Vasileva Bombshell: Big Claims, Little Evidence

Few are surprised to learn that Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s and Planton Lebedev’s 14 year sentence was handed down from above.  What was surprising was that Natalia Vasileva, the aide to Viktor Danilkin, the presiding judge in the second Yukos trial, actually went public and admitted the fix was in (original interview in Russia).  Whistleblowing is rare in Russia.  The risks are too high.  Still, there has been a surge of whistleblowing of late.  In 2009, there was Alexei Dymovsky, a former police officer who took to Youtube to denounce police corruption.  There’s Alexei Navalny’s successful crusade against Transneft’s $4 billion fraud.  Then there was that cardiologist who ratted out the Potemkin hospital Putin visited on the latter’s annual Q&A extravaganza.  Most recently, there was Artyom Charukhin who came clean about falsifying police reports framing oppositionist Ilya Yashin for assaulting police.  Lastly, inspired by Wikileaks, a Russian version,, has begun. So far that site has been responsible for drawing attention to Putin’s $1 billion garish neo-Tsarist palace near the Black Sea.

Is this some kind of Wikileaks effect? Or have some brave souls just become too damn tired of it all and are stepping forward?  Or, and I’m sure this theory is out there somewhere, Vasileva’s revelation, in particular, will pave the way for Medvedev to “pardon” Khodorkovsky by pointing to his favorite pet project: fighting corruption.  Namely, this could be the first salvo from Medvedev’s camp for re-election 2012.  You never know with Kremlin politics being akin to “bulldogs fighting under a rug” and all.  For Vasileva’s part, when asked about her motivation, she said, “I don’t have any vested interests, I am disillusioned.”

Okay, I’ll go with her being sincerely disillusioned.  But what has thus far made Vasileva’s whistleblowing fundamentally different from several of those cases above is that they either personally participated in said corruption or provided documents proving it.  Vasileva doesn’t seem to have any of those besides her own observations, inter-office gossip and rumor, and personal interpretations all mixed in with a large dose of assertiveness.  If she has any hard evidence like, I don’t know, some kind of paper trail, then she’s keeping that close to the chest.

Nevertheless, her interview with has produced shock waves.  Everyone is talking about it.  The gory details are that Judge Danilkin was repeatedly receiving instructions from the Moscow City Court on how to conduct the trial.  Not only that, and this is the real scandal, Khodorkovsky’s and Lebedev’s sentence was handed to Danilkin from upon high.

Interviewer: Who wrote the sentence?

Vasilyeva: Danilkin started to write the sentence. I suspect that what was in the sentence did not suit a higher authority. And in connection with this, he received another sentence, which needed to be made public.

But since the (other) sentence was not finished by 15 December that is probably why the postponement period was extended so much.

Does this mean that the sentence that Danilkin wrote could have been read by someone before publication?

It was not read but simply, how can I explain this… When there is total control, there is no need to read it, you just need to ask what is in it.

. . .

You said that Danilkin had the sentence handed down to him from above. Who wrote it and who handed it to him?

I know absolutely for sure that the sentence was delivered from the Moscow City Court. And that this sentence was written by judges from the appellate court for criminal cases – that is, the Moscow City Court. That is obvious.

No-one apart from the Moscow City Court could have written it. And the corrections were due to this being a short stretch of time.

Who wrote the text at the Moscow City Court?

A source in Danilkin’s close entourage named the names of the judges to me, I know the names but I would prefer not to name them now.

To corroborate the assertions above, Vasileva’s claims that she repeatedly witnessed the magistrate fretting, upset and indignant over “the fact that he was being given instructions about what he had to do,” adding, “He did not like it at all, that is clear.” Moreover, Danilkin apparently understood that being the devil’s pawn put him on shakey ground as the whole ordeal began to take a physical and psychological toll on him.  His day to day work was paralyzed by the whims of his handlers in the Moscow City Court.  At one point he allegedly angrily interjected to Vasileva’s queries, “I cannot give you an answer to those questions because I do not know where I will be tomorrow, or what will happen to me.” Being a tool of higher-ups didn’t sit well with him.  On his desk were a series of heart remedies: Corvalol, tincture, and valerian.  Moreover, according to Vasileva, since the verdict Danilkin’s “psychological condition . . .has become very morose, he is constantly depressed, sad… Well, like when you understand that something bad is going to happen – that is the condition he is in. He is unsmiling, taciturn, he is sometimes very irritated.” Basically, Danilkin did what he was told and now he will probably have to take the fall for it.

There’s only one problem with all Vasileva’s assertions.  She doesn’t really have any hard evidence. Sure we’d like to believe that Khodorkovsky’s trial was fixed.  Even I, who thinks that MBK is nothing but a crook and deserves what he gets, understands that his trial is political and nothing short of show trial.  My problem is that the trial isn’t political enough and there aren’t more oligarchs, including those sitting in the Kremlin, in the dock with him.  Still, even though Vasileva tickles our hot spot, shouldn’t we nevertheless demand something more than her observations of an irritated and worried Danilkin or seeing him on the phone with the City Court?  Shouldn’t her assertions that Danilkin didn’t write the verdict be based on more than “indirect” aspects of the text like: “secretaries amending the electronic form of the sentence” to remove “technical errors – the odd paragraph, commas, incorrect line spacing.”  I don’t mean to piss on everyone’s collective jubilation over the Kremlin finally got busted for something we all assumed already, but shouldn’t such allegations be based on more than Vasileva getting information from colleagues of colleagues and her own self-assurance that:

I know absolutely for sure that the sentence was delivered from the Moscow City Court. And that this sentence was written by judges from the appellate court for criminal cases – that is, the Moscow City Court. That is obvious.

No one apart from the Moscow City Court could have written it.

How is she “absolutely sure” and how is it “obvious”? Um, like, some actual evidence would be nice?  But then again, Vasileva might not have the burden of proof since she’s already telling us what we already think and/or want to hear. Right?