Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Legal Route Way to Beat Russia's Mob




It is unpleasant indeed to be in agreement with Sergei Mikhailov, also known as Mikhas, a man who consorts freely with some of the most despicable characters in Russia and the rest of the criminal world.


But Mikhailov was right to claim that his acquittal by a Swiss court was based on the principle that not all Russians are criminals. A Geneva court Friday dismissed charges of involvement in an organized crime gang against Mikhailov, leaving only the lesser charge of failing to observe Swiss rules limiting foreigners' right to purchase land.


The fight against Russian organized crime is a desperate one, both here and abroad. Russia's mob carries out contract killings, runs drugs and commits all sorts of other mischief.


But the hunt against the Russian mafia must be subordinate to the due process of the law and basic human rights. It is simply not enough to rely on prejudices and circumstantial evidence.


The prosecution to which police forces from three continents contributed alleged Mikhailov was involved in the Moscow-based Solntsevo mafia band that carried out professional killings and racketeering.


The evidence presented by star Western witnesses established that Mikhailov had some unsavory people as business associates. He met, for example, with Vyacheslav Ivankov, also known as Yaponchik, imprisoned in the United States for extortion and fraud.


But all the evidence presented against Mikhailov was circumstantial. There was nothing to implicate him in any specific criminal activity. Simply consorting with criminals is not and should not be a crime in itself. One former U.S. attorney general, no friend to the Russian mafia, testified that much of the evidence was hearsay.


Mikhailov has tried to paint himself as a man smeared by the general prejudice against Russia. But no one will be crying too many tears for Mikhailov's reputation.


His acquittal is a sign of how hard it is to mount a case against organized crime. One of the key witnesses was murdered during the course of the trial and others had to be given police protection.


But it is possible to bring the mafia to justice going by the book. Yaponchik was sentenced on the basis of proof of his involvement in specific counts of extortion and a fraudulent marriage for immigration purposes.


Russian courts could learn a lesson. Almost no major organized crime figure has ever been put in jail here. The problem here is not the niceties of proof beyond reasonable doubt or due process. Courts are just too scared and judges too corruptible.