The justice system can come crashing down on the lives of each and everyone of us, and since we are all living here, we need to be ready for this.
On 30 November 2006, Rosa Karimova, a saleswoman at grocery tent #27 at the Kaluga city market, received a note with some certain instructions, addressed to her boss, the head of the grocery tent Nikolai Kalinin. The instructions said that the Federal Drug Control Service for the Kaluga District recommends not selling confectionary poppy seeds anymore, since they supposedly interest not only grandmothers selling bread, but drug addicts as well.
Although this was just a recommendation, Kalinin meekly brought all the remaining unpacked poppy seeds to the garage. Not too long before receiving the instructions, he had bought 10 boxes whole-sale for roughly 50 thousands roubles.
The news from Kaluga then reached the supplier, the grocery company Kraider-S. Roman Pronyakin, the company’s warehouse keeper, said, “Poppy seeds are allowed to be sold. I have all the certificates. I will go to Kaluga myself and get to the bottom of this”. Soon after he did in fact come to Kaluga, intending to discuss the situation with the administration of the Federal Drug Control Service for the Kaluga District. During the meeting, Pronyakin was offered a way to resolve the problem, but he refused to take it on, continuing to assert that poppy seeds are absolutely legal.
After his meeting with the FDCS, the grocery tent was put under surveillance, which then turned into a criminal case being initiated, first only against Kalinin and Karimova. The police searched Kalinin’s garage and the tent. The 10 boxes that Kalinin ended up not returning to the supplier were labelled as “being prepared for sale”. Moreover, several episodes of direct “sales” were registered in the case: when drug addicts supposedly bought poppy seeds from the tent to use as drugs; however, later during the trial, none of the “drug addicts” were presented.
Further on, the investigation sent off toward the address printed on the labels of the Kraider-S’s poppy seeds. At the company’s Moscow storage area, 56 tonnes of poppy seeds, prepared for pre-packaging for retail sale were discovered during a police search. Pronyakin was arrested. A bit later, the grocery company aide to the administrator, Roman Dementyev, was arrested (he, the son of the company’s head, was listed as the organiser for supplying the poppy seeds, although he was not officially registered at the job).
Rosa and Nikolai remained under a recognizance not to leave the city.
The poppy seeds had the inevitable dirt in them: pieces of poppy-seed straw, stems, etc. It’s impossible to purify it completely (experts confirm this). The poppy seeds that this “criminal group” sold also had dirt in it, at a volume of 0.1% (this was proven by a study appointed by the investigation). The GOST (state standard) allows for up to 3% to be in the poppy seeds.
Besides the GOST, however, there is also the government decree that specifies the notion of large and especially large sizes of drug substances for the purposes of article 228 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. This decree stipulates that the weight of the substances from the especially controlled “list 1”, if it is in the mixture, is equated to the weight of the very mixture, “regardless of the mix contents”. Poppy-seed straw is in “list 1”.
This is what the investigation took their premises from.
The grocers were tried as a group. The Kaluga defendants did not even personally know their Moscow accomplices before the trial, but a group in judicial arithmetic is a multiplication sign for their sentences.
Besides, at the beginning they were all put together as an association, but then the prosecutor’s office changed its mind: although an association is punished more severely, the defendants would have immediately demanded a jury trial, and a jury does not give any guarantees.
In the end, there came the sentence:
Dementyev was given 13 years in a high-security prison, Pronyakin got 10 years in a high-security prison, and Kalinin was handed down 5 and a half years in a high-security prison. Karimova received a four-year conditional sentence.
On the heals of this, the failed cassation trial in the district court.
Every judge handing down a ruling in a case is obligated, in addition to accounting for the specific case facts, also take into account the defendants personalities: this requirement is written in the Criminal Code (article 6 of part 1).
I had the opportunity to study the personality of Rosa Karimova. She and Nikolai interest me especially. We hear and write so much about people who have been illicitly convicted. These people, in most cases undeservingly suffering at the hands of the law, know their rights and try to defend them. They understand quickly how to make their case go public and get the hope of having a fair trial. These are mainly young people who understand right off the bat that life in Russia is a risk factor by itself.
Rosa and Nikolai are in a completely different group: both are getting up there. Rosa is almost 60, while Nikolai is 65.
They remind me of my parents with their stubborn righteousness, just as your parents probably were too. As for the Kaluga judges and investigators, what kind of parents did they have?
When their case went to trial, Rosa and Nikolai weren’t able to afford any big-time attorneys. Pronyakin and Dementyev had well-seasoned attorneys on their side, with only the judges being the local ones.
Though Rosa’s attorney meekly riffled papers, she received a conditional sentence. However Nikolai, defended by a local attorney as well, was given five and a half years in a high-security prison. It is certainly less than 13 years, but over the course of the investigation and the trial, Nikolai had two heart attacks. He, as his son Nikolai said, “was broken”: he closed himself off from others and cried a lot. He was the breadwinner for his entire family: a disabled mother bedridden, a good-for-nothing brother, mother-in-law, also disabled, and children and grandchildren. He was overcome not only by fear for the future of his helpless family, but also he had the fixated image of the shame that he would soon endure.
I wonder if the Kaluga investigators and judges remember this one simple word: shame?
To answer this question, here’s a story about how the judge threw out one of the sales episodes from the charge against Rosa and Nikolai
Kuzkin, this one drug addict who was supposedly to have bought poppy seed at Kalinin’s tent, had his apartment be subject to a police search initiated by investigator Konushkin. The search didn’t uncover any facts relating to poppy seed, but enough material for a criminal case as it is was collected, so Kuzkin went to jail for organising a drug house.
During the “poppy-seed gang” trial, the attorneys proved that judge Belogub’s signature authorising the search was forged. In other words, Kuzkin, even should he be a hundred times guilty of organising a drug house, was put behind bars in violation of the law.
Here at least two conclusions can be made from this curious story:
1) Conducting a search based on a forged authorisation is a crime.
2) The surveillance bodies and judicial community ought to look into how this connection works: the investigator and the judge authorising operative procedures as part of the investigation.
Judge Kravchenko, however, did make these what would seem to be obvious conclusions. All he did was exclude the episode involving the sale of poppy seeds to Kuzkin from the case.
In following up on this I come to yet one more conclusion, this time regarding Judge Kravchenko, his decency and professional suitability.
Pronyakin is serving his sentence at a Kaluga prison, where we visited him. The pre-trial detention centre there smells of fresh cabbage soup, which is what probably made Roma noticeably gain weight. Keeping in mind two arrests during the preliminarily investigation, he is already in his fourth year in prison running. He, just like all the others convicted in the case, is still pinning his hopes on the Supreme Court.
While I was studying the poppy-seed case, several other similar stories came to light. Among those convicted – owners of small grocery stores in the regions – all were sent to prison for legally selling certified confectionary poppy seeds that are not prohibited by any one law in the Russian Federation.
Those convicted and I thought up the following plan: after having consolidated a certain group, we together will file a motion with the Constitutional Court to receive an explanation on the case. We are entitled to do so (see article 125 of the Russian constitution and the Law “On the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation”). Let the Constitutional Court tell us whether the verdict determining the punishment for an act not banned by the law is in violation of the Main Law of the Russian Federation or not. We take the premises that confectionary poppy seeds are not prohibited in Russia. Maybe the Constitutional Court will show the grocers a law that bans selling confectionary poppy seeds, superglue and large kitchen scissors, since can’t these goods be used illegally?