‘Exposing’ Golunov The ex-cops who tried to frame a Meduza journalist for drug dealing defend themselves in court by going after him again
The Moscow City Court held a second hearing on January 18 in the case against police officers for the Western Administrative District (ZAO), who illegally detained Meduza special correspondent Ivan Golunov in the summer of 2019 and planted drugs on him. The defendants are the former police officers Igor Lyakhovets, Akbar Sergaliev, Roman Feofanov, Denis Konovalov, and Maxim Umetbaev. This time, Golunov himself testified in court, and Lyakhovets, the former head of the drug control department of the ZAO Internal Affairs Directorate, again argued that Golunov is not who he claims to be and insisted that the drugs belonged to him. Meduza special correspondent Anastasia Yakoreva reports on the proceedings.
The main figures in the case were present for the second court session, in the same configuration. Sergaliev, Feofanov, and Umetbaev, together with their former boss Lyakhovets, sat in a glass enclosure resembling a large aquarium. Their former colleague Konovalov sat alone in the courtroom’s front row. (He pled guilty and testified against Lyakhovets, and was released by the court under house arrest.) Six lawyers represent the accused, including Lyakhovets’s court-appointed attorney (his usual lawyer, Alexey Kovrizhkin, was deprived of his lawyer’s status due to charges of provoking investigators).
At the start of the hearing, Golunov confirmed that he had been warned about criminal liability for perjury. Judge Sergey Gruzdev invited him to testify while remaining seated, but Golunov chose to stand. He again recounted the events of June 6 and the night of June 7, 2019, when he was arrested, had drugs planted on him, and was accused of selling illegal narcotics. Those allegations had already been laid out in the indictment that the prosecutor read at the previous court hearing, but Golunov repeated the information with numerous details.
“I woke up at 9:30, washed up, walked my dog, boarded a trolley, and went to work,” the Meduza special correspondent recalled. At lunchtime, Golunov went to a meeting with a colleague. Walking along a driveway between 3rd Kolobovsky Lane and Tsvetnoy Boulevard, he heard someone shout: “Stop!” and saw people in civilian clothes running towards him. These men were Konovalov and Feofanov.
They said he was under arrest and handcuffed him; the journalist was placed in a car and taken to the police station for interrogation. “In the car, Konovalov began to have a private conversation with me,” Golunov said.
“He asked what I was doing in Riga [where Meduza's editorial office is located], what kind of meeting we had. Sometimes, he consulted his notes. In front of him, he had a notebook with handwritten notes. The car stopped at a corner, and Konovalov and Feofanov got out and went to see Lyakhovets (who was technically on vacation that day) and returned with a witness’s passport. Then a young man wearing a mask and shorts and with a tattoo on his thigh approached the car. This was Sergey Kuznetsov, the witness. He sat in the front seat, and together we went to the Internal Affairs Directorate for ZAO.”
In the car, Feofanov said he was making a videotape and demanded that Golunov sit with his back to him, so he could see his handcuffed hands behind his back. When they reached the ZAO police station, Golunov was taken to office No. 125, telling everyone along the way that he needed a lawyer. “I was told that I had seen too many American movies,” the journalist recalled. The witnesses were also brought into the office.
“Denis Konovalov then said that there would be a compulsory search,” Golunov recalled. “I was surprised and asked: ‘Is there such a procedure?’ He said there was.” All this time, Golunov’s backpack had been sitting on a chair at the side of the table. “I tried to keep an eye on it, but I could have missed something,” he said. “When I opened the backpack [during the search], I saw that there was a bag with yellow-green balls on top. I said it wasn’t mine.” Golunov refused to sign the inspection protocol. Then they took him to be fingerprinted.
The fingerprint technician said it would not be possible to take Golunov’s prints if he didn’t agree. Sergaliev said they could tighten the handcuffs, but the technician said this wouldn’t work because the fingertips needed to be relaxed. “She said that they had prepared me poorly, but there was still time,” Golunov continued. “We went back to office 125. Then Lyakhovets came in, and all the others left.”
“He began talking to me in a friendly tone: ‘Say, who do you want to call. Let’s call. Why do you refuse to be fingerprinted?’ I said that I would not do it without a lawyer. He said, ‘And do you have a lawyer? What’s his number?’ I said that I didn’t remember the number, but you can find it on the Internet. He said he would not watch while I called. I called my neighbor’s phone. Lyakhovets wrote down the number, and then after about 10 seconds, everything changed. He said, ‘Yeah, you want to warn your accomplice.’”
