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Whistle-Blowing Prosecutor In Russian North Gets Jail Time

Grigory Chekalin says his conviction is punishment for his own attempts to expose evidence-tampering and a network of corruption.
Grigory Chekalin says his conviction is punishment for his own attempts to expose evidence-tampering and a network of corruption.
MOSCOW -- A former prosecutor in northern Russia who gained notoriety after blowing the whistle on courtroom evidence-tampering has been sentenced to 18 months in a penal colony after being accused of falsifying evidence himself.

A city court in Syktyvkar, the capital of the Komi Republic, on December 3 handed down the sentence after finding the prosecutor, 27-year-old Grigory Chekalin, guilty of giving false evidence in an arson case stemming from 2005.

Prosecutors had asked for a four-year sentence. But even the lighter sentence came as a shock to Chekalin, who has publicly detailed his case in interviews with RFE/RL's Russian Service and posted a direct appeal to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on the YouTube video-sharing website. He says he plans to appeal.

"As regards the process, I've already stated my opinion many times that it's a farce and nothing else," Chekalin said following the ruling. "The verdict is absolutely unjustified, something they just pulled out of the air. I expected a guilty verdict, but I didn't think it would be connected to any real jail time. If you evaluate the work of the respected judge who handled this case, then I'll say it once again -- it was on the level of very poor course work by a third-year criminal-justice student."

Fatal Fire

The case against Chekalin stems from his work as deputy prosecutor in the Komi city of Ukhta. In 2007, Chekalin told a court that false evidence was being used to prosecute two young men accused of arson in a devastating shopping-mall fire in Ukhta that had killed 25 people.

The Komi Supreme Court at first acquitted the men, Anton Korostelev and Aleksei Pulyalin. But that verdict was eventually overturned by a newly composed court, which in 2009 handed down life sentences for both.

Chekalin, who had continued to insist on the defendants' innocence and was actively publicizing the case, was charged with perjury and forced to resign.

During a lengthy statement on the closing day of his trial last month, Chekalin reiterated his concerns about the arson trial, including instances of forging witness testimony and the unexplained disappearance of files from investigators' computers. Chekalin also said he had discussed his concerns about falsification early on with his superiors, to no avail.

Chekalin also criticized the conduct of his own trial, saying the court had refused to call key witnesses, including members of the local branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB).

'Stay Out Of This'

In all, Chekalin's claims painted a Byzantine portrait of deeply entwined and interdependent chains of corruption beginning with city investigators and rising through the ranks of security bodies and Supreme Court officials all the way to Vladimir Torlopov, then head of the Komi Republic, who assumed personal control over the shopping-mall arson case.

In a 2009 interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, Chekalin detailed how falsifications were frequently conducted in the open.

"First you go to your colleagues and you say: 'Guys, don't do this. Why are doing this?' They say: 'Grisha, stay out of this, it's none of your business. You have your own assignment -- go investigate the cases you were given,'" he said. "And in principle, at that moment in 2006 when all the falsifications began that I later talked about in court, the FSB knew all about it."

If he had spoken out early on, he said, the falsifications would have been covered up and then "served up again under a different sauce." By waiting to make his claims before the Supreme Court, he said he was hoping for maximum impact, even though he knew it meant "saying goodbye" to his job.

Chekalin's case bears a resemblance to that of Aleksei Dymovsky, a police officer who lost his job and was briefly jailed after posting videos on YouTube of himself last year detailing a long list of corruption allegations against the local police force in his hometown of Novorossiisk.

Since then, a number of disgruntled civil servants have shown a growing sophistication in using the Internet and other media platforms to publicize their complaints about corruption.

Pavel Kuravsky and Maryana Torocheshnikova of RFE/RL's Russian Service reported this story in Moscow; written in Prague by Daisy Sindelar
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