A Litmus Test for the Rule of Law

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Anyone who paid even the slightest attention to Dmitry Medvedev's policy pronouncements during the presidential campaign and since he took office knows that he considers the rule of law a priority.

The notion that no one is above the law came up again in comments Medvedev made during his one-day visit to Germany on Thursday, and the continued focus is encouraging.

Courts and law enforcement agencies have earned a reputation for corruption among Russians and foreigners who own or operate businesses here. So a recent court case offers hope that things may be getting better, while at the same time demonstrating how much still needs to be done.

In mid-May, Yelena Valyavina, first deputy chairwoman of the Supreme Arbitration Court, testified in Moscow's Dorogomilovsky District Court that she had been pressured in 2005 by Valery Boyev, then an official within Vladimir Putin's presidential administration, to change a ruling that had gone against the Federal Property Fund. The ruling in question had to do with shares in the country's largest ammonia producer that had been sold in 1996 and the government was trying to take back.

Valyavina's testimony came in a libel case filed against television and radio program host Vladimir Solovyov by Boyev, after Solovyov said on a radio program that there were no independent courts in Russia, only "courts dependent on Boyev."

Valyavina said Boyev told her that she would be out of a job the next time her spot on the bench came up for review. Two weeks after her testimony, Boyev withdrew his suit -- just before three more defense witnesses were to take the stand.

Valyavina's statements are a sign that some judges are willing to work toward improving the situation. The lack of follow-up, however, demonstrates how much remains to be done.

The crux of the matter is that Valyavina testified under oath in a court of law that Boyev had committed a crime. She accused him of trying to misuse the authority of his position and tried directly to influence a verdict by a federal judge -- two acts covered in the Criminal Code. Yet prosecutors have shown no interest in looking into the allegations. Three weeks after Valyavina's statements, there have been no reports of an investigation.

In answer to written questions, the Investigative Committee under the Prosecutor General's Office advised The Moscow Times to contact the Prosecutor General's Office itself. Written questions to the Prosecutor General's Office went unanswered.

If the rule of law that Medvedev has been talking about is to have a chance at taking root, then allegations like those made in court against Boyev will have to be pursued to the end. As the prosecutor general reports directly to the president, Medvedev should be able to get the investigators moving.