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Karina Tsurkan at Moscow’s Lefortovsky District Court, August 10, 2018

‘I'd comment on the charges, if I understood them’ Meduza interviews the energy-industry executive arrested for espionage in Russia

Source: Meduza
Karina Tsurkan at Moscow’s Lefortovsky District Court, August 10, 2018
Karina Tsurkan at Moscow’s Lefortovsky District Court, August 10, 2018
Alexander Avilov / The “Moskva” city news agency

On July 15, Russian Federal Security Service agents arrested Karina Tsurkan, a top executive at the energy company “Inter RAO.” She is charged with espionage for allegedly being a foreign citizen and collaborating with businessmen who have ties to either Moldovan or Romanian intelligence. The FSB has released no further details about the case. Still jailed at Moscow’s Lefortovsky pretrial detention facility, Tsurkan has been mostly inaccessible to journalists, but Meduza managed to pass her several questions through her lawyer. Below, you'll find a translation of the answers we received.

Tell us about yourself, please. What did you do for Inter RAO?

I started working immediately after grade school, at the age of 17. Later, after I got my law degree, I became a partner at a law firm, and then the legal director at the biggest energy company in Moldova. In 2005, I started working at Inter RAO in Moldova. In January 2007, they invited me to move to Moscow, so I spent a total of 13 years with the company.

How did the arrest happen? Was it unexpected?

The shock still hasn’t worn off. I remember it like different scenes: It’s six in the morning, and I’m half-awake, opening the door, and a crowd of men in masks bursts in. My tiny, frail mother tries to protect me. The loud yelling paralyzes me, and I experience an almost animal fear for my loved ones and for my probably terrified son, whom I haven’t seen again.

What are the conditions like in jail?

I’d rather not touch on the conditions of my confinement. There’s a systemic problem: the other [inmates] and I are denied our legally-guaranteed right to unlimited communication with our lawyers. Because of a shortage of available meeting spaces, it’s basically impossible to see our attorneys more often than once every two or three weeks, and it’s unpredictable how long these meetings will last.

What are you doing with yourself, now that your daily life has changed so drastically?

When possible, I do what I always did in my free time: I study. Right now, I’m working on Latin, German, and iconography. This is maybe all that’s left of my world.

Do you have Russian citizenship? Did you have access to state secrets?

I am a Russian citizen. I renounced my Moldovan citizenship in 2016, and my only passport is from Russia. [On June 20, the Russian embassy in Romania declared that Tsurkan is a Romanian citizen.] I was never granted access to state secrets.

To what extent are you prepared to address the charges? What intelligence did you allegedly transfer to Moldova or Romania? What was its value?

I could comment on the charges, if I actually understood them. They still haven’t showed me the document that I allegedly handed over to someone. I hope to get a fuller picture from the investigators. In any case, I didn’t execute any orders to deliver state secrets to Moldovan experts. It’s absurd.

You’re pleading not guilty. Tell us, then, why were you arrested? Who’s behind this? Why are they targeting you?

Yes, I categorically maintain my innocence. The investigators refuse to tell me whom I supposedly supplied with intelligence or how. Since I didn’t do this, I can say with confidence that this mystery evidence hidden with the investigators is part of an effort to frame me. I can find no other explanation.

I’ve never acted on orders from Moldovan intelligence — we’ve never even been in contact. Moreover, I have been in touch with representatives from the Moldovan state and the country’s energy companies, and they’ve never shown the slightest interest in gaining access to classified information.

In addition to commercial supplies to European and other countries, I oversaw the implementation of corporate assignments in several complicated regions, sometimes with extremely difficult business partners in some very tricky conditions. I faced real pressure at work; there were threats and warnings. You could verify this fact easily. Could this have been grounds to set me up, to remove me from this process? Without a doubt, yes!

From the start, I expressed my willingness to answer investigators’ questions. I want [my case] to get the fullest consideration.

Is this an attack against you personally, or against the company Inter RAO?

I won’t comment on Inter RAO. I don’t want to harm the company’s reputation in any way.

Did you know that your phone had been tapped for three years? Had you guessed that you were under surveillance?

Because of my position and my responsibilities, I assumed it was a possibility. And I confess that it didn’t bother me in any way: I had nothing to hide. When they arrested me, I immediately handed over all the passwords to my electronics. I repeat: I didn’t do what they say I did.

As you were being arrested, federal agents also raided the offices of other top executives at Inter RAO and Russia’s Energy Ministry. Why do you suppose this happened?

This is the first I’m hearing [about this], and I can’t make any assumptions.

Your trial will likely be closed to the public, and Russian courts almost never acquit anyone.

I see no grounds for a closed trial, given that I never had access to classified intelligence, and the charges alone shouldn’t be sufficient justification. I hope that my innocence will be made obvious in open court.

Interview by Andrey Kozenko and Alexander Polivanov, translation by Kevin Rothrock

Meduza thanks Team 29 for helping to make this interview possible

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