An Arrest Across the Ocean

April 8, 2013
Russia has issued an arrest warrant attorney against famed human rights attorney Boris Kuznetsov, now living in the U.S.

Yesterday Moscow Presnensky District Court, acting upon a petition by the Main Investigative Department for the City of Moscow, issued an arrest warrant for Boris Kuznetsov, an attorney. According to the investigators, back in 2007 acting as a defense attorney for one of his clients, Kuznetsov revealed information considered a state secret, by disclosing the fact that the FSB (Federal Security Service) agents had tapped his client’s phone. Now the Prosecutor General’s Office may send a request for extradition to the U.S. authorities (Kuznetsov was granted political asylum in the United States). If the request is denied, the case could be tried in absentia.

At the beginning of the trial Kuznetsov’s attorney, Ruslan Zakalyuzhny, asked for additional time to review in detail the investigators’ arguments, and filed a motion for continuance. He also submitted his client’s petition, in which Kuznetsov also asked for continuance. He argues that this court should have requested the documents related to the previous indictment of Kuznetsov by a different court back in 2009.

Back then, Kuznetsov’s attorneys argued that their client had never attempted to conceal his whereabouts. Kuznetsov suggested that he was ready to meet with Russian investigators in the United States and answer their questions. In the end the investigators withdrew their petition for arrest.

Mr. Zakalyuzhny’s arguments were supported by other members of Kuznetsov’s legal team, Mrs. Ruslan Koblev and Robert Zinovyev; however, the judge, Tatiana Vasyuchenko, denied the motion to continue.

According to the investigators’ petition, the criminal charges against Kuznetsov were filed in July 2007 based on Article 283 of the Criminal Code of Russian Federation (“Disclosure of a State Secret”). The case in point was that while representing Levon Chakhmakhchyan, a former senator from Kalmykiya accused of fraud, Kuznetsov made a copy of a classified FSB document. According to that document the spooks (FSB) were monitoring phone conversations of the senator, who at that time was immune from any investigation. Later, Kuznetsov submitted that document to the Constitutional Court where it was reviewed by employees who did not have the necessary clearance to have access to state secrets. That particular circumstance served as the basis to bring criminal charges against the attorney, who signed a non-disclosure agreement in relation to that case.

Due to the fact that Kuznetsov came to the United States and was granted political refugee status, the investigation was delayed several times. In early March the investigation was reopened at the behest of the Prosecutor’s Office. Consequently, the Main Investigative Department for the City of Moscow asked the court to issue a warrant to arrest Kuznetsov.

In their request the investigators argued that if Kuznetsov was not arrested, he could interfere with the investigation, or try to put pressure on witnesses, since he was well connected had a lot of experience working in the Russian law enforcement system (before he became an attorney he had worked as a detective), and was familiar with investigative techniques.

Despite the defense’s argument that “being in the United States territory it’s very difficult to put pressure on anybody, especially on witnesses,” the judge, Tatiana Vasyuchenko, ruled to grant the investigators’ petition to arrest Kuznetsov.

“I think the Russian authorities are thinking about putting me on the Interpol’s wanted list, but I don’t believe they can succeed,” Kuznetsov said yesterday speaking to a “Ъ” correspondent. “I have been granted political asylum in the U.S., and Interpol does not deal with individuals who are persecuted for political reasons. So, even if I am ever arrested in some third country, I will be immediately released once the US consulate interferes”.

Kuznetsov believes that one of the reasons his criminal case was “reactivated” is that in the United States he “acted as an expert for a congressional committee that was charged with compiling “the Magnitsky List.” Also, he published an online article in which he called to hold accountable those government officials who were responsible for the tragic incident with “Kursk” nuclear submarine back in 2000 (the attorney represented the victims’ families).

The Main Investigative Department did not rule out that the criminal case will be investigated and the trial will be held in absentia.