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An elderly gladiator and his cardboard sword Alexey Ulyukayev's closing statement (in English)

Meduza
20:42, 7 december 2017

Sergey Savostyanov / TASS / Vida Press

On December 7, the Zamoskvoretsky District Court heard closing arguments in the case against former Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukayev, who is charged with soliciting a $2-million bribe from Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin. Ulyukayev allegedly demanded the money for facilitating the government’s approval of Rosneft’s acquisition of a stake in the oil company Bashneft. Prosecutors have asked the court to sentence him to 10 years in prison and to fine him 500 million rubles ($8.5 million). A verdict is expected on December 15. Meduza translates Ulyukayev’s closing statement (with minor abridgements).

Your honor, ladies and gentlemen of the court, throughout these proceedings and in my earlier remarks, I have said constantly that I’m not guilty of the charges against me. I categorically reject these charges, and I want to use my last word here to repeat that. The case materials don’t contain a shred of evidence showing my involvement in the bribe. Moreover, the evidence unequivocally demonstrates that I’ve been the target of a monstrous and cruel provocation.

During the trial, I’ve addressed the oddities in the investigation against me. It was a truly amazing investigation, where the supposed victim [Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin] first transforms into a witness and then, after forfeiting this status, becomes a phantom witness. Then he disappears altogether, vanishing somewhere in the vastness between Khanty-Mansiysk and Rome. The man simply dissolves into thin air. Like the budgetary effect of Rosneft’s purchase of Bashnet, only the smell of sulfur lingers. But who is this phantom witness? Perhaps he’s some kind of expert on foul-smelling deeds?

In this case, it wasn’t the plaintiff who reported the crime; that was done [by his subordinate, Federal Security Service General Oleg Feoktistov, then head of Rosneft’s security] on the plaintiff’s instructions, based on the plaintiff’s story.

The man who organized the sting operation disappears without testifying. Does he exist then in our imaginations? The key materials in this case dissolve into thin air. In another case, the state prosecutor thinks it’s okay to treat similar circumstances as a staged bribe, but here he doesn’t. One provocation results in a prison sentence, and other one means a raise?

This case has aroused considerable public interest, not unlike a circus. An elderly gladiator at retirement age defends himself with a cardboard sword, and people sit back to watch the whole thing happily, all from their comfy seats. Whether the thumb points up or down will decide his sentence. It was said long ago for whom the bell tolls. I want to say now that the bell could start tolling for any of you.

Now this is very easy. A bag, a basket, a poorly recorded video, and it’s done. Imagine a familiar state official who’s worn out his welcome. You invite him for a walk, and tell him to hold your briefcase, while you tie your shoes. And then the good guys pop out from the bushes. They grab the bureaucrat right there and it’s off to the detention center.

It’s easy to open this Pandora’s Box, but it will be hard to close it.

This is a case where the prosecution based its accusations on weight measurements. “Ooh, this bag is really heavy! What could be inside?” This is right off the pages of [Ilf and Petrov’s] “The Golden Calf.” Keep on sawing, Shura! Keep sawing! There couldn’t be anything there but money. If the bag is heavy, it means there’s money inside. And if the bag is brown, it proves there was criminal intent and the person who took the bag is a criminal.

[...]

And here’s another interesting question that’s already been raised: where did they get the cash that the prosecution laid out on a table in this courtroom? One of the men who’s framing me here, Feoktistov, testified that some private investor gave him the two million dollars. So it was an investment! In other words, it was an investment to hand over two million dollars just like that, for an indefinite period of time and a zero interest rate. This is surely an epic tale of effective investing. Somebody ought to tell the Federal Statistics Service to include this investment in its book of records.

Unlike similar cases with staged bribes, nobody here of course is interested in the true origins of this money. After all, doesn’t it indicate that Rosneft has some kind of slush fund and works off the books?

[...]

The charges are absurd, but every absurdity has its own system. And there’s a system here, too. The cornerstones of this absurdity are the cruelty and lawlessness of those trying to frame me.

Alexey Ulyukayev meets with Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev, and members of the government. June 29, 2016.
Kremlin Press Service

And then there are the nuts and bolts of this case, which I already addressed in my testimony. Cui prodest? Whom does it profit? The beneficiary of this monstrous provocation is obvious. All this needs to be investigated, and I’ve no doubt that, sooner or later, all of this will be investigated. I’m confident that these criminal acts will be judged accordingly.

These provocateurs invested considerable effort and resources into framing an innocent person, entrapping him, and carrying out their reprisal. Instead of mounting an actual inquiry, the investigators and prosecutors rushed to package a dirty case inside a clean indictment. I hope and I believe that the court will rise above this veil of insinuations and lies, and it will defend the law and order that’s been trampled here. And I know it won’t allow a son to be taken from his old and ailing parents, or a father to be taken from his small children. My mother is 85, my father is 86, my son is 12, and my daughter is seven. Life will be hard for them without me.

Sixty-five years ago, speaking at a trial where he faced phony charges, Fidel Castro said history would absolve him. I want to repeat these prophetic words. Though the millstones of history grind slowly, they grind relentlessly and fine. I am sure this will be true here, as well.

On Monday [during testimony on December 4], when I said that I was happy to listen to the state prosecutor, many people were surprised. Some may have even decided that I’d lost my mind in all this drama. But my head is right where it’s always been, and it’s still serving me well. I had only remembered something the once popular Marx said about humanity laughing as it parts with its past. Investigations and prosecutions like those under [Stalinist Attorney General Andrey] Vyshinsky are our past, of course. They’re our shameful past, and we’re saying goodbye to those times. It’s taking too long, but we’re saying goodbye.

I want to express my gratitude to my comrades who have supported me and my family throughout these difficult months. There aren’t many of you, but you’re out there. And I want to thank all the ordinary people I don’t know who, just on the street, when they see me on a walk, have come up and wished me luck, and given me encouragement or passed along their support through my relatives.

And finally I want to make an announcement that I confess to being guilty.

Of course, I’m not guilty of the absurd accusations doggedly presented here by the state prosecutor, who could be put to far better use. It’s obvious that I had nothing to do with any threats, extortions, or bribes. I’m guilty of something else.

For many years I was able to serve the citizens of Russia, and I tried to do my job well and contribute something. And I’m not talking about the many awards and honorary titles I received, but the fact that I managed to achieve a thing or two for the welfare of the people.

But, as we know, a job for your country that’s half-done isn’t done at all. What I achieved wasn’t enough. It was regrettably too little. I’m guilty of compromising too often, choosing the easy way out, and I all too often put my career and welfare ahead of my principles. Caught up in a senseless bureaucratic ring dance, I received certain gifts and I gave a few myself. I was trying to build relationships, and I was a hypocrite.

Only when you find yourself in trouble do you begin to understand how hard people actually have it, and grasp the injustice they face. When you’re living comfortably, you’re shamefully ignorant about human grief.

Forgive me for this, people. I’m guilty before you. I’ve changed my mind about a lot in the past year. Whatever my fate, I will dedicate the rest of my life to standing up for the interests of the people.

I also want to ask my family and friends to forgive me for the pain and suffering I’ve unwittingly visited on them. Don’t lose hope. Tomorrow is another day.

As Socrates said in a similar situation: “The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our separate ways: I to die, and you to live. Which is better nobody knows.” Of course, a lot has changed since Socrates’ day, and the times today are far less bloodthirsty.

Nevertheless, 10 years in prison for a man of 62 doesn’t differ much from a death sentence.

And finally, to finish on a lighter note, I want to wish everyone a happy New Year’s, and a happy holidays, and all the best. Be well and live long, happy lives.

Translation by Kevin Rothrock