LIVE UPDATES: Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for the Investigative Committee and a controversial figure associated with Russia’s most politicized criminal prosecutions, is reportedly stepping down from his position, says a TASS source.
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Aleksandr Bastrykin, head of Russia’s Investigative Committee (IC) may be leaving his post, according to multiple sources, RBC reported.
The sources include one person “close to the FSB leadership”; another “close to the central office staff of the IC” and “three close to the presidential administration,” said RBC.
Bastrykin is said to be resigning soon after the September 18 elections, although none of the sources had exact dates.
Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “This is the first I’ve heard of it,” however, responding to a query about Bastrykin’s possible departure.
The current IC spokesman Vladimir Markin, whose own departure was announced today, refused to comment for RBC.
According to the source “close to the FSB leadership,” the question of Bastrykin’s future careers was already decided in the negative after his subordinates were arrested on corruption charges, but his departure is to follow the September elections. The source also said that unhappiness with Bastrykin “had matured over a long period.”
They included Mikhail Maksimenko, head of the inter-agency department for internal security; his deputy, Aleksandr Lamonov; and Denis Nikandrov, deputy head of the IC Main Investigative Directorate for Moscow.
Bastrykin has presided over some of Russia’s most notorious political and criminal investigations. He once notoriously drove Sergei Sokolov, the deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta into a forest outside Moscow and threatened to personally kill him.
Novaya Gazeta, which has lost a number of journalists to assassinations, took the threat seriously and Sokolov fled Russia. Sokolov had criticized the IC’s handling of one of Russia’s most sensational crime stories involving a mafia overlord’s murder of a family of 12, including 4 children. Bastrykin later denied making the threat, while acknowledging a heated dispute, calling his accusers “dishonest” and “stupid.”
The Investigative Committee is often described as being “like” the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). That’s misleading, unless you also rolled into the FBI the functions of a grand jury and a district attorney’s office without the kind of oversight the FBI has from other branches of government — Congress, the Justice Department, and the White House, not to mention the Supreme Court and an independent media.
Making an equivalency between agencies in Russia with agencies in Western democracies is always misleading at best for that reason, but more to the point, the all-powerful IC has functions that would be distributed across other bodies in a democratic system. IC agents put tails on suspects and collect files on them; they are present at searches; they gather evidence; they question suspects; they perform investigations; and they prepare cases for trial.
While the theory is that they take on only the “big” cases of large-scale corruption, murders of many people or with a dimension of “public interest” and “political” cases, in fact their remit is enormous as their daily press releases indicate, and it’s not always clear why they take on some cases and not others.
The IC, known in Russian by its abbreviation, Sledkom, was originally created in 2011 to “reform” the all-powerful Prosecutor’s Office, which even has the power to investigate itself, and nearly always finds itself not guilty. The IC is often described as “replacing” the prosecutor’s office own investigative department, but in fact the prosecutor continues to initiate and carry out probes.
Sometimes the IC and prosecutor’s office or police (Interior Ministry) are at odds, but usually the IC takes the lead and prevails over all major criminal cases in Russia, including many related to the persecution of the opposition and various independent journalists and activists, as well as cases involving recognized criminals in the mafia or corrupt officials.
Bastrykin has been associated with Russia’s most high-profile cases in recent years, and also with the inability to rein in the criminality of Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of the Chechen Republic.
“He is changing the sphere of his activity, since he received another offer where he can perform no less wide-scale and responsible assignments.”
Markin, the harsh face of Russian law-enforcement for both opposition figures and mafia overlords, is a controversial figure, as he is often the first one to bring the news of a government raid of a corporation or the arrest of a protester.
Recently he was accused by a Novaya Gazeta author of plagiarizing her article on the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya in his new book, Russia’s Most Sensational Crimes of the 21st Century. Markin denied the charge.
Life.ru broke the story of Markin’s reported departure, saying it began being discussed about a year ago.
He has worked as the IC spokesman since 2011, and before that, was a representative of the IC at the prosecutor’s office.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick