The early prison release of a former Russian Defense Ministry official has been met with shock and dismay by Duma deputies -- including some with close ties to the Kremlin.
Yevgenia Vasilyeva's sentencing earlier this year to five years' imprisonment in a high-profile embezzlement case was upheld as a sign of Russia's commitment to holding all its citizens -- no matter how powerful -- accountable to the law.
But a regional court's surprising August 25 decision to release the 36-year-old Vasilyeva on parole after serving less than four months behind bars sends a much different message.
After the Sudogda District Court in Russia's western Vladimir region ordered Vasilyeva's immediate release, Frants Klintsevich, a deputy with the ruling United Russia party, described the move as "an insult to the authorities, to the law-enforcement system."
"She is a criminal," the parliamentarian and retired colonel added, "and I will never agree with this decision as a man and as an officer."
After a months-long trial, Vasilyeva was found guilty of fraud on May 8 in a complicated multimillion-dollar scheme involving Defense Ministry subsidiary Oboronservis. The court found that the subsidiary had sold off property cheaply, often to well-connected insiders, and as a result the state was deprived of an estimated 3 billion rubles ($60 million).
Vasilyeva was sentenced to five years' imprisonment, with credit given for the 2 1/2 years she spent in house arrest.
The case attracted high attention in Russia in part because of Vasilyeva's ties to former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who was among the initial suspects before being cleared, was rumored to be romantically linked to Vasilyeva, and was ousted over the ensuing scandal.
Vasilyeva headed the Defense Ministry's property-relations department, placing her in a subordinate role to Serdyukov. The judge in her case said that Vasilyeva committed her crimes "by deceiving and abusing" Serdyukov's trust.
United Russia deputy Pavel Krasheninnikov, who chairs the Duma's committee of civil, criminal, and arbitration legislation, defended the regional court's decision by saying that "Vasilyeva, as any other convict, has a right for early release on parole and she used that right fully and in a legal way."
But the release of such a high-ranking prisoner, especially such an early one, is a rare occurrence.
Many activists jailed for antigovernment actions -- such as the Pussy Riot punk group, protestors who came out to Moscow's Bolotnaya square on the eve of President Putin's May 2012 inauguration, or other Putin adversaries such as tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky -- were denied early release on parole for minor reasons, and had to serve the majority of their sentences before they were pardoned or earned early releases.
And in the Soviet Union, economic crimes by officials were considered very serious crimes and individuals convicted for such felonies were not eligible for amnesty and could apply for parole only after serving three fourths of their prison terms.
Many Russian lawmakers said that the court's decision to release Vasilyeva could cause "public outrage."
Lawmaker Sergei Obukhov of the Communist Party said his party would request that the Prosecutor-General's Office look into the circumstances of the regional court's decision.
He also called for a public investigation into the entire case.
Lawmaker Yaroslav Nilov of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party warned that Vasilyeva's early release would be "negatively accepted" by Russian society and would "diminish the authority of Russia's judicial system."
Mikhail Yemelyanov of the pro-Kremlin A Just Russia party called the court's decision to release Vasilyeva "a serious blow to the fight against corruption."
Vasilyeva recently reentered the public eye after she was reportedly spotted in an upscale Moscow neighborhood while she was presumably in prison, prompting a public effort to determine her whereabouts.