Some interesting pot-stirring is taking place in Ingushetia. The Republic has a new Supreme Court Chairman, Ibragim Fargiyev. A military lawyer, scholar and teacher, he is said to have been one of Moscow’s candidates for Ingush President when Murat Zyazikov was starting to lose the Kremlin’s support. Engaged public opinion is watching how Fargiyev and President Yevkurov are measuring each other up. There are signs that the judiciary branch is headed for a showdown with the executive branch. The previous chairman of the Ingush Supreme Court, Mikhail Zadvornov, lost a similar contest.
Zadvornov left Ingushetia last summer. Officially, he was promoted (having won a contest to fill a Supreme Court judge vacancy). But in reality it was an admission of defeat at the hands of Ingushetia’s President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov.
His departure was preceded by a long, drawn-out conflict between the President and the Chief Justice. The aftermath of that struggle is remarkable in that it split the judiciary community into two camps and revealed a confrontation, within the republic, between two different legal systems, the secular and the traditional, a conflict between the written and unwritten law. The judiciary in Ingushetia follows very peculiar rules which Zadvornov never quite grasped.
After his departure, Yevkurov’s press secretary publicly expressed hope that Moscow would appoint a local Supreme Court chief justice. Moscow obliged.
The judiciary branch in Ingushetia is a tiny and exclusive community. The republic has about 70 judges, of whom eight are arbitration judges and three are members of the Constitutional Court. But this small and exclusive community wields a powerful weapon: the right to administer justice in one of Russia’s most explosive regions. It was within that community that the rift occurred.
A curious document came to light in April 2009. It read in part:
“Unfortunately, the republic’s judiciary bodies create the largest number of problems in working with the Republic’s leadership to fight crime. Abusing their independence from republican executive bodies, the members of the Supreme, district and magistrate courts would often acquit obvious criminals and, worst of all, militants, defend corrupt officials and bribe-takers and reinstate lawfully dismissed employees to their jobs…”
Then follows a list of nine names of people who, in the author’s opinion, should be debarred from administering justice.
This was an extract from an internal letter from Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov to the Kremlin’s ideologist for the Caucasus, Vladislav Surkov.
The letter to Surkov of course was not made public. This, however, was not the first time Yevkurov openly expressed his opinion of a certain circle of judges. On one occasion he said: “A judge who lets bribe-takers walk away free is worse than ten [Amir] Khattabs”. Tagir Ozdoyev, a member of the Ingush Supreme Court, has been telling me:
“Once Yevkurov called in the wives of policemen who were killed while on duty and said: ‘You are widows because of the judges’. In other words, we are accomplices… It has almost gotten to the point where they want us killed.”
The judges wrote to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and to the Russian Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Vyacheslav Lebedev: “The entire campaign to discredit the judicial body is being pursued to replace judges whom the President dislikes, notably Mikhail Zadvornov.” Yevkurov wrote back to Lebedev inviting him to come over and deal with the judges.
At a regular monthly conference of judges in December 2009, which incidentally was on the practice of considering cases on the protection of honour and dignity, Supreme Court judge Albakov (who is also a member of the Russian Council of Judges of Russia) wondered how long Yevkurov’s attacks would be tolerated. Other judges became vocal: “How long do we have to endure this? One general left, another general left, a third general left… Do we have governor-generalship here? But the old governor-generals at least stayed within the limits of decency and these ones treat us like scum.”
It was decided to revisit the issue after the New Year and call an enlarged meeting of the Council of Judges, to have taken place on 18 January 2010, to discuss Yevkurov’s behaviour. The meeting was to be held, as usual, at the Republic’s Supreme Court house. The judges assembled on the appointed day, only to get a call from Tamerlan Yevloyev, at the time the unchallenged chairman of the Council of Judges, who said, “Guys, come over to the presidential palace, our issue will be discussed here.”
The presidential palace is next door to the Supreme Court. In the capital, Magas, which has a population of just 524 people, all the government agencies of Ingushetia are concentrated in one place and all the “official” buildings are made of stones resembling Armenian tuff look equally imposing. In local jargon, those who go to the presidential palace are said to have been “summoned to the hill”.
