Ex-Senator Convicted of Fraud

MTChakhmakhchyan shouting from the defendants' cage as Arushanov watches in the Moscow City Court on Thursday.
The Moscow City Court on Thursday convicted former Kalmykia Senator Levon Chakhmakhchyan of fraud and sentenced him to nine years in prison, concluding a case that saw his lawyer flee the country and receive political asylum in the United States.

Judge Yelena Guchenkova found the former senator guilty of accepting a $300,000 bribe two years ago -- a charge Chakhmakhchyan vociferously denied throughout Thursday's verdict, even invoking his Armenian heritage.

"This is not a court case, but a trial against the Armenian ethnicity!" he shouted from his glass courtroom cage, where he sat with two co-defendants. "Everything is completely falsified! Everything is hidden!"

While the media was allowed to attend the verdict, the trial was held behind closed doors at the Lefortovo detention facility, where Chakhmakhchyan had been in custody since his arrest last year. "You weren't allowed into the trial so that you would be kept ignorant," Chakhmakhchyan shouted to reporters in the courtroom.

Chakhmakhchyan family members broke out in tears upon hearing the verdict. His wife, Gayana, cried, "There's no proof," while others yelled "Injustice" and "Keep your head up!"

Chakhmakhchyan's lawyers said they planned to appeal the verdict. "In our country a trial has to be public," lawyer Valentina Zizola said.

Lead Prosecutor Sergei Dubinsky declined to comment, though he smiled broadly as Guchenkova read her verdict.

Convicted along with Chakhmakhchyan were Igor Arushanov, chief accountant of the Association of Russian-Armenian Business Partnership, and Chakhmakhchyan's son-in-law, Audit Chamber official Armen Oganesyan. Oganesyan was sentenced to eight years in prison, while Arushanov received a seven-year sentence.

Prosecutors said Chakhmakhchyan demanded a $1.5 million bribe from Alexander Pleshakov, chairman of the Transaero airline, in exchange for quashing a negative Audit Chamber report on his company's activities.

Chakhmakhchyan and the two other suspects were first detained in June 2006 after leaving a Transaero office in possession of a briefcase containing $300,000 in marked bills, according to prosecutors. He was released, however, because as a Federation Council member he was immune from prosecution at the time.

Chakhmakhchyan was formally placed under arrest in February 2007, and later that year authorities began criminal proceedings against his lawyer, Boris Kuznetsov.

Authorities said Kuznetsov disclosed state secrets by filing a complaint to the Constitutional Court accusing the Federal Security Service, or FSB, of illegally wiretapping Chakhmakhchyan's phone.

Kuznetsov insisted that the bugging of Chakhmakhchyan's phone was a violation of the former senator's human rights and therefore could not be considered a state secret.

The lawyer fled the country in July 2007 and proceeded to request political asylum in the United States, which he was granted in February. In April, prosecutors charged him in absentia with divulging state secrets.

Kuznetsov had defended numerous high-profile clients against government charges, and he claims that the case against him is a politically motivated attack orchestrated by the FSB.

Besides Chakhmakhchyan, Kuznetsov's clients have included Manana Aslamazyan, head of the Educated Media Foundation, and Igor Sutyagin, a scientist sentenced by a jury to 15 years in prison for high treason in 2004.

In an interview shortly before Thursday's verdict, Chakhmakhchyan's daughter, Elina, said State Duma Deputy and crooner Iosif Kobzon and former world chess champion Anatoly Karpov, spoke in her father's defense during the trial.