Death and hemp Police in Russia’s North Caucasus suspected of driving elderly man to suicide
Police officials in Russia’s Kabardino-Balkarian Republic have called for an internal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the suicide of 85-year-old Nikolai Zakharchenko. Local police in the town of Nartkala had previously launched a criminal case against the elderly man for illegally manufacturing narcotics. Mediazona, citing the lawyer representing the deceased man’s widow, reports that the police officers involved are now facing an inquiry under the article 110 of the Russian Criminal Code: incitement to suicide.
The criminal case against Nikolai Zakharchenko was opened on August 13. Earlier, one of Zakharchenko’s neighbors noticed that the elderly man had a hemp plant a little more than a meter high growing on the edge of his property. The neighbor warned him that this could land him a fine. Evgenia Zakharchenko (Nikolai’s widow), cut down the plant, but her husband didn’t throw it out. Instead, he put it in their shed so he could feed the leaves to their rabbits.
“Before that, I had no idea that these were some kind of drug, the green color means you can pick off the leaves and give them to the rabbits! I grabbed an axe immediately, my husband says: ‘What are you going to do? Chop my head off?’ I explained everything to him, cut down the bush, and even cut out the roots with a shovel. But he said that the rabbits would eat it up. He took this branch, put it in a metal bathtub, and gave it to the rabbits bit by bit. He gave it [to them] and gave it [to them], but the [leaves] that he didn’t have a chance to give [to them] dried out, and well, we forgot about it,” Evgenia Zakharchenko told Mediazona.
Evgenia Zakharchenko suspects that one of her neighbors with whom she has a long-standing conflict, Pavel Grekhov, is responsible for telling the police about the hemp plant. On the morning of August 13, several police officers arrived at the Zakharchenko household with a search warrant, claiming that the pensioner, “according to the intelligence received,” was involved in large-scale, illegal drug trafficking. They quickly searched the living room, then they purposefully went to the shed, where they seized the hemp plant, which they calculated contained 921 grams of narcotics. Noticing a smaller hemp plant growing from the ground, the operatives asked Nikolai Zakharchenko to pull it up, after which they swabbed his hands.
The elderly man was taken to the Urvansky District Police Department, where he was held until evening. As he later told his wife, the police officers there asked him to sign several blank protocols. “They didn’t explain to him that this [was] a criminal case, they just said: ‘Grandfather, calm down, these are the rules, we seized this plant from you, so we need to report to the courts. Sign and then we will explain everything,” his wife says, repeating his words. Investigators didn’t question Zakharchenko either, meaning the case is limited to the explanations that he gave during the search of his home.
The next day, the couple found out that a criminal case had been opened against Nikolai Zakharchenko by chance — from a neighbor who had read about it in a post on the Kabardino-Balkarian Interior Ministry’s Instagram account. Police officials launched the case under article 228, paragraph 2 of the Criminal Code: the “Illegal acquisition, storage, transportation, making, or processing of narcotic drugs, committed on an especially large scale”; an offense punishable with between three and ten years in prison. When Nikolai Zakharchenko found out how much prison time he was facing, he said to his wife: “I’m going to die in prison. I don’t want to die in prison, I don’t want to.” After that he started to behave strangely, Evgenia Zakharchenko recalls, — he practically stopped eating and gave his wife access to his savings accounts.
During the night of August 18, Nikolai Zakharchenko hanged himself in the shed. He left a suicide note that said, “Farewell, my dear wife Zhenya, my children, my grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. I’m not guilty of anything.” Zakharchenko was buried on August 20. His widow says she “will fight to the end” to exonerate him.