The judges considered such an invitation to be an affront. Even Zadvornov, normally a cool-headed man, lost his temper. To make a long story short, most of the trail judges chose not to go to meet with the president, though the Arbitration and Constitutional Courts were present in full.
I don’t know if the invitation really sought to convey the message that the offended judges read into it. I have talked with a member of the wing of the judicial community that did attend the meeting in Yevkurov’s office. The man asked not to be named citing internal rules of the judicial system. He told me that Yevloyev’s invitation did not pursue any hidden agenda: it was simply because the presidential palace has more room. But Judge Ozdoyev (one of those who ignored the invitation) has a different opinion of Yevloyev’s behaviour:
“He was going to assess the presidential statements in his own office. In fact, Yevkurov was in charge of that meeting.” That quarrel led to a considerable fallout. Several members of the Council of Judges who felt offended wrote their letters of resignation from the council. In the opinion of some judges that amounted to the self-dissolution of the Council of Judges, as only one person of the initial body, other than Chairman Yevloyev, remained. The functions of the Council of Judges were temporarily taken over by the meeting of judges who had stayed in the Supreme Court building. It was decided to call an extraordinary conference to elect a new Council of Judges. However, Yevloyev, the chairman of the former Council of Judges, did not recognise the validity of the decision to dissolve it: he did not resign but found himself stripped of his powers.
The new Council was eventually elected in late January. It consisted of five members (although there should be seven). Arbitration and Constitutional Court judges were given one seat apiece; they ignored the extraordinary conference because they considered it illegal (the Constitutional Court even passed a decision to the effect).
Magomed Daurbekov was elected chairman of the new Council of Judges.
In fact, the judiciary bodies in Ingushetia found themselves in an impasse. On the one hand, the law On the Bodies of the Judicial Community in the Russian Federation determines that only the former Council, and not some kind of other assembly, has the right to convene a conference to elect a new Council of Judges. On the other hand, the Council of Judges is not authorised to make any decisions if there are not enough members to make a quorum.
Word of the split within the judiciary in Ingushetia reached Moscow. The “grand” Council of Judges of Russia met twice in the summer to discuss Ingushetia. The feuding judges were advised to call a new conference to settle the matter amicably. Nothing came of it: each group of judges called its own conference declaring the rival conference to be illegal.
In reality, the republic currently has two parallel Councils of Judges, one chaired by Yevloyev and the other by Daurbekov. Although the Russian Council of Judges came four-square behind the newly created council headed by Daurbekov, the “Yevloyev” Council has the sympathy of President Yevkurov: he refers to Yevloyev’s opponents as a “duplicating agency”. The recommendation coming from the president can tip the scales even if the goddess Themis looks deep into the corporate affairs of the judiciary community.
The Qualification Judges Bench (KKS) faced similar problems. Five judges resigned and some of the judges elected a new KKS (headed by Tagir Osdoyev) in the summer of 2010. The remaining judges held a separate conference to elect more members to provide the former KKS with a quorum. That body is headed by Kureish Kokurkhoyev. Both Benches are working, have identical letterheads and seals and sometimes even manage to strip the judges of the opposing group of their powers. The victims, of course, appeal the decision of the opposing KKS with the disciplinary departments in Moscow, and there seems to be no end to this rigmarole.
The representatives of both halves of the judicial community invoke laws to bolster their positions. Each time they find a gap in the law that is supposed to be made up for by dialogue. But dialogue never takes place. The stakes appear to be too high.
Controlling the Council of Judges and the KKS is not about indulging ambitions, but about a very practical task. The Council of Judges is an elected judiciary self-governing body that determines all the current policy of the judiciary community. The KKS, one third of whose members are representatives of the public and on which sits the plenipotentiary representative of the Russian president, decides which judge is to fill a new vacancy. While the Russian president has the final say in appointing a judge, sacking a judge is totally within the jurisdiction of the KKS. In other words, he who controls the KKS shapes the judiciary system in the region by hiring and firing the right people. The Council of Judges does not offer such scope, yet it too needs to be kept under control in order to provide technical support for the smooth operation of the KKS.
