Final installment. See the first installment in our issue from April 7
A brief synopsis of our first installment: In Moscow in 2004, a Georgian chased down an Azeri who owed him $5,000. The Georgian was later arrested. Facing a heavy sentence, Investigator Sergey Pronin told his attorney Elena Yatsyk that the court could be bought for $10,000. Yatsyk gathered the sum from her client's friends and family and paid Pronin.
But the court was strict and just. The attorney repeatedly called Pronin's mobile to no avail. Finally the two arranged a meeting. Yatsyk was found shot dead the following morning.
Yatsyk's friends and relatives were sure that Pronin was the murderer. He simply didn't want to return the money. Meanwhile, Pronin said Yatsyk was lying about the bribe. She lied to her client's relatives, stole their money and then paid the price with her life.
"Sergey today, me tomorrow..."
The police backed Pronin to the end.
Just imagine the Investigative Division at the Southeastern District Department of Interior where a sign still hung on the door reading: "Senior Investigator Sergey Viktorovich Pronin." Now imagine that the investigator has already been behind bars for two years and was convicted for three months. It's a strange sight. For the duration of the trial, the district authorities had flat-out refused to fire Pronin. He had been suspended from his post. After the Supreme Court's ruling, the police will finally have to come to terms with the facts.
The Investigative Division had worked "one man down" for several years. Pronin's colleagues had to bear an extra load during the trial, doing Pronin's share of the day-to-day work. Somehow they managed. But why? Was it just corrupt police looking out for one of their own? Was it just the logic "it's you today, maybe me tomorrow?" Or was it a sincere friendship and officer's duty? We'll never know the answer to these questions.
However, we do know that a group of staff officers appointed the head of the Investigative Division himself to serve as Pronin's social defender. We also know that his superiors and colleagues paid for Pronin's attorneys. There were four in total. When in the middle of this epic story, the court finally set a bail of 500,000 rubles for Pronin, policemen from various departments in Moscow brought envelopes to his parents' home for three days. Some policemen canceled their vacation, saying: "Pronin today, tomorrow me."
However, their reasoning for supporting Pronin is probably not rooted in corruption or a sense of unity. Rather, it's the feeling of defenselessness that policemen face today. The government salaries are too low to live on. Then the government slaps the knuckles of those who try to make a little extra on top. And, honestly speaking, Pronin's version seemed much more realistic than the story told by Yatsyk's relatives.
It's difficult to believe that such a successful woman like Yatsyk would risk her life by heckling a stubborn inspector over such an insignificant sum. It would have been easier for her to return the $10,000 to Kharziani's relatives herself and not argue with the police.
If Kharziani didn't want the money back – just results – then that's another story. And results were something that neither Pronin, nor Yatsyk could ensure. If this was indeed the case, then her nervousness is understandable, as is her fear before leaving to meet Pronin and her subsequent murder. The weak point in the investigator's version of what transpired is clear – he said he didn't take the money.
The investigation was an utter disgrace. Pronin's attorney Aleksander Shishin and Vladimir Antontsev, who represented the victim, were both outraged.
"A paraffin sample wasn't taken from Pronin's fingers. If he shot a firearm, then traces of gunpowder would have remained! And his clothing wasn't checked for gun lubricant!"
The case was handled poorly considering that it was led by two inveterate investigators of the Public Prosecutor's Office (the Soviet Prosecutor's Office). The crime was committed on the 18th and Pronin's clothes were taken on the 20th. However, not all his clothes were taken, as is the accepted procedure. The authorities only confiscated the clothing that Pronin decided to give them. In short, the investigation had been botched.
Additionally, no search was conducted. The police inspected the apartment where Pronin lived with his wife, but didn't check his parents' house where he could easily have cleaned his pants. At the same time, though, the organs quickly sought out "Dmitriy," who Pronin said had attacked him. Incidentally, the police found him. Dmitriy also turned out to be the name of the businessman who collected money for Kharziani. But since he had an alibi, it was on this note that the investigation ended.
Amusingly, Pronin, still a witness at the time, had also intensely sought Dmitriy. He purportedly wanted to find Yatsyk's murderer. He lied in wait for the Georgian's wife near Kuzminskiy Court when the proceedings against Kharziani were still underway and said: "Hello, I'm the investigator that killed your attorney. Do you know a 'Dmitriy'?"