After that, Feofanov and Sergaliev returned and took Golunov for a medical examination. At the clinic, the doctor persuaded Golunov to take a drug test. “The doctor said that if I refused, I’d be registered for drug rehab. He said that there were cameras everywhere and no one could tamper with the test results. He said ‘There is a seal on the jars: if you tear it off, it changes color, and I sign on the seal.’ He convinced me that it would be difficult to falsify anything. These words convinced me.”
Afterward, Golunov refused to leave the medical facility, because he “felt safe in the cameras’ line of sight.” He held onto a bench, but Sergaliev and Feofanov pried his fingers loose and dragged him to the exit, with Feofanov squeezing him by the neck. On the stairs, Golunov grabbed the railings, and Sergaliev and Feofanov dragged him by the arms and legs. Golunov said he fought back and probably lost consciousness at some point. In the courtyard, Feofanov put his foot and then his knee on Golunov’s chest. Then he was put in a car and the officers took him to his apartment to conduct a search. When the officers took him to the entrance of the building, Umetbaev was holding him by the handcuffs.
“I jerked to the left to call out to my neighbors, but Umetbaev controlled my movements and did not let me do it. My dog barked, which was strange because usually it barks when the door to the apartment opens. This time, he barked as soon as they came to the entrance.” Umetbaev immediately found the key he needed to open the apartment, although there were 12 keys on Golunov’s key chain. He read from a piece of paper – the Moscow City Court’s order to conduct a search. Then Umetbaev demanded that he calm his dog, saying that “otherwise we will deal with it,” Golunov recalled.
In the apartment, the officers began to examine his possessions and look into his cupboards. They saw his film equipment; “Feofanov and Sergaliev asked what it was and how to use it,” Golunov recalled. “Konovalov did not take part in the search; he made phone calls, going in and out. At some point, I saw that he had gone into a closet. I began to speak loudly for the benefit of the video recording: ‘Denis, where did you go? We don’t see you.’ After 15 seconds, Denis came out from the closet, pretended that nothing had happened, sat down at the table, and asked: ‘Did you look there, in that closet? You should take a look.’ Feofanov pulled out a large gift album from the closet, and then two packages. One had a plastic silver-colored object in it — later, it turned out this was a scale. After the drugs were discovered, Konovalov took his briefcase and left the apartment. We examined the other three rooms in 10 minutes. On the way back, Konovalov began to talk about the need to confess everything, not to throw away my life. He told me to cooperate.”
It was already night when Golunov was brought to an investigator at the police station who finally allowed him to make a phone call. He asked to contact a friend, Svetlana Reiter, who at the time was a journalist for the BBC Russian Service (she is now a special correspondent for Meduza). Afterward, his lawyer Dmitry Dzhulay came to the police station.
“Then there was an interrogation, during which I said that I’d been beaten, that violence was used against me. They started telling me, ‘We are all sportsmen here, we do freestyle wrestling. If we had beaten you, you wouldn’t be walking anymore,’” Golunov told the court.
After these remarks, the questioning began. The first few comments came from prosecutor Tatiana Parshintseva, who asked whether Golunov had been convicted on drug trafficking charges; Golunov replied that he had not. Next, attention turned to Sergey Badamshin, a human rights lawyer representing Golunov.
Then the defendants’ attorneys were allowed to ask their own questions. Konovalov’s lawyer asked whether his client had used physical violence against Golunov. The journalist replied that Konovalov used physical force during his arrest, dragged him to the car, and then carried out a forced search: “He began to tear my windbreaker and backpack [off me], and then suddenly I was in handcuffs.”
“Did you see how Sergaliev planted drugs on you?” asked Sergaliev’s lawyer, Denis Kovalev.
“Look, I left the coworking space, and I had no drugs in my backpack —,” Golunov began to answer before the judge interrupted him: “Mr. Golunov, answer the specific question. You, using your senses, in particular your vision, did you see Sergaliev plant drugs on you?
“No,” Golunov replied.
Umetbayev’s lawyer, Andrey Vinogradov, asked if Umetbayev had communicated with Golunov before hitting him. “Did you have a dispute?”
“Yes,” Golunov replied. “His blow was a reaction to my statement that I would not go anywhere without a lawyer, that they could carry me in their arms if need be. He said, ‘Who do you think you are that we would carry you around?’” Then the lawyer asked: “After being hit, did you obey their demands to undergo fingerprinting?” Golunov said that he did.
The next questions came from Feofanov’s lawyer, Alexander Shaburov. “Who stayed in the coworking space when you went out to have a smoke [at work]?” he asked.
