Tortured Judge Speaks Out About Corruption

As tens of thousands of protesters have proven over the past month, anger at Russia’s broken political system is reaching critical mass. That one of the most popular figures in the wake of the demonstrations has been a corruption-fighting lawyer testifies to what Russians see as one of the country’s most infuriating problems.

While the history of corruption in Russia is a long one, what’s begun to change is the status of those speaking out against it. Starting with police officer Aleksei Dymovsky in November 2009, who was promptly fired and discredited by the establishment he tried to criticize, more and more whistleblowers with prominent posts have begun to step into public view.

One such figure, whose story has been lost in the flurry of events since Vladimir Putin announced his presidential run in late September, is Sochi Federal Judge Dmitri Novikov. After attempting to bring several of his colleagues to justice for appropriating public land and selling it back to the government for more than $100 million, Novikov found himself the victim of a system that he already knew was overrun by corrupt officials – but never had to face as a defendant.

As Novikov explained during a press conference last November, he was retroactively stripped of his right to immunity as a judge, “which was absurd,” and held in prison for eight months. He was then freed, all charges against him were dropped, and he was reinstated as a judge – not, however, unscathed.

“I am probably the only judge who went from being a judge to being in jail and then becoming a judge again. And what I saw there and understand – if I, a person with a decent amount of experience and a degree, don’t have the strength to fight this machine, then any of you would simply rather die than have this situation happen to you,” Novikov said.

The judge then described the months of dehumanizing torture he sustained while in jail. Among other measures taken, Novikov was made to strip naked during each interrogation, forced into a concrete box to sit under a stream of ice water for up to two hours, confined to small spaces once the doctors learned that he had claustrophobia, and deprived of air conditioning in 130 F temperatures, to the point that blood began to run from his ears. The torture went on despite the hours of testimony that Novikov voluntarily gave, but which investigators ignored and insisted never happened. “Sometimes the interrogations were held altogether without me,” he said in an interview with Express Gazeta.

Novikov’s account of the torture he endured under politically-motivated charges that were eventually thrown out would be frightening enough on its own. What he had to say about the systemic corruption that that all federal judges participate in to obtain their posts was just icing on the cake.

“The position of a judge in Sochi costs up to half a million dollars,” Novikov explained. “And who has the capacity to sell it? What makes up this sum? This sum is the sum that you give to representatives of the qualification college of judges, which ensures that you get elected; it’s the money that you give to the representatives of the president’s regional plenipotentiary, to federal inspectors, all so that your candidacy is passed by the plenipotentiary. You give a little money to the FSB, you give a little money to the procurator, you even give a little money to the presidential administration.”

He went on to explain how most judges in Sochi abuse their positions to make money off of construction ventures.

“Who in the justice system carries this out?” Novikov asked. “It’s clans. It’s clans where the dad is a judge, the mom is a judge, the son is a judge. Our procurator is another son of an investigator. Not long ago, the president passed an incredible measure to make it so that one family can’t have the mom be a judge, the dad be a lawyer, and the son be an investigator. What began to happen? All the families began to get legal divorces. All of them.”

According to Express Gazeta, numerous television executives have been filming Novikov’s story, questioning his friends and acquaintances in the process. Whether or not they help him escape another eight months of torture following a new set of charges brought against him remains to be seen.