Sometime earlier Alexey Pichugin had sent his own motion to be pardoned; however, this motion had been rejected with no apparent reason. The refusal had been signed by Yuri Berg, Orenburg Region Governor, for it is in this region where The Black Dolphin, a prison camp where Pichugin had served his term till this summer, is located. On Wednesday, Dmitry Peskov, President’s Spokesman, stated that Kremlin had read the open letter by Pichugin’s mother, but no official reaction had been formulated as to the date.
Alexey Pichugin, ex-officer of the Yukos Security Service is currently serving the life term on the basis of charges of the murder of Vladimir Petukhov, then Nefteyugansk Mayor, who kept accusing YUKOS of not paying what was due to the municipal budget; he had been killed on June 26, 1998, so the murder looked like a birthday gift to Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The investigators declared Pichugin the alleged mastermind of the crime for having refused to testify against Mr. Khodorkovsky.
This summer Alexey Pichugin was suddenly transferred from the Orenburg Region prison camp to Moscow Lefortovo Prison. The media outlets supposed that it had been done in order to force the fresh testimony against Mikhail Khodorkovsky out of him, thus helping to open a new criminal case.
In her letter, 77-old Alla Pichugina wrote that during 13 years she cannot even place a hand on her son’s shoulder, let alone embrace him; she also wrote that she was «driven to the edge of despair». Alla Pichugina had shared her pleas and motives with us in an interview to the Radio Liberty –Alexey had already requested the pardon of the Russian President, yet the refusal bears a signature of Orenburg Region Governor. As far as I could figure out, this motion had not even reached the President, therefore I decided to participate.
– Do you believe that the Russian President can show clemency?
– I do. I do because I know my son is innocent. That’s why I plead and I believe.
– How often can you see your son? Also, please describe your meeting.
– Last time we met on June 23. I usually see him twice a year, for 4 hours a visit, through the partition glass. Twice a year, in December and in June. I always go there accompanied by one of his sons, we travel together.
– How does it feel, knowing that perhaps you will never see him? Life term is immensely dreadful thing, so, how do you manage to live without him?
– Life is pretty hard, yet I’m sure that somehow the justice will prevail. I know he is innocent and hope for clemency from the President! Of course, we both, me and my son, get a lot of support from many good people who write letters, even from abroad. He has his sons and grandsons, even two great-grandsons. He had not seen both his grandsons, the eldest is going to school already. We are constantly in touch, his sons see me often, I see them as well. And sure they love their father and wait him.
– Is there any influence of the fact that their father is sentenced to life term on their day-to-day lives?
– As a matter of fact, everyone understands that he is innocent and many people know who he is. Well, they miss him very much, even the grandsons who had never seen him-yet they send drawings and write as they can.
– He misses them as well, we suppose.
– Certainly! In every letter he writes like this: I miss you SO much! I want to hug you all SO badly! I want to see you! And also Please, take care. I believe in good fate and so on.
– Why do you think your son had been convicted? What were the reasons?
– Actually, I believe it’s not me you should address such a question. I ignore completely how it all started, well, one can read the files…
– He could have testified against Mikhail Khodorkovsky and be free now as well…
– What can he do if he is unable to lie about anyone! He’s a believer, he is honest, and so he cannot say a word if someone is innocent. If he knows anything he says it, but if not, how can he commit a perjury? «I can’t, for I would carry a burden till the end of my life if I lie», he wrote me once. He’s honest and he does his best to raise his children the same way. He’s a role model and example for them, for he has three sons. He cannot act otherwise, said Alla Pichugina.
Xenia Kostromina, Pichugin’s defender, also provides some insight as to the reasons why Alla Pichugina wrote an open letter to Vladimir Putin asking for clemency and as to the legal perspectives of the review of his case:
– It’s an act of a desperate mother indeed; a mother who is not sure whether she lives to see his son’s release. Alla Nikolaevna is 77 years old, she’s a strong and vital woman, but she had no contact with her son for 13 years, since each time they met there was a partition glass. Of course it’s an act of despair.
– It’s not the first attempt to gain pardon for Alexey Pichugin…
– Yes, he had previously placed such a motion himself, but it was rejected by the official letter signed by Mr. Berg, Orenburg Region Governor.
