Raivo Susi not hoping for quick exchange

, reporter
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Photo: Jaanus Piirsalu

The left wrist of aviation businessman Raivo Susi had a handcuff around it the other end of which was held by an officer of the FSB like a leash. “I'm not [Eston] Kohver, that is the point. I'm just your run of the mill businessman so to speak,” Susi said.

Both men stood behind the door of Moscow's Lefortovo borough courthouse waiting for a decision on whether Susi's arrest will be extended after he has been contained to the infamous Lefortovo preliminary investigation prison since February.

The same court that extended the arrest of Estonian Internal Security Service operative Eston Kohver, whom the Russian federal security service FSB also accused of espionage, every two months during his stay at the same prison between September 2014 to the spring of 2015.

The Deja vu did not end there. Susi sat in the very same barred cage in the same courtroom Kohver had almost exactly 20 months prior. Even the judge was the same – Margarita Kotova. And to make the comparison complete, Susi and Kohver also have the same FSB investigator.

The latter fact might be a good omen for Susi, who pursued far-reaching aviation business all over the former Soviet Union, as Eston Kohver only spent a little over a year in Russian prison. He was exchanged for traitor Aleksei Dressen soon after his conviction in Russia. Estonia still has a number of prisoners Russia might be looking to exchange.

I was only afforded the opportunity to ask Kohver a single question 18 months ago. I now put that same question to Susi: “Do you believe you will be exchanged?”

If Kohver had smiled and said: “I hope so!”, Raivo Susi's answer was delivered with less joviality: “I am not Kohver, which is why our cases cannot be compared,” the tall, clean-shaven man dressed in black said. “The other was an official.”

It seems that Susi (52) is not convinced Estonia is looking to exchange him, at least not any time soon. The reason for this is clear: it would not be paranoid to fear fabricated espionage charges would be employed to detain another Estonian citizen for another trade quite soon after. For better or for worse, Estonian prisons hold more than one Russian spy.

Through his lawyer Arkadi Toplegin, Susi has denied from the start that his aviation business could be seen as espionage. He answered “no, no, no” quickly and emotionally when asked whether he was arrested for his business activity. “You could be arrested any day here, just like me!”

Susi was not allowed to reveal anything concerning the charges. The criminal investigation is classified in which case both the accused and their defender must sign a document vowing not to discuss the court case.

The press representative of Lefortovo court also told me categorically that even if the FSB will allow me to talk to Susi in the courtroom, I'm not allowed to ask anything pertaining to the case under pain of eviction from the room. The FSB detective also approached me to check whether I had understood.

And then they just let me talk to Susi in Estonian of which they did not understand a single syllable! However, absurdity is probably one thing that is not in short supply in this case.

Despite his pessimistic comparison, or rather disparity, with Kohver, Susi carried himself vivaciously in court. He smiled when he looked at me, the only other Estonian in the room. He did not seem downtrodden after spending ten months in prison. At least he did not let it show. On the contrary, he said that he will remain optimistic, and that his mood is good.

"This thing is incomprehensibly dragged out,” he told me, probably pointing to the fact that he spent almost the entire day in court yesterday for a hearing on the seemingly certain extension of his arrest.

First the judge obliged Susi in a rare gesture and allowed him to review all the material the detective had brought. The classified nature of the trial means that Susi and his lawyer can only review case materials in court, whereas it is up to the judge to determine how much time the accused is allowed for this.

Judge Kotova was in a good mood and allowed Susi to browse the material for as long as he wished. The judge had to leave to hear another case, and Susi's was postponed until the afternoon. The following deliberation and ruling came very quickly after that: Susi will remain under arrest until February 11 at the least.

“I'll try! Thank you!” Raivo Susi shouted, being led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, as a reply to Postimees' encouragement he hold on. He smiled again. Perhaps he was glad he had not been forgotten in Estonia.