“Did someone have access to your backpack?” the judge asked. Golunov listed the Meduza employees who were in the coworking space with him that day and bent down to consult with Badamshin, but Feofanov’s lawyer protested and asked the judge to forbid the journalist to talk to his lawyer. The judge refused, saying Golunov had the right to legal counsel.
Then it was the defendant Sergaliev’s turn. He stood in the “aquarium” holding a stack of papers. “Who actually arrested you?” he asked Golunov. The judge overruled the question, saying, “Mr. Sergaliev, we’ve already heard this, more than once.” He tried rephrasing the question, but the judge blocked this and several more questions because Golunov had already answered them in his testimony. When Sergaliev asked Golunov, “Did you refuse to provide your identity papers?” the judge lost patience. “Mr. Sergaliev, have you been out of the room, or what?” he asked. Laughter echoed through the hall.
Then the judge asked Golunov: “Did you hand over your passport yourself? Or was it found during the interrogation?” Golunov said he didn’t remember. “Where is your passport kept?” the judge asked. “In my backpack,” Golunov replied.
Sergaliev continued his questioning. “Did you overhear that we intended to prosecute you illegally?” he asked Golunov. “Leading question, overruled,” the judge interrupted. Then Sergaliev asked if Golunov felt “the touch of Konovalov and Feofanov” when they handcuffed him. “Are you kidding?” the judge asked indignantly.
“Can you chronologically line up the events of that day?” Sergaliev asked Golunov. Again, the judge interrupted sarcastically: “What did he just do, in your opinion?” Sergaliev replied that he didn’t understand the chronology. “That doesn’t mean [Golunov] has to repeat it all,” the judge said.
Sergaliev was starting to look like a poor student flubbing a difficult exam. “I have little experience; this is my first time [in court],” the officer said. In a softer tone, the judge said, “I’m not here to yell at you. I’m here to explain.”
Sergaliev asked Golunov if he had been warned that he could be subject to physical force if he did not comply with officers’ orders. “I asked to call the police squad —” Golunov began to reply, but the judge interrupted: “Mr. Golunov, do not complicate things.” Golunov replied that he had been warned.
Konavalov had no questions for Golunov, and so it was the turn of the officers’ former boss, Lyakhovets. Waving aside his court-appointed lawyer, he has committed to defending himself.
“What education do you have?” he asked Golunov. “Average —” the journalist began to answer, but the judge overruled the question as irrelevant and asked Lyakhovets to stick to questions related to the case. “I am trying to show the background of this case, which received a tremendous [public] response because the journalist was allegedly arrested due to his profession,” Lyakhovets replied. “My goal is to prove that he was not such a great journalist and that all the [discovered] substances belonged to him,” he said.
“If we were considering charges against Golunov, these questions would have been asked,” the judge said. “But we are considering a case against you. And what does education have to do with it? The education of a drug dealer? There’s no such institution.”
Undeterred, Lyakhovets continued to read out questions. “Where do you work?” he asked Golunov. The judge allowed Golunov to reply, “I am a journalist,” but when Lyakhovets continued, “What publication?” the judge overruled the question. Lyakhovets asked for permission to read out his questions, even if they were overruled: “Is this your only source of income? Are you working under an employment contract? Where is your workplace located?” The judge stopped him again. “There is no need to prove Golunov’s guilt,” he said. “You must refute your guilt.”
Lvakhovets tried to protest. “Your Honor,” he begged, “you just don’t understand my purpose.” The judge had an answer for this, too: “The main thing is that you understand my goal.” Lyakhovets then continued reading his questions: “What is your salary and how do you get it? Why did you have two press cards with you? Why did you say in your interview to the Rossiya TV channel that you do not work and that you have a work record book in your pocket? Did you have work obligations at the time of your arrest? What is your relationship with your relatives? Why did you not live at your place of permanent registration? Why did you receive psychiatric treatment as a teenager? Have you ever had a tendency to lie?”
The judge overruled all these questions and asked Lyakhovets if he had many more. When Lyakhovets said he had 120 questions, the judge retorted: “Let’s not turn the process into a farce.”
Lyahkovets stood his ground. “You need to understand me as a person: We were illegally put in this situation, the media slung mud at us. The only way for us to prove the contrary — that we aren’t such bad guys — is to expose Golunov, to show that he is not the person he pretends to be, and to destroy the stereotypes about him, that he is such a truth-teller,” he said.
Judge Gruzdev told Lyakhovets that if he continued to flout the court’s demands, he would have to be removed from the courtroom. He adjourned the session, asking Lyakhovets to reflect on the situation and his line of defense before the trial resumed in two days.
Translation by Carol Matlack