The frightened woman took the joke literally. She thought Pronin was confessing to Yatsyk's murder and threatening her at the same time. In short, the version that Pronin had killed Yatsyk wasn't seriously considered at the outset.
"Pronin's mother works at the Public Prosecutor's Office," Antontsev said. "Need any further explanations?"
At the time of the investigation, Pronin's mother was a prosecutor at the Personnel Department of the Public Prosecutor's Office of the Russian Federation. She wasn't the boss, but rather an ordinary employee with only a 20-year record of service. She had been invited to the institution by a 'Vasilev,' with whom she had worked in some Moscow district. But Pronin's case came to light when Vasilev had already become the prosecutor of the Moscow region. In other words, he headed the structure handling Yatsyk's murder. You're probably asking how they managed to put Pronin away.
This story is even more scandalous.
On January 18, 2006, the term for completing the investigation was expiring. As no evidence had been gathered that implicated anyone's participation in the murder, the decision was made at a meeting at the Moscow District Public Prosecutor's Office to end the investigation. Three days later, though, the head of the investigative group was called to see one of the prosecutor's deputies. He was told that they had received a call from the Public Prosecutor's Office of the Russian Federation demanding that Pronin's case be sent to trial under any circumstances. This obviously caught his interest. Why, on what evidence? he asked.
Circumstantial, they said.
Pronin's mother told us the whole story. Of course we can't simply take her word for it, but it's a known fact that the Prosecutor's Office changed its stance out of the blue in the winter of 2006.
A group of Yatsyk's colleagues headed by attorney Antontsev made certain that the case would see the light of day. When they realized that no one intended to put Pronin behind bars, they began visiting and sending letters to the Interior Ministry, Presidential Administration and the FSB. They knocked on each and every door until someone finally opened.
For 6 months, no one had touched Pronin. Now he was facing jail time based on no additional evidence.
The head of the investigative group quit soon after. He left the Public Prosecutor's Office altogether. Another investigator was removed from the case. A young girl concluded the investigation. According to Pronin's mother the young investigator told her that sending the material to court was the condition upon which she could stay in Moscow. When Pronin was discharged, she called to congratulate him on his acquittal. (The jury decided that Pronin's guilt could not be substantiated and that he was innocent.)
The Public Prosecutor's Office's stance is a conundrum. It got Pronin off the hook, then put him in jail, supported the indictment, and congratulated him with his acquittal.
"The accused, Pronin, please explain to the court what these notes mean in your diary: 'Kaban – $1,500,' 'Romanov – $4,000,' 'Vasya – $25,000'?"
"Well they're the last names of investigators." (ed. The last names have been changed.)
"And the sums?"
"Well, that's how much we owe each other."
It's no surprise that this was a closed hearing. Pretty large in-house debts for a bunch of state investigators! It completely discredits the system!
While preparing this material and trying to understand if Pronin had taken the money, I visited his apartment. I can say that he lived rather modestly – linoleum in the kitchen from 1978 and he didn't sport a new foreign car. Maybe he had always passed the bribes along, but this time he decided to keep a bit of cash for himself?
"Pronin's an investigator. He read Kharziani's case over and over and knew full well that he wouldn't need to do anything – that the case would be reclassified just as Yatsyk had originally requested."
Most vexing was admitting that Pronin was right. The Moscow City Court that reexamined Kharziani's case did indeed reclassify the crime as a less serious offense. If this had happened in the Kuzminskiy Court, this awful story would never had transpired.
In conversations outside protocol, Pronin said that he took the money.
A scene in the courtroom looks something like this: During a break, Pronin sits behind bars in his waiting cell. Turning to the representative of the victim he says:
"You did well today. But you're wrong. I didn't kill her."
"I don't give a damn. You were there! You took her there? What's the difference. You took the money..."
"I returned half!"
The attorney of the accused Shishin says to the representative:
"Stop it, colleague, come on! And you (ed. Pronin) keep your lips tight..."
This seems about the truth.
Pronin took the money, which is why he gave in to Yatsyk's request. Later, the investigator and attorney went to talk with Khaziani's supporters. They both made calls. Yatsyk called her son and Pronin – his brother. They were in the same boat. They were both afraid.
The court confirmed that the investigator killed the attorney to keep the money and because she threatened to tell the Public Prosecutor's Office about what had happened.
"She would never have done that," one of Yatsyk's former colleagues told me under conditions of anonymity. "How would she have worked afterwards? He could simply not return the money and that's all."
If the attorney turned the investigator in, she would have lost her career.