Resist Arrest, Get Shot, Go to Prison and Wait

Chechnya isnt the only region in this country where human rights are being violated. In the town of Volsk, in the Saratov region, police shot up a vehicle and its three passengers and none of the officers was punished.

It all started when the three men were charged with resisting arrest. The incident occurred during what police said was a routine vehicle check. The men were angry to have to put up their hands when they found themselves surrounded by six vehicles and 24 plainclothes police. A shootout ensued, during which the suspects were hit with a total of 13 bullets. The suspects did admit to firing on and damaging police vehicles, but they said they mistook the police for thugs. But the damage was done; the police were cast in the role of victims, and the three went to court but not before they spent a year in jail awaiting a hearing.

So far as I know, there has never been a case like this in this country: 24 policemen in the dock well-fed, unharmed, confident of the verdict. And the accused three men emaciated from prison and their wounds: Pyotr Parashchukov, 40, director of the Volsk Bread factory (hit by two bullets), and his drivers, Oleg Mazyanov, 25 (four bullets), and Vitaly Dyupin, 27 (seven bullets, one broken arm).

Heres what Saratov police say happened. According to information acquired by the Volga Regional Anti-Organized Crime Department, or RUBOP, Parashchukov was the head of a Volsk criminal group. And, according to Valery Proshin, the Volga RUBOP head, local police wouldnt have stood a chance against them, so Saratov paramilitary were called in.

One fine morning, 24 plainclothes RUBOP officers with Makarov pistols, Kalashnikovs and snipers rifles traveled in six vehicles some 150 kilometers from Saratov to Volsk. Sergei Vdovichenko, a lieutenant colonel and head of the anti-crime division, was in charge of the unit. And Proshin planned the operation.

The operation first involved putting Parashchukov under surveillance. But police didnt know initially what he looked like. So two plainclothes officers were sent to his office in an Opel. They passed themselves off as grain sellers and managed to lure Parashchukov outside the building so RUBOP officers could get a good look at him. RUBOP then started monitoring his movements.

And those movements, police said, became rather frenzied. Parashchukov drove around town in his Jeep with two men, ostensibly picking up weapons from various addresses. RUBOP officers decided to swoop down on these "mafiosi," who they thought were preparing for bloodshed. They surrounded them with their vehicles, and, according to the officers, trained police lights on them.

But the Jeep put up a fight. It roared into reverse, then accelerated forward in an attempt to ram its way out of the ambush. The Jeep was stopped in the subsequent shoot-out. Officers opened the doors to find the three men on the floor. Next to them were a shotgun and carbine (licensed) and, police said, two unregistered sawed-off shotguns and a bag of heroin.

In court, it was clear that the chief of the Volga RUBOP had no evidence showing that Parashchukov headed a criminal gang. It also turned out that the two officers in the Opel did not just offer Parashchukov grain; they threatened him when he refused their offer. Parashchukov took the threats seriously, since he said he had been shot at twice before when he had refused to cede a controlling block of shares in his enterprise. The would-be assassins had missed before but would he be as lucky this time?

Parashchukov decided to take no chances. After this encounter with the "grain sellers," he said he set off for the police station in the Jeep with the two drivers. But the chief of police was at lunch when the three arrived, so they went for a bite to eat themselves. On their return to the station, they were ambushed.

At the trial, a witness testified that he had seen the Jeep trapped by vehicles but saw no police lights. He said he saw men in civilian clothing shooting at the Jeep and that nothing about their clothes or behavior gave any indication they were police.

During the incident, the Jeeps doors were flung open, and the three men hauled onto the pavement. At this point, the two "grain sellers" reappeared, now as witnesses. Why were they there? Perhaps because those in charge of the operation wanted their people on the scene to see what needed to be seen? The officers said they saw a pair of sawed-off shotguns and a packet of heroin. The two then signed the "protocol for removal of material evidence" as witnesses. But the chairman of the court excluded these "documents" from the trial and ruled that the defendants had fired in self-defense.

Another important element in this story: When the ambulance arrived to take the suspects to prison on stretchers, the Saratov police raided the offices of the bread factory, and privatization documents were seized why?

"I found an interesting document among the case materials," said Alexander Yershov, a lawyer for the factory. He said that when Parashchukov and his partner, Valery Kuznetsov, took over the combine and started turning a profit, representatives of the Saratov regions food corporation or its subsidiaries began to visit them. In the business "propositions" made to them, the men said they heard the following refrain: "Want to sleep easy? Sell us your controlling stake." Neither Parashchukov nor Kuznetsov agreed.

Despite the fact that Parashchukov and his drivers were cleared of charges, the prosecutors office paid no further attention to the visitors from Saratov. And Proshin head of the Volga RUBOP admits that the documents were seized, but he claims that the controlling block of shares was obtained wrongfully. So why werent those who seized the documents prosecuted? "Ive no idea." Proshin said. "We had hoped for a professional investigation."

You get a clear picture of the "professionalism" RUBOP had in mind, whereby Parashchukov, Dyupin and Mazyanov, after being psychologically and physically pummeled, would condemn themselves. Splendid: show trials for the thieves of national property!

When I arrived in Saratov, I discovered that Vdovichenko who had led the operation had quit the force. Where did he go? "A private security service," Proshin said. "Incidentally, he earns three times more than I do here. Ive been here six years as a colonel in a generals post and they still wont promote me."

In any civilized nation, this case would have resulted in the immediate dismissal of Proshin, who would then have stood trial for attempted murder. I can understand that the Interior Ministry is occupied with the anti-terrorist operation in Chechnya. But the constitutional order that protects the rights and freedoms of civilians must be applied equally throughout the nation, including the Saratov region.

Proshin was finally promoted to the rank of general. Why? Because people can be shot on the street and then not have a proper trial or investigation?

Igor Gamayunov writes for Literaturnaya Gazeta. He contributed this essay to The Moscow Times.