Kohver sent home soon?

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Photo: Erakogu

Picture a severe court judgement complete with a «revealing» film wherein the convicted one presents his «sincere confession», followed, however, by Putin's pardon and a fast ride home from Pskov to Tartu through the Luhamaa border point quite near where a FSB special unit snatched and captured him - almost a year ago. 

In the given situation, this could be the best solution for security police officer Eston Kohver this week undergoing continuation of closed court trial in Pskov as accused in espionage.

The logic is based on the only case in Russia of basic resemblance to Mr Kohver’s where, at Russian security service FSB initiative an US citizen Edmond Pope was likewise sentenced to prison 15 years ago.

The session of Mr Kohver in Pskov was supposed to continue this Tuesday, but was postponed till today for unknown reasons. If convicted, his prison term will be 10–20 years.

It is doubtless very difficult to predict behaviour of FSB or Kremlin during the process, but when seeking for any analogy then Mr Pope’s case comes to mind, Postimees was told by a leading FSB expert among Russian journalists, Andrei Soldatov.

Mr Soldatov does not believe that once Mr Kohver is convicted, FSB would be interested in keeping him jailed in Russia long-term. Rather, thinks Mr Soldatov, FSB is seeking or will be seeking ways of handing him over to Estonia in a manner advantageous for them.

«I do not remember a single case where a foreigner convicted in espionage would have been jailed in Russia for long,» Mr Soldatov told Postimees. «They have all been swapped quickly, or released for some other reason.»

FSB arrested the former US Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) Captain Edmond Pope in Moscow, in the year 2000. As alleged by FSB, Mr Pope was busy, while working in a private company, collecting data regarding Russians’ secret weapon Shkval, an underwater torpedo speeding at close to 500 km/h while weighing three tonnes. Mr Pope was arrested at the moment he was allegedly handing his Russian informant $30,000 of cash.

Apprehended in April 2000, like Mr Kohver he was stuck in the «exclusive» Lefortovo preliminary investigations prison in Moscow. The preliminary investigations of his case went fast: in August already, it was finished and court process begun at the beginning of November.

At that, the timeframes of Mr Pope’s procedure may serve as an approximate guide to how long Mr Kohver’s might take: the first session was on November 2nd (Mr Kohver’s launching date was on July 27th in Pskov); four weeks later the prosecutor held his speech and demanded 20 years in a colony for espionage; a week after that, on December 6th, the court ruled. The ruling was precisely what the prosecutor wanted.

Theoretically, Mr Kohver’s procedure ought to go faster yet, as there don’t seem to be too many witnesses if state-appointed lawyer Yevgeni Aksyonov be believed. In the case of Mr Pope, witnesses rather abounded. 

The actual speed for Kohver-case does depend on tactical plans of FSB or higher levels of power. It may all be over in two weeks, or drag on for months should the court for instance opt to order some other expert assessment. As we have already seen, for unknown reasons the judge keeps putting the procedure on hold for a couple of days at a time.

One day after Mr Pope was convicted, the portal Agentura.ru created by Andrei Soldatov to cover activities of FSB wrote thus: «The American was convicted, but in a few dozen days he will be sent out of the country at personal order by President. To extend the plea (for pardon), they will probably pick Mr Pope’s wife and the President will grant her request. Thus, all the rules of the genre will have been followed: the spy got his just due, the state saved face, and humane side has been shown.»

The prophecy proved true: a week after the conviction, on December 14th 2000, Mr Putin pardoned Mr Pope. The decision was read to the convicted one at ten o’clock in the morning at Lefortovo prison, and two hours after that he flew a special plane ordered by US Embassy from Sheremetyevo to Frankfurt.

A vital detail: pursuant to Putinist Russia’s law, pardon may only be granted when the subject has pleaded guilty. Also, the latter is supposed to sign a document that he waives the right to appeal the guilty-verdict – which will automatically rule out deliberations of the Kohver case in international courts.

At that, Edmond Pope’s case did differ a lot from that of Eston Kohver. Mainly because already during preliminary investigations the story enjoyed much media attention in Russia, and doubly so the court process. The attention was mostly organised by Mr Pope’s defence lawyer Pavel Astakhov who rose to stardom in Russia due to the case. Having presented speech to defend Mr Pope as a 12-page poem, Mr Astakhov currently serves as Russia’s children’s rights ombudsman and is known for his anti-American statements.

Also, the arrest of Mr Pope was constantly the topic on US and Russian presidential level. Also in favour of the release of Mr Pole must have been his case of a rare skin cancer which definitely could not have been treated in a Russian prison.

Kohver shown video evidence?

The last closed court session over Eston Kohver was held in Pskov oblast court on July 31st. According to editor-in-chief Deniss Kamalyagin of an independent Pskov newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya who was present in the court building, video evidence was probably being watched. Though the journalists were not allowed into the courtroom, Mr Kamalyagin drew the conclusion by a peculiar «agitator» fastened to the wall behind the door, causing loud noise so whatever happened inside was not heard.

«I suspect this was being done due to video evidence reviewed, as these (the talk in the videos – J. P.) may sound louder than the usual talk in the court,» suggested Mr Kamalyagin. «Anyway, the court staff took loudspeakers into the courtroom, and the lights in the courtroom were switched off.»

As revealed by the surprised faces of court employees who passed by, it may be assumed a noise-making device like that is quite a rarity for the Pskov court, added Mr Kamalyagin.

Mr Kohver’s lawyer Yevgeni Aksyonov – appointed by the Russian state – has earlier been saying that FSB’s main evidence against Mr Kohver are the very videos about his alleged meetings with his informant in Russia.  

If indeed video evidence were presented, the court process is probably entering a decisive phase.

The July 31st session lasted for almost three hours. The courtroom was constantly guarded by one or two court security workers.