Russian ombudsman slams ex-Defence Ministry official’s parole as “elite” justice

Kremlin and Saint Basil's File Photo

(Interfax – August 25, 2015)

Russian human rights ombudsman Ella Pamfilova has strongly condemned a court decision to release on parole Yevgeniya Vasilyeva, a key figure in the Oboronservis case, suggesting the move amounted to “elite” justice, privately-owned Russian news agency Interfax reported on 25 August.

Earlier on 25 August, a court in Vladimir Region granted Vasilyeva parole after she had served three months in prison. Vasilyeva was sentenced to five years for embezzlement in May.

Wants Putin to act

In a statement on her official website that evening, Pamfilova said she intended to request that President Vladimir Putin instruct the Russian Security Council to “carefully analyze the actions of all officials and [legal ] authorities who have taken decisions in the Oboronservis case, as a result of which high-level offenders managed to evade responsibility”.

Pamfilova explained why.

“Dividing investigations and court proceedings into two levels – ‘elite’ and ‘for the rest of the people’ – strikes at the authority of the judicial and law-enforcement system and undermines the trust of the country’s citizens in justice,” she said.

She went on: “This appeared most graphically and tellingly in the so-called Oboronservis case, in which the broad public still has more questions than answers. It does not raise the fighting spirit of officers in Russian army either that Mr [former Defence Minister Anatoliy] Serdyukov, living in the shadows of a woman, evaded responsibility for the unsavoury facts that came to light in the process of the investigation and inflicted huge moral damage on the Russian Armed Forces”.

What is Oboronservis?

Initiated in October 2012, the Oboronservis case refers to a series of criminal cases over the alleged embezzlement of about R3bn (currently about 43m dollars) from property sales at the Defence Ministry-controlled holding company Oboronservis.

Vasilyeva was head of the ministry’s property department, and media reports suggested she was having an affair with the then defence minister, Anatoliy Serdyukov.

Sacked by Putin in an anti-corruption drive in November 2012, Serdyukov was only questioned as a witness regarding Oboronservis, but was later charged with negligence in a separate case, though subsequently amnestied.

Many in Russia consider top officials to be immune from criminal prosecution, and they regard the Oboronservis and Serdyukov cases as a test of how serious the authorities are about tackling corruption.