Clearly, the representatives of both camps insist that the bone of contention is not the seats on the Council of Judges and the KKS, but to the contrary, the scandal is all about irregularities in the distribution of seats. I wish it were true that among all the constituent entities of Russia, Ingushetia is the place where official representatives (judges) break lances over these unfashionable and antiquated concepts. I, however, cannot help feeling that even as the infighting within the judicial community goes on, Ingushetia remains a black hole where billions in budget money disappear; that one in every three citizens in the republic has been accused of collaborating with the militants. And that here in Ingushetia not a single judge can boast that he has followed through and brought to a closure at least one of the so-called high-profile cases. (Granted, investigating crimes is not the business of judges. And yet the scandalous and sloppily put together “case of the notorious 12” of the attack on Ingushetia on 22 June 2004 has never been opened in the Republic).
If one looks at the substance, the main argument of the opposing camps involved in a fierce struggle for the right to control the KKS and the Council of Judges is not the violations of the rules of distributing seats. Both sides know the vulnerable points of the other side, and these claims may have far more important consequences than talks about the quorum and the legitimacy of extraordinary conferences.
The Council of Judges led by Yevloyev somehow learnt that two judges from the opposing camp – Tambiyev, Chairman of the Magas Court, and Yaryzhev (Nazran Court) have fake university degrees. Seeking to become judges, these people earned law degrees at the North Caucasus State Technical University (Question: if the job of a rank-and-file policeman in the republic costs about 150,000 roubles, how many people wish to become judges?)
Yaryzhev and Tambiyev studied together under a fast-track programme considering that they held degrees in economics from the Checheno-Ingush State University issued in 1993. Shortly after getting the required legal degrees, Tambiyev and Yaryzhev became members of the judiciary community.
Now the Council of Judges headed by Yevloyev has established through the University in Grozny that the university had never issued any degrees to Tambiyev and Yaryzhev; the Goznak Agency reported that diplomas under the numbers indicated had been sent to Ukraine in the late 1980s. The Sumy State Pedagogical University and the Ukrainian State Railway Transport Academy even gave the names of the people who had received these education documents.
The Council of Judges led by Daurbekov brushes off the allegations regarding its members, Tambiyev and Yaryzhev, and says, “show us the documents”. But Yevloyev apparently shows the documents at the meeting of his own Council of Judges, which Daurbekov of course does not attend and so rejects the charges against his colleagues as unfounded.
In response, the Daurbekov Council of Judges accuses the opposing camp of preaching anti-federal views. It reminds the current Constitutional Court Chairman Ayup Gagiyev (a major figure in Yevloyev’s camp) that at the time he was vice premier he had said: “I do not believe a single word the leaders of our state say”. He is also held responsible for the passage of the polygamy law under Aushev. The law was hastily revoked, but not until “70 marriages had been officially registered”.
Let us now look at the statistics of the cases considered, for example, by Judge Yevloyev in recent years. Below are some of the more curious cases he has handled. In 2004 E.A. Uzhakhova was jailed for five years for selling a large amount of heroine. The Supreme Court judges (the opposing camp) commuted it to a suspended sentence.
In the summer of 2007 Y.B. Algatov was sentenced to three years for seizing a cabman’s car together with his friends using fake weapons. The Judicial Bench of the Supreme Court of Ingushetia ruled that the sentence be suspended.
In April 2010 R.M. Estamirov was sentenced by Judge Yevloyev to one year’s imprisonment for illegal possession of arms: three assault rifles, one machine gun, two grenades, an Izh pistol with a silencer and several rounds of ammunition. The Supreme Court overturned that sentence and delivered a suspended sentence instead.
These are just three examples, but in all I have countered a couple dozen such strange reversals. All the panels of judges that delivered acquittals were current political opponents of Yevloyev. But the most striking fact is that judge Yevloyev’s superiors hardly ever questioned the facts of the crimes. Very often the Supreme Court did not acquit the criminals but simply suspended the sentence. I don’t know whether judge Yevloyev was unusually harsh on burglars and drug traffickers or whether his opponents had grounds to be lenient towards them.
