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Family bakery or drug cartel? How a Russian baker was taken to court for his poppy seed pastry

Photo: Andrey Arkhipov / RIA Voronezh

Three years of court proceedings are coming to a close for the Polukhin family from the Russian city of Voronezh. A few years ago, the family had opened a café where they baked and sold their own pastries, including desserts containing poppy seeds. As a result, the Polukhins were accused of creating an organized crime group involved in drug trafficking. On May 21, the state prosecution asked for prison sentences for all the family members: 9 years for Alexander Polukhin, a retired army colonel; 6.5 years for his wife Maria and his daughter Eugenia; and 6 years and 7 months for his sister-in-law Nina Chursina.

Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, known for its investigative journalism, recounted the story of this criminal case. According to their reports, the prosecution accuses the Polukhins for selling drugs under the guise of poppy seed dessert, while the Polukhins say they are being targeted by state officials because they refused to comply with a corruption scheme proposed by the Federal Drug Control Services. The judge’s statements make it sound like she has decided to take the side of the prosecution from the very beginning of court proceedings.

According to the prosecution, the Polukhins combined edible poppy seeds with opium (which is made from poppy seed pods) and sold this mixture to drug addicts. Russia’s Federal Drug Control Services described Alexander Polukhin’s role in the process in the following way: “As a retired military serviceman of high standing, and as a qualified person in questions of tactics and strategy, he conspired to escape any possibility of arrest.”

Polukhin, on the other hand, says he was arrested for refusing to “participate in brazen corruption schemes with the Federal Drug Control Services.” The accused have denied all charges of concocting special “mixtures” and have emphasized over and over again that all poppy seeds contain some traces of narcotic substances and that it is physically impossible to fully rid poppy seeds of these traces.

Photo: Andrey Arkhipov / RIA Voronezh

Quotes from court proceedings published by Novaya Gazeta show that judge Tatyana Lebedeva has taken the side of the state prosecutors and is preventing the Polukhins from fully building their defense. The transcript quotes the judge as telling Polukhin that “After this kind of attitude behavior, I think you’ll be sitting [behind bars] for a very long time.”

The accused ask to include results from the polygraph test in the case. Judge Lebedeva: The polygraph says that you are not lying, are telling the truth and so on… We have all that, why do we need your extra papers? Nina Chursina: In order for the court to formulate their opinion of us. Judge Lebedeva: An opinion has already formed, a long time ago. You don’t have to try so hard.

Novaya Gazeta
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