Court Ignores Prosecutors, Bulbov Still in Jail

MTBulbov speaking with one of his lawyers Wednesday after the judge ruled that he should remain in custody for at least another month while awaiting trial.
The Moscow City Court on Wednesday ordered senior Federal Drug Control Service officer Alexander Bulbov to remain behind bars for another month on corruption charges in a case widely seen to be linked to a power struggle between feuding clans close to the country's security services.

After three consecutive days of hearings, Judge Valery Novikov ordered Bulbov, accused of ordering illegal wiretaps, accepting bribes and money laundering, to remain in custody until Dec. 15, thus granting a request by the Investigative Committee for his continued detention.

The ruling came despite the fact that representatives from the Prosecutor General's Office, to which the Investigative Committee formally reports, had asked the court to release Bulbov, citing a lack of evidence that he had committed any crimes.

It also follows the committee's decision last month to release Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak in what was seen as a setback for a hawkish Kremlin clan believed to be behind Storchak's arrest on charges of attempted fraud and abuse of office.

The extension of Bulbov's detention, however, dealt a blow to a rival clan centered around former Federal Drug Control Service head Viktor Cherkesov, analysts said.

Bulbov was indignant after Wednesday's decision, accusing Novikov in front of a packed courtroom of complicity in a conspiracy to convict him on fabricated charges.

"I believe you have become an accomplice in this crime," Bulbov told the judge from his glass courtroom cage following the ruling.

Bulbov's lawyer, Sergei Antonov, said he would appeal the decision Friday. "The court's ruling is absolutely illegal," he told reporters outside the courtroom. "They just want it to appear legal."

The Investigative Committee said Monday that it had wrapped up its case against Bulbov, who is accused of paying $50,000 per month to Interior Ministry officer Mikhail Yanykin to tap the telephones of powerful businessmen, senators and prominent journalists, as well as accepting $4,000 per month in bribes from private companies in exchange for official protection.

If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison, a committee spokesman said.

Bulbov's wife, Galina Bulbova, was teary-eyed after Novikov's ruling. "I knew it would end this way," she said outside the courtroom. "My husband, as a professional, knew the outcome beforehand."

This week's hearings, which began Monday, came at the request of the Investigative Committee, which appealed to keep Bulbov in custody after the Supreme Court last week annulled a lower court's previous ruling to extend his detention.

Prosecutor General Yury Chaika has publicly sparred with Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin over several high-profile cases, and the two are believed to be close to powerful competing clans.

Bulbov and two other drug enforcement officers were arrested in October last year at Domodedovo Airport after returning from a trip abroad. Bulbov called the arrests -- conducted by the Investigative Committee and the Federal Security Service, or FSB -- revenge by the FSB for his investigation into Tri Kita, a Moscow furniture store accused of evading several million dollars in import duties and smuggling Chinese goods through FSB storage facilities.

The Federal Drug Control Service had an active role in the Tri Kita investigation, which two years ago led to the ouster of several high-ranking officials in the FSB and the Prosecutor General's Office.

The Bulbov and Storchak cases are widely seen as blatant manifestations of a power struggle between Kremlin clans that plagued the final months of Vladimir Putin's presidency.

Following Bulbov's arrest, Cherkesov published an article in Kommersant warning that "feuding" within the security services could undermine the country's stability. He did not identify any names in the article, though he suggested that his subordinates had been targeted because of their investigation of Tri Kita.

In a shakeup in May, Cherkesov was removed as head of the drug control service and replaced by Viktor Ivanov, believed to be close to a competing clan. Cherkesov took over the Federal Agency for the Procurement of Military and Special Equipment in what was seen as a serious demotion.

The decision to keep Bulbov in detention indicates that he may still be considered a threat because of compromising information he gathered in his investigative work, said Stanislav Belkovsky, a former Kremlin-connected political analyst and head of the National Strategy Institute.

Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a leading sociologist who tracks Kremlin politics, said the ruling was surprising since it contradicts Medvedev's statements last week that only "dangerous criminals" should be kept in pretrial detention.

Analysts have generally identified two main clans linked to the security services when breaking down the balance of power in the country's ruling elite.

One is tied to Igor Sechin, former deputy chief of staff in the presidential administration and now Putin's deputy prime minister overseeing the energy sector. The figures most often tied to this group include former FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev, now head of the Security Council; Bastrykin, the Investigative Committee chief; Ivanov, head of the Federal Drug Control Service; former Prosecutor General and Justice Minister Vladimir Ustinov, now the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District; and Alexander Bortnikov, who was appointed earlier this year to head the FSB.

The other group, to which Bulbov is believed to be linked, includes Cherkesov and Viktor Zolotov, who headed the personal security service for Putin first as prime minister and then as president. Chaika is also generally associated with this clan, as is former Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who was demoted in the May shakeup from first deputy prime minister to deputy prime minister.

The shakeup was aimed at undercutting the political power that clans within the security services had accumulated in recent years, Kremlin insiders have said.