Grounds for leniency
At the dawn of his presidency Yunus-Bek Yevkurov liked to say that he was prepared to negotiate with corrupt officials and if they returned the stolen money no harsh sanctions against them would be imposed. This reminds me of a story I heard from Magomed Daurbekov, Chairman of one of the two Councils of Judges. Here it is word for word.
“The head of the Sunzhensky Housing and Utilities servicing company is a very interesting case. She was invited by the president who told her: if you return the money we will set you free. She agreed. She brought 15 million, all that was remaining. Yet the charges were brought against her all the same, a clear case of breach of contract. She is a married woman with three or four children. She returned the money, but the case was opened all the same. Initially she was made to sign a written pledge not to leave town, which is in line with the law. Immediately the President gives a command to the Supreme Court: why hasn’t the woman been arrested? The Prosecutor’s Office, faced with such pressure, does so although previously it had settled for a pledge not to leave town. The Supreme Court complies and sends the case for retrial with a view to remanding her in custody. She realised that since she had already paid the money, the next step would be to arrest her. She entered a hospital and then disappeared.
Meanwhile, the case continued its progress. Torshkhoyev, her chief accountant who signed the documents, found himself in the dock. He is old and ailing. So the case is in the hands of judge Chaniyev. By that time Uveis Yevkurov (the President’s younger brother who holds a curious position of “universal negotiator” in the Republic of Ingushetia. Behind his back Uveis is known as the “cashier”) sends a man whom the judge knows who conveys instructions: Torshkhoyev should be given a suspended sentence or fined. But not jailed. That is the president’s instruction. The judge delivers a suspended sentence. The following day the president raises hue and cry over the fact that judge Chaniyev had set free a corrupt official. Because of that sentence, he, the president, rejected Chaniyev’s candidacy for re-election as a judge. When we had a conference, Khloponin came here. All these charges were repeated. One of the judges pops up and says: “Here is judge Chaniyev who passed that sentence. Ask him why the sentence was not enforced. I had a feeling that Yevkurov was ready to run away.”
I have also been told the story of a Supreme Court judge. He was trying a murderer; it was a trial by jury. The jury acquitted the murderer. The judge says that he had no doubt of the guilt of the accused, but investigation had botched the job and as a result the jury returned a not guilty verdict.
The very next day the judge was summoned by the head of the republic. He entered the office only to find 12 members of the jury huddled over a conference table and answering the question: how could it have happened that the court had acquitted a murderer? This acquittal was only one of many. I have seen rulings by Ingush judges with resolutions hastily scribbled over them: “Invite judge so and so and tell him to annul the ruling.” The signature under the resolution was very similar to that of the republic’s president. Of course, watching how the law is enforced in our country it is hard to entertain any illusions on that score. For example, we all suspect that it was not God Almighty who guided the hand of judge Danilkin when he wrote his historic verdict. However, legality is one thing and ritual is another.
The ritual that imitates the work of democratic institutions must be complied with under all circumstances since we have decided to act democratic. So, Danilkin’s verdict must be written even if it is written from right to left or with smileys at the end of every line.
The trouble with the justice system in Ingushetia and the misfortune of Yevkurov himself is that in addition to the rituals that are observed in the Russian Federation, one has to honour the local rituals.
In a recent incident during a spontaneous meeting the police caught and beat up a member of the opposition, Khazbiyev, and his brothers. There was a trial (in the police building) and Khazbiyev and brothers were arrested for ten days.
Meanwhile, some influential people throughout the world spoke out in defence of the protester: his detention and the trial involved flagrant violations of the law. In the evening of his first day in custody President Yevkurov called in the elder Khazbiyevs to discuss the behaviour of the younger ones. They had a conversation and Yevkurov apparently admitted that the police had been wrong and ordered an immediate release of the detainees. Just like that, without bothering to go through the process of appeals and so on.