Lawyer: Kohver no use to Russia as prisoner

, reporter, Moskva
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Photo: Jaanus Piirsalu

On upcoming Saturday, Estonian security police officer Eston Kohver «celebrates» three months sharp in a Russian jailhouse. This Christmas and New Year will be the last for Mr Kohver in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, believes his lawyer Yevgeni Aksyonov.

During the interview, Mr Aksyonov keeps referring, directly and indirectly, to the release of Mr Kohver after the court process as an outcome already agreed. Every time I press him further on that, the lawyer specifies this to be his personal opinion based on logic.

«I do not believe he will sit for long,» says Mr Aksyonov, appointed as lawyer to Mr Kohver by Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) who also caught him. «I predict that once the court process is over, somebody flies to Moscow and someone flies to Tallinn. There are no cases of some country’s intelligence officers sitting in other country’s jails for long.»

Kapo and embassy mum

A while later, here goes Mr Aksyonov again: «This may be the last New Year Mr Kohver sees in while jailed. The fact of his apprehension and conviction is needed for those who live and serve here: that any such violation of the law will inevitably be punished.»

Also, Mr Aksyonov thinks it significant that, lately, Estonian Security Police (the Kapo) has come out with no statements on Mr Kohver.

«Behold, all Kapo statements regarding Mr Kohver have disappeared from the media. There are no more of these categorical claims that used to be,» he says. «Generally, it will be like I have said before.»

What exactly will be, I ask.

«Well that a country will not throw [away] its people, the more so if they are officers of high qualification,» answers the lawyer.

Jokingly, I say Kapo might indeed send its special forces to deliver Mr Kohver by force when FSB takes him to Estonia-Russia border to survey the site of his apprehension.

«Come on, why that once they already have an agreement ...» answers Mr Aksyonov, adding that the so-called site experiment will probably happen at the very end of preliminary investigations i.e. in spring or summer, probably.  

In the eyes of Mr Aksyonov, another sign of positive negotiations over the man’s fate is Estonian Embassy’s unwillingness in October to rent Mr Kohver an apartment in Moscow which, according to the lawyer, would have served as an argument in court to wrest out house arrest for the man.

«I think it was not that they (the embassy – J.P.) was unwilling, but ergo they know something, are more in the know about certain issues and just didn’t consider it necessary to take any steps,» he says. «Maybe, something has already been agreed.»

FSB apprehended Mr Kohver on September 5th. According to FSB version, prior to apprehension the man repeatedly met on Russian soil with a FSB employee whom he recruited for cooperation. For money, Mr Kohver allegedly asked for information regarding FSB Pechory department staff and people in covert cooperation with those.

According to Kapo, Mr Kohver was near Estonia-Russia boundary line on an operation related to a criminal case concerning smuggling. At that, Kapo is adamant that for the entire operation Mr Kohver stayed on Estonian territory in vicinity of border post Nr 212, where FSB snatched him and took into Russia by force.

In line to see psychiatrist

The accusation against Mr Kohver features a V. V. Ivanov as the FSB Pechory staff who met with him. «Naturally, Ivanov is not the real name but surely Mr Kohver and Kapo know his real name,» says Mr Aksyonov.

Regarding «Ivanov», the lawyer of Mr Kohver says he was either double agent for FSB or a traitor. «If he were a traitor, he’d also sit in Lefortovo right now. So I guess it’s version one,» observed Mr Aksyonov.

Though over the three months an FSB investigator has interrogated Mr Kohver at least four times, this has never been done «substantively» i.e. officially no evidence has been presented to the man to verify him being accused in espionage. This, Mr Aksyonov explains by the investigator collecting documents from various agencies – Pskov Border Guard, Prosecutor’s Office, Police and elsewhere – and waiting for results of various expert assessments regarding Mr Kohver’s gun, the recording equipment and documents found with him.

Also, Mr Kohver continues to wait for psychiatric expert assessment – a standard practice in Russia regarding all accused.

«As the investigation is under state secret, he cannot be sent to an ordinary psychiatrist,» says the lawyer. «In Moscow, there’s only a couple such psychiatrists who are licences to work with state secrets. They have a lot of work and the waiting line is long, as they inspect one or two people a day.»

Pursuant to law, the preliminary investigation time limit is 18 months, but as demanded by Prosecutor’s Office it may be prolonged by court.

As predicted by Mr Kohver’s lawyer, FSB will complete its investigation regarding the man latest by autumn of next year, to be followed by a closed and quick court process as «the circumstances are basically clear». The court procedure would be sped up to go even faster if Mr Kohver would enter into agreement with Prosecutor’s Office. For Mr Kohver, says the logic if his lawyer, that would make no difference whatsoever and he will «anyway» be soon delivered to Estonia after the court process.

Answers selectively

When it comes to a possible confession by Mr Kohver, Mr Aksyonov sys this plays no role regarding the investigation as FSB will have to cover everything by evidence anyhow.

«Maybe, it would be needed only in court where the judge looks and considers whether the person understands and owns up to the crime he is accused in,» relates the lawyer. «For the investigator, this is of no importance at all.»

Asked if Mr Kohver was cooperating with investigators, Mr Aksyonov answered thus: «To whatever regards not state secrets he naturally answers. To the rest of the issues, he has refused to answer.»

When it comes to how Mr Kohver is making it, in prison, his lawyer says he’s carried himself with dignity and poise the entire three months, and his health is normal.

«He is in no way depressed, he’s very well prepared,» says Mr Aksyonov. «I’d say he’s like they described [Max Otto von] Stierlitz in the famed TV series «Seventeen Moments of Spring» – «character Nordic, solid».

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The Eston Kohver case

September 5th

As reported by Estonian Security Police, unknown persons coming from Russia at 9 am apprehended an Estonian security police officer while on duty near Luhamaa border point and took him into Russia, by force and at gunpoint.

In the evening of the same day, FSB announced of having apprehended during operations in Pskov Oblast an Estonian security police officer Eston Kohver, seizing his Taurus pistol, €5,000 of cash, covert audio recording equipment and special devices.

To investigate the case, Estonian Internal Security Service launched criminal procedures pursuant to Penal Code clauses concerning unlawful deprivation of liberty by use of force and illegal crossing of Estonian state border and temporary boundary line.

September 6th

Moscow Lefortovo circuit court decided to arrest Eston Kohver for two months regarding investigations into espionage. By Russia, the lawyer Yevgeni Aksyonov was appointed to defend Mr Kohver.

September 9th

Signe Matteus, head of consular department at Estonian embassy in Moscow, for the first time meets Eston Kohver in  Lefortovo prison.

September 17th

Eston Kohver waives lawyers selected for him by Estonian state, Mark Feigin and Nikolai Polozov.

October 31st

Moscow court prolongs arrest of Eston Kohver till January 5th citing proceedings.

November 14th

Eston Kohver is able to have a long promised telephone call with wife. This is their first direct contact after Eston Kohver was dragged into Russia on September 5th.

Source: Postimees

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