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Indirect confessions We asked lawyers if Navalny’s recording is valid proof that the FSB tried to poison him
On Monday, December 21, Alexey Navalny released a video revealing new details about his August 2020 poisoning. The opposition figure said that he managed to talk on the phone with one of the federal agents implicated in the attempt on his life — FSB officer Konstantin Kudryavtsev. While Navalny claims that Kudryavtsev confessed to the crime, the federal agent didn’t actually divulge many details about the assassination attempt. To get an expert opinion on the conversation, Meduza asked several lawyers to weigh in on whether the recording can be considered a valid piece of evidence and whether it will force the Russian authorities to open a criminal investigation into Navalny’s poisoning.
To be honest, I didn’t hear any confession of complicity [on the recording]. I heard evidence of the person having a certain awareness about what took place.
Whether this [the existence of the recording] is evidence or not naturally needs to be assessed [by Russian or international judicial authorities]. In this case, Navalny himself recorded it all at his own initiative, so we can tentatively say that this recording is a valid piece of evidence. But it would be good if it underwent a phonographic examination. What issues will this examination address? The absence of signs of editing, the [particular person] the voice belongs to, the verbatim transcript.
In general, in our criminal cases, any recordings can be used as evidence. And it’s not necessary for them to have been obtained officially — for example, in the course of police operations.
The basis for the launch of a criminal case for attempted murder should be the [reports] that a person was poisoned. This [recording] is one of the pieces of evidence. It can and should be attached to the materials on the refusal to launch a criminal case. It’s hard for me to say to what extent it can or cannot [influence the launch of a criminal investigation], because I [would] need to know what the people who refused to do this based [their decision] on.
From what I have read, one can see indirect confessions of involvement in the poisoning. I believe that if there is a recording [of the conversation] and if one of the people [involved] can explain with whom he had this conversation and under what circumstances the call was made, then the court may well use it as evidence.
[The recording] could be a pretext for an investigation and the launch of a criminal case, like all the other circumstances that were identified in the investigation by Bellingcat, CNN, and so on. But as far as I understand, there’s no investigation because there’s no political will. What needs to be done? We all need to demand this investigation.
Any recorded conversation can be attempted to be used as a source of evidence in a criminal or civil court if the judge or the authority carrying out the investigation finds this evidence admissible. But [before that] the admissibility of this conversation needs to be verified. Certainly, a phonographic examination ought to be carried out. And of course, the second figure who conducted this dialogue needs to be identified.
Usually, a linguistic examination is also appointed for such recordings. And it’s a linguistic specialist who can provide an interpretation of the points that are indicated in the transcript of the recording or in the recording itself.
[This recording] could be the basis for starting a probe. But a criminal case is launched only if there is evidence of the crime itself. On the territory of the Russian Federation, there are no confirmed signs that they tried to poison Navalny, as far as I know.
The recording may be legally valid, if an investigation is underway. But as you know, [the Russian authorities] aren’t conducting an investigation into the alleged poisoning of Alexey Navalny.
We are now reaping the benefits of an absolutely ill-considered, erroneous decision, which consisted of the refusal to launch a criminal case. A case is instituted precisely in order to conduct an investigation. Within the framework of a case, all of the facts that we aren’t even denying would have been established: that Navalny was shadowed by people who are active intelligence service officers or had links to them.
I myself did not listen to the conversation [between Alexey Navalny and FSB officer Konstantin Kudryavtsev] in full, but I have been sufficiently informed about it. This conversation could be simply confirmed or refuted: voice samples [could be] taken and an investigation carried out, which confirms whether this is really the person that Navalny is talking about.
I was among those lawyers (I’m a criminal lawyer) for whom it was absolutely clear that a criminal case ought to be initiated. And that the so-called arguments about there being no traces of poison found are absolutely worthless. Do you know what it’s like here? We have murders even when there’s no body.
Translated by Eilish Hart
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