INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Senior Cop Languishes in Jail for Work On Us-Funded

Published: Tue 27 Oct 2009 02:05 AM
VZCZCXRO0737
RR RUEHDBU RUEHLN RUEHPOD RUEHYG
DE RUEHVK #0107/01 3000205
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 270205Z OCT 09
FM AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK
TO RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 0513
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1223
INFO RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 1328
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 VLADIVOSTOK 000107
SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV RS
SUBJECT: SENIOR COP LANGUISHES IN JAIL FOR WORK ON US-FUNDED
ANTI-CORRUPTION STUDY
REF: A. VLADIVOSTOK 83 B. VLADIVOSTOK 82
VLADIVOSTO 00000107 001.2 OF 002
1. This is an Action Cable. See para 8.
2. Summary. Aleksandr Astafyev, anti-corruption crusading
militia colonel and long term U.S. Consulate contact, is still
in jail after his arrest last June on trumped up charges. There
has been no progress in his case. Now on his second lawyer,
neither attorney has been allowed to be in contact with him. We
understand that Astafyev recently refused a chance to plead
guilty to lesser charges that would have softened his potential
six-year sentence. Local newspaper journalists and others
interested in the case have been intimidated. A recent
Washington Post article apparently resulted in getting him moved
from solitary confinement to share a cell with Customs General
Ernest Bakhshetsyan who is also suffering Astafyev's fate for
being too effective an anti-corruption investigator. Astafyev's
appeal to President Dmitriy Medvedev has received no response.
End Summary
3. A knowledgeable consulate contact recently met with us to
brief the current situation of Aleksandr Astafyev, militia
colonel and long term U.S. Consulate contact, who has been in
jail since last June. Astafyev's campaign against organized
corruption apparently brought him closer to charging influential
criminals and they retaliated by engineering Astafyev's own
arrest on trumped up charges. At the time of his arrest,
Astafyev was completing a George Mason University-funded study
on the criminal take-over of Russian businesses with the
collaboration of corrupt officials. Astafyev connects his
arrest with his tense relations with Aleksey Sorokin, a reputed
organized crime boss, who has both Russian and American
citizenship. Although Sorokin is wanted by the Russian
Ministry of Interior, he freely circulates in Russia and has
friendly relations with local militia officers. During a
face-to-face confrontation between Sorokin and Astafyev in a
local prosecutor's office, Sorokin's bodyguards threatened
Astafyev, promising to kill him. Militiamen witnessed these
remarks and ignored them. Despite the fact that Sorokin is
wanted by militia, he entered and left the building with no
problem. Earlier, Astafyev told conoff that Sorokin was doing
business without paying taxes in either Russian or the US.
4. Our contact says that the local authorities' original
intention was to accuse him of unsanctioned contacts with U.S.
representatives, but they lacked evidence. Instead, they
recently offered Astafyev a chance to plead guilty of "abuse of
power" to soften his punishment. Astafyev decided to ignore
the offer because he insists that investigators have nothing
against him, and are grasping for a justification for his
arrest. Although Astafyev is still accused of fraud, there is
no evidence to substantiate the charges, we were told. Our
interlocutor speculated about other possible ways they might
find to accuse Astafyev, such as for disclosing improper
investigative procedures or disclosing methods of militia
operations, again, despite a lack of evidence. . Our contact
added that Astafyev's problems may also be linked to his knowing
too much about the illegal business activities of high ranking
FSB officer Yuri Alyoshin and his partners.
5. The detention of Astafyev has been extended twice without
consideration of his lawyer's appeals or statements. He has
been held with no access to his attorneys. His first lawyer was
interrogated in a prosecutor's office regarding his client and
his defense. After this interrogation, the lawyer refused to
meet conoffs, saying that he was under strict FSB surveillance.
It was better not to call him. Several weeks ago Astafyev's
family found a new lawyer; however, the new attorney has
experienced the same pressure and problems. He has no
permission to visit Aleksandr Astafyev in the pre-detention
center. The attorney has appealed his right to meet with his
client to a local court and has been notified that his claim
will be considered in three weeks. Astafyev's September 3
appeal to President Dmitriy Medvedev about his "illegal" arrest
and alleged human rights violations has received no response.
Our contact confirmed that Astafyev and Customs General Ernest
Bakhshetsyan were at least for a time sharing the same cell (see
septel). Bakhshetsyan reportedly has provided strong moral
support to Astafyev during these difficult weeks for Astafyev.
6. We have been told that local journalists interested in the
case have been intimidated. A "Zolotoy Rog" newspaper
journalist was questioned by the prosecutor's office after a
recent article about Astafyev's arrest. Local independent
newspapers such as "Narodnoe Veche", "Novaya Gazeta vo
Vladivostoke", and "Arsenyevskie vesti" continue to remind
their readers of the fate of Astafyev. Maria Solovyenko, an
owner of Narodnoye Veche newspaper and the most active supporter
of Astafyev, was reportedly also warned not to provide publicity
to the case.
7. Our local discussant is convinced that these small
circulation newspapers need stronger support from the world
media. Astafyev's best hope is international publicity, he
claimed. A Washington Post article ("Official's Arrest in
Russia Linked to GMU" dated 23 July 2009) discomforted
Astafyev's enemies, he pointed out, and as result Astafyev was
VLADIVOSTO 00000107 002.2 OF 002
moved to the cell with Bakhshetsyan -- a good move because
there was concern that occupying a lone cell could be a
threatening situation for him. Our discussant requested our
assistance in bringing world media attention to the human right
cases of Aleksandr Astafyev and Customs General Ernest
Bakhshetsyan.
8. Comment. The Astafyev and Bakhshetsyan cases are examples of
the photo-negative quality of local law-and-order politics -
black becomes white, and white becomes black. The standard they
are forced to bear signals to anyone like them, that too
vigorous an anti-corruption crusade is likely to send the
crusader, rather than the villains to jail. And anyone taking
much interest in their cases is also likely to find trouble.
This case is also grievous from a USG perspective because
Astafyev has worked with US law enforcement officials and was
in the Washington recently on a State Department grant. Post
would appreciate Department's and Embassy's involvement in
further publicizing these cases and raising them with Russian
interlocutors in government, the press, and, as appropriate, in
public. End comment.
ARMBRUSTER
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