In the last post, I discussed the endemic corruption in Russia’s courts and the need for INTERPOL’s heightened scrutiny of Russia’s Red Notice requests. Today’s focus is on the reason that some litigants fare much worse than others in Russia’s courts, and how that affects INTERPOL.
While Russians generally seem to agree that basic, low-level civil disputes between similarly-situated litigants are commonly handled in Russian courts with an efficient turnaround time and relatively fair resolutions, disputes between individuals with differing levels of power are another matter entirely.
Last year, Reuters reporter Danielle Wiener-Bronner explained the reason for this distinction in her article, “The Russian legal system’s split personality.” Complainants in Russia understand that more powerful litigants have both the ability to influence the judiciary and the confidence to litigate in court knowing that their influential efforts are likely to succeed. The “more powerful litigants” may be wealthy individuals or officials within the Russian government. This influential ability extends to criminal cases as well, as has been addressed in this blog previously here.
Recent news from Russia appears to confirm that Russian authorities continue to use the courts for political purposes. The Wall Street journal reported in June that Russian authorities filed criminal fraud charges against three supporters of opposition candidate Alexei Navalny.
Criminal charges have also been filed against Gleb Fetisov, a Russian businessman and billionaire. In a case that echoes many Red Notice cases from Venezuela and Ecuador, financial charges were filed against him after a bank he no longer owns was accused of failing to maintain liquidity in a manner that would allow it to meet its financial obligations. Fesitov has supported opposition party leaders, which is not surprising in Red Notice cases, but is unusual for most wealthy individuals in Russia. There is reportedly an “unspoken agreement that the rich don’t support the opposition,” and Fesitov supporters believe that his criminal case is a consequence of his political activity.
Another current example of Russia’s request for Red Notices in political-or business-based cases is that of Nikolay Koblyakov. The Telegraph reporter Peter Oborne described the case as follows:
On returning to Russia, [Koblyakov] started a chain of care homes for the elderly which seem to have been both compassionate and profitable. As so often happens in Russia, competitors with the backing of the regime forced him out of business.
Since then, Mr Koblyakov has lived in Paris, where he was a founding member of Russie-Libertés, an NGO that campaigns for Russian democracy. He participated in protests involving Free Pussy Riot, the controversial 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and a demonstration under Ukranian flags outside the National Assembly in Paris on the night of Putin’s D-Day anniversary dinner with President Hollande.
Mr. Koblyakov now faces criminal charges; his extradition hearing in Bulgaria has been continued until October, and his request to leave the country temporarily was denied.
When these types of cases create the basis for Red Notices, INTERPOL is left to sift through the evidence presented by the Red Notice subject and decide whether to hold Russia accountable for its historic and current corruption problem, or whether to turn a blind eye and to trust that Russia is abiding by its obligations as an INTERPOL member country. Based on the news out of Russia lately, it seems that INTERPOL will have ever-growing opportunities to make those decisions.
As always, comments and thoughts are welcomed.