How and why do powerful interests manipulate the Russian judicial system?
In routine civil disputes, commercial litigation or low-stakes administrative cases in which citizens sue the state, the Russian judiciary functions predictably and transparently. However certain judicial processes and decisions can be influenced or manipulated to suit a range of purposes for powerful private and government interests.
This should be an important consideration when assessing criminal proceedings in the context of disputes or other contentious situations in Russia. Knowing that criminal justice can be open to manipulation is one thing, but understanding who specifically might be behind a suspected miscarriage of justice is quite another. Often the manipulators and their motives are hidden far beneath the surface and can only be determined by specialists with in-depth knowledge of the system.
Criminal investigations and prosecutions have been employed to settle personal conflicts, to publicly undermine business competitors and, in some cases, to strip control of assets in so-called “raids”. In Russia this word spans the full spectrum of acquisitive behaviour from hostile takeover to state-sanctioned theft.
These practices are even sometimes employed in normal business dealings. It has been said of one senior Kremlin official that he routinely starts criminal proceedings against any potential private sector partner to “facilitate the negotiating process”.
The full arsenal that can be deployed by a raider also includes less serious administrative pressure triggers such as environmental investigations, fire safety checks or tax inspections. These tools can be deployed simultaneously or in stages.
In some cases minor attacks can be interpreted as warnings of what is to come, culminating in the primary adversary or victim being placed on an international wanted list – the feared Interpol Red Notice – the ultimate weapon in a corporate raider’s armament, albeit there are very few parties that have the clout to deploy such a weapon. Additional levers that might be used are negative PR campaigns or straightforward civil lawsuits.
If the victim of a corporate raid gives in, the assets change hands and the case may be closed. However if the target chooses to fight, often from abroad, they will need to be both well-versed in the idiosyncrasies of Russian criminal justice and confident they are aware of the true identity and motives of the unseen interests pulling the strings.
In a world of such complexity, a successful defence must be built on a solid foundation of intelligence and evidence.