG) are convinced that the case is political, and the confession has been obtained through torture. The Chechen authorities reject any political motives in the case (the man was arrested in a day after he had participated in a conference dedicated to the 70-th anniversary of Chechen – Ingush deportation of 1944), and argue that the prosecution of the 54-year-old Chechen politician is a standard and commonplace criminal case. However, the hearing, during which the court was to question Chechen policemen, didn’t seem to be that trivial.
Firstly, court bailiffs refused to let Mr Kutaev’s relatives and acquaintances inside the courtroom. They also tried to block the access for journalists, including those specially sent by national mass media, assertedly because the courtroom was crowded with Chechen law students. The “students” had indeed occupied all the seats, but their age and weapons suggested they mights rather be Chechen police officers.
The journalists had to apply every effort to «fight» their way inside the courtroom, relying on mass media laws and regulations. The defense team filed a request to grant access for at least the closest relatives, which was done for Mr Kutaev’s wife and two small sons, who had to be standing near his «cage» for several hours. After a pause in the hearing all the «students» left the court, having either lost their interest, or maybe called for classes.
The questioned prosecution witnesses got confused when describing the circumstances of the arrest and seemed to suffer from forgetfulness. Almost all of them, including attesting witnesses, had not used their cell phones on the day in question.
According to the Prosecution, Mr Kutaev was detained on 20 February in Gekhi village right after he had arrived there from Pyatigorsk in a taxi. In the back of that taxi Mr Kutaev, who had never tried drugs in his life, found a pack with unknown substance, and by the unaided eye recognized heroine in it. In an unestablished way the man drugged himself, stepped out of the taxi – and was immediately noticed by the police, who were involved in prophylactic activity being then carried out in the village.
The officers of the Crime Detection Directorate, Mr Khugaev and Mr Akaev, questioned in court, as well as the serviceman of the external guards unit, Mr Madaev, appeared unable to explain the way the prophylactic activity had been arranged and sanctioned. The written order was not submitted either, and in the end witness Khugaev claimed that the order to carry out the activity had been received from President Putin!
Police officers explained that Mr Ruslan Kutaev had aroused their suspicion with his inadequate behaviour: «he staggered, could not stand still, and seemed too nervous», said officer with the Crime Detection Directorate of the Ministry of the Interior Akaev. That was the method how the officers, without any medical examination, detected the alleged drug intoxication of the 56-year-old man. And this was the reason why they stopped him for an ID check. Having seen his driving license, the officers decided on a search. According to witness Akaev, at 2 pm on Thursday there was no one in the central street of Gekhi village, Bolnichnaya street. However, the officers of the crime department were lucky enough to find two attesting witnesses. Both appeared two be Grozny citizens.
Witness Naurbiev stated before court that he had incidentally happened to be in Gekhi village for the first time in his life that day. While he was either heading towards the road in order to catch a car to Grozny, or when he was walking in the opposite direction towards the local mosque («because it was time to pray»), he was stopped by officer Khugaev, who asked him to fulfill his civil duty. By the way, it appeared to be not all the first time when Mr Naurbiev had been invited as an attesting witness by the anti-narcotics police. Moreover, on 25 Febrary 2013 the Leninskiy District Court of Grozny convicted him of drug trafficking. Though the Chechen court came up with a very mild punishment for the region – suspended sentence.
The other attesting witness, 23-year-old Mr Batalov, from Grozny as well, firstly refused to explain before court why he had arrived in Gekhi that day. However, questioned by Mr Kutaev’s advocate, Mr Petr Zaikin, he had to explain that on the date in question he had come to the village to visit his fiancee Fatima. All the information he had about the fiancee was limited to the fact that she lived in Bolnichnaya street (the street, which Mr Kutaev had been apprehended according to the prosecution case). Unfortunately, the witness was unable to name the last name and the precise address of his girlfriend. Neither could he remember the color of the fence of her household and even the color of her hair. It appeared for him impossible to recall her phone number, because, according to his testimony, he hadn’t come to Gekhi and hadn’t met her after the events in question.
It appears that the drug control officers were unable to describe the details concerning how the drug was packed and opened. Neither could they explain why they had photographs of the «crime scene», but could not submit any photographs of the package. Neither could the witnesses answer to the question why they had not bothered to order a medical examination and to register the crime report in due manner. Instead, the officers took Mr Kutaev and the attesting witnesses to Grozny (despite their obligation to bring him for a relevant inquiry to the Urus-Martan District Department of the Interior of the Chechen Republic, which has jurisdiction over the region).
In his statement before court Mr Ruslan Kutaev submitted, in particular, the following:
«The servicemen took me to Mr Daudov (the Head of the Executive office of the Chechen Republic), where he, together with Mr Alautdinov (Vice Minister of the Interior of the Chechen Republic) were beating me severely… before their guards. However, I don’t think they were doing this out of personal enmity… This is not at all the reason for planting evidence in the case against me.
…This is the way the Chechen authorities are hindering me from human rights activity… My opinion, which I express in public, differs from the officials’ one, and it irritates them. Nevertheless, this is not the main reason for my being prosecuted either.
…Lately, it has become a tendency in Russia that politicians and social activists who criticize the authorities are being discredited, and the Chechen Republic doesn’t make any exception… That is why the false charges with acquisition and possession of drugs and the criminal proceedings against me are mere vengeance for my political activity. This is the way they are intimidating other Chechen political and social activists and human rights defenders, who openly criticize the authorities…»