– Alexey had been transferred to Lefortovo Prison since last summer. What was the purpose, in your opinion?
– There was a single interrogation of Alexey Vladimirovich as to the moment, details of which I cannot disclose for I had signed a pertinent statement of confidentiality. It took place in June, and there were no procedures afterwards.
– How does the staff of Lefortovo treat him? What were the conditions in former prison camp?
– He had no complaints regarding the conditions. I can say that for sure.
– Do you see any legal chance to review the case?
– Well, there’s the first legal opportunity for Alexey Vladimirovich to be released, to begin with. I’m speaking of the pardon, which is a presidential prerogative. Also, a second chance exists –the second appeal to the ECHR had not been examined yet. It had been communicated 2 years ago and we wait for the resolution so that we can act accordingly. If the ECHR rules that the right to fair trial had been violated, we will address the Supreme Court in order to cancel the sentence to the life imprisonment.
At the same time I would like to remind that the verdict of ECHR concerning the first case clearly states the violation of article Six, that is, the right to fair trial, in several aspects; and the Supreme Court consented. The ECHR had also ruled that the only way to amend things is the repeal of the sentence and the trial de novo. Yet the Supreme Court had refused it, so we can now say that this entity had not complied with the ECHR verdict – told Xenia Kostromina.
Vera Vasilieva, journalist and human rights activist, who had witnessed all the trials with Alexey Pichugin and has correspondence with him for more than 10 years, reveals her thoughts about the genesis of his case:
– I guess the investigation team counted on him as a source of testimony against Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Alexey is a former law enforcement officer, namely of FSB, which had led the investigators to think they would speak the same language as colleagues of a sort. However, due to his principles, his upbringing and his religious beliefs, he could not commit perjury since he knew nothing which may compromise Khodorkovsky. He was also firmly convinced of his innocence and always denied his involvement in any crimes whatsoever. As a results, the procedure drags for the second decade due to the lack of evidence, despite their constant efforts to get it from Alexey. But since he had not uttered a word for all those years, the things will remain as they are.
– Why did you interested in his story?
– I’ve been touched by it, that’s why I came to the hearing in order to sort things out and to understand whether Alexey was guilty or not. His first case had been heard in camera, therefore it was difficult to build together an opinion of it. I went to the second trial, which was open, thinking that I’d be done after a couple of sessions. One thing struck me first: no journalist went there regularly. The trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky had been developing an Meschansky Court at the same time, and therefore the attention had been focused on it. I decided to tell the world about the Pichugin case so that it does not go unnoticed. First I wrote on my blog for the outlet I worked for had nothing to do with politics and judiciary affairs, afterwards I came to work on a human rights website and continued there.
– Vera, have you ever met him in person?
– I met him only in courtrooms, he being behind bars. On the other hand, we write letters to each other for ten years already.
– What kind of person he is?
– He is a very kind person! I’m simply fascinated by his kindness: he bears no grunts towards his tormentors. The cruelest words he wrote me «Let God be their judge». He prays for everyone, even for those who act against him, who lies of him, he prays for their salvation. He keeps writing in every letter things like „Tell all those who support me that I’m very grateful. Thank you so much! God beware you! I wish you well!» This image of him has nothing to do with that of the accusations.
– What is your position regarding the open letter where Alla Pichugina asks Vladimir Putin for clemency?
– I believe she wanted a clear answer, so that the situation left no doubts. Almost a year ago, in November past Alexey himself wrote a motion of pardon addressed to Putin, without, however, admitting the charges. He wrote it after the human rights activists from Moscow visited his prison camp. In particular, Andrey Babushkin was there, and it was he who suggested that it is not necessary to declare oneself guilty in order to write such a motion and to be pardoned.
However, according to the statement issued by Dmitry Peskov, presidential spokesman, Putin had not read the motion in question. It seems that the document had been lost somewhere in the chancery of Orenburg Region Governor Berg. A rejection had been issued, yet Peskov said Putin did not sign it. The right to grant pardon is a pure presidential prerogative, yet by a miracle someone on lower level had rejected a motion of pardon. Now, I believe, Alla Nikolaevna Pichugina wants to address the President directly in order to get a response from him – says Vera Vasilieva.
Lyubov Chizhova Radio Liberty
Translated by Alexey Uelsky