The narrow and not too well-lit corridors of the Kommunarsky Court of Zaporozhye is full of people. When you go there, say for work, you are greeted by the judges and lawyers scurrying back and forth (prosecutors for some reason do not), and the secretary of the court hearing reads your name on the list of attendees, without even asking in advance who you are.
Sergey Sergeyev and Andrey Gorban are drivers from Makeevka who spent 2.5 years behind bars on charges of financing terrorism for taking Donetsk pensioners to Zaporozhye to receive their pension. They are full of optimism. In the spring of 2019 they were released from the courtroom without a measure of restraint, and now they can live at home, on territory outside the control of Ukraine, coming, when necessary, to court. They are coming, and this fact once again confirms the criminal baseless of the constant arguments of all prosecutors in political cases that people should necessarily be kept in a pre-trial detention center, otherwise they will hide from justice in Donbass or in Russia.
To date, none of those released from detention facilities under or without various alternative measures of restraint have fled.
Together with the drivers Sergeyev and Gorban, 3 women – employees of the Zaporozhye Department of Social Protection, were subjected to political persecution for allegedly illegally issuing IDP certificates to pensioners from whom Sergeyev and Gorban took money and handed to terrorists. At the same time, none of the pensioners themselves filed a lawsuit (they were all quietly released home to Donetsk). It was submitted by “Oshchadbank”, while the money accrued on pension cards is the property not of the bank, but of the pensioners. When asked how the bank calculated the amount of the claim, an employee of the institution in the courtroom stated under oath that they had not calculated it, but had filed the amount they had been told by the SBU. The lawyers are convinced that the state’s only purpose for opening this case was to stop social payments to citizens of Ukraine living on non-controlled territories.
To date, all the case file has been read out, witnesses have been interrogated, and no one has given evidence against the accused. All that remains is to explore the latest evidence – the driver-owned buses that have been standing in the SBU parking lot for 3 years. It’s unclear why they need to be investigated, but the procedural code requires their consideration directly in court. The prosecutor ignored two decisions made by the collegium to bring the buses to court. The hearing started with a discussion about this issue.
Court: “We received a letter from Colonel Bezrukov of the SBU. He writes that there is no technical possibility to bring the buses to court, and asks to examine them on the territory of the SBU. Prosecutor Yakushev, explain the lack of technical capability. When the buses were arrested they were on the move.”
Prosecutor: “Well they’ve been stationary for 3 years.”
Prosecutor: “It is unknown what condition they are in, who will take responsibility to start the engines?”
Court: “These are empty words, you can say whatever you want.”
Prosecutor: “One can go to the SBU.”
Court: “There are 15 of us here with the accused and lawyers. How to go? By bus, perhaps? And how to ensure a video recording of the trial?”
Prosecutor: “This is your case.”
The judges were taken aback for a minute by such blatant rudeness, but the lawyer Antonina Shostak intervened.
Shostak: “What is the technical problem?”
Prosecutor: “I don’t know.”
Shostak: “Documents confirming technical failure – an examination or something else – are not attached to the SBU letter. Without them, it means nothing. The security of the evidence is the responsibility of the SBU and if a problem occurs, the SBU shall be responsible for it. But it is up to the prosecutor to comply with the court order, i.e., to ensure that everyone appears at the field session for which one requests. And for failure to comply with the court decision there is criminal liability. We have repeatedly said that Gorban and Sergeyev can bring the buses to court themselves, what is the problem?”
Prosecutor: “No one will let the accused drive.”
Shostak: “Let the responsible person do it.”
Prosecutor: “Well, make an agreement with him. It is necessary to comply with the law.”
Court: “Is that what you say to the court?!”
While the collegium was again surprised by the inadequate behaviour of the prosecutor, the initiative was taken by the lawyer Olga Zelinskaya.
Zelinskaya: “A field session is appointed when the evidence cannot be brought to court, and the list of such evidence is very specific: buildings, ships, military equipment at a military base, etc. Minibuses are not included in this list. If they’re not able to move, take a tow truck. And for failure to comply with the court decision there is criminal liability.”
The prosecutor had nothing with which to object to this, and the court moved to the deliberation room, and after they returned, for the third time, they decided to bring the buses to the session. It seemed that this would be all, and the prosecutor would once again obtain a delay in the process that is profitable only to him. But no, the judges, waiting for the arrival of the buses, proposed to proceed to the interrogation of the accused. The first to take the floor was the deputy head of the Department of Social Protection – Head of the Labor Department Anna Khokhotva:
“I am accused of putting my signature on certificates designed for people who are not registered on the territory controlled by Ukraine, and that this money went to terrorists. However, during the period specified in the indictment, from 1.06.2016 to 20.06.2016, I was on vacation. But even if I wasn’t and even if it was illegal, the original certificates are on hand from people who are now in Donetsk. How do you even know it’s my signature? I am also accused of illegally stamping the certificates of IDPs with the stamp ‘indefinitely’. But with the new law from 8.06.2016, all certificates of IDPs became indefinite automatically. All I had to do was apply a stamp for people.”
Prosecutor: “Did anyone bring in people who came to the department for information?”
Khokhotva: “I do not know. 150-200 people a day come to us.”
Prosecutor: “And do you know Gorban and Sergeyev?”
Khokhotva: “I saw them several times in the spring-summer of 2016. These are two from a dozen people who accompanied the displaced. It was even easier to work with them because volunteers helped turn the crowd into an organised queue. They never applied for the signatures themselves, and I only learned about their names at the pre-trial investigation.”
What the prosecutor received after learning the answers to these questions, except that he once again convinced the court of the baselessness of the charges, is unknown. Still, he was not interested in anything else for some reason, and he passed the word to the defence.
Lawyer Zelinskaya: “What does the certificate confirm?”
Khokhotva: “That a person is a displaced person from the ATO zone, an internally displaced person.”
Lawyer Zelinskaya: “The certificate of a displaced person issued by you immediately gives the right to receive a pension, or something else had to be done?”
Khokhotva: “It is necessary to take it to the pension fund, and there they will still check it with some of their own mechanisms. One cannot receive a pension automatically via the certificate.”
Lawyer Zelinskaya: “The certificate is issued when a person presents a passport, identification code, and registration from the Lugansk or Donetsk region?”
Khokhotva: “Yes. I have to give them a certificate, even if they did not present a document of actual residence from the Zaporozhye region. They state their place of actual residence, and that’s enough.”
Lawyer Zelinskaya: “And the people who are involved in the claim are currently being paid their pension?”
Khokhotva: “Some of them received their pension both after filing a claim and even after the detention of Sergeyev and Gorban. And one woman received it six months ago.”
This is key information for the whole case. If the point of the prosecution is that pensions were transferred to some (of course, not established by the investigation) terrorists, and the bank even initiated a claim in this regard, how did it turn out that the same people continued to receive their pension after the initiation of the criminal case, and perhaps are still being paid as of this day?
The court announced an adjournment until 03.02.2020. There is no smell of terrorism here, and everyone understands it. But the fact that, approaching the finale, the case promises to expose a dirty scheme via which the state tried to deprive legitimate social payments to “racially inferior” residents of Donbass is extremely interesting and important. Especially for international organisations, which, thanks to wide publicity, started to monitor this latest politically motivated case that is shameful for Ukraine.
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