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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: No Fair Trial For Kokh, A Foreigner




This Christmas, U.S. officials closed the gates of America in the face of Alfred Kokh, the former Russian privatization chief. They did so because it is their standard practice to deny entry to foreigners who stand accused - not convicted, just accused - of any crime.


Kokh stands accused of corruption. Russian prosecutors have implicated him in the privatization of two of some 21 apartments they say were illegally distributed to Kremlin bureaucrats. Kokh also accepted a $100,000 advance on a book about privatization from an Uneximbank-connected company, and after Uneximbank won some choice privatizations, many observers characterized that advance as a thinly-disguised bribe.


The evidence against Kokh on that count is compelling. Certainly it was more than enough to remove him from his government post, as Boris Yeltsin did in 1997, opining that Kokh was "too close" to some banks. This latest public embarrassment at the hands of the American authorities could not have happened to a nicer guy.


But even so, the case underlines the problems of the U.S. practice of denying visas to people simply because their country's police force suspects them of a crime. It violates one of the most cherished principals of the democratic political system, the presumption of innocence: A person accused of a crime is considered to be innocent unless prosecutors can prove his guilt in a court.


As any Russian who has ever applied for a tourist visa knows, this noble ideal ends at the U.S. border. Foreigners applying for permission to visit the freest country in the world are presumed guilty - of lying, of intending to work illegally, of intending to overstay their tourist visa - unless they can "prove" otherwise.


This becomes all the more odious when the American government accepts an accusation coming from a law enforcement system as flawed as Russia's. These are the same lackluster prosecutors who routinely make zero progress on high-profile corruption and murder cases, yet find plenty of time to pursue frivolous cases against environmentalists like Alexander Nikitin or Grigory Pasko.


The only thing that makes this indefensible U.S. policy tolerable is that it is so haphazardly enforced. Nikitin, for example, got an invitation last year to visit the U.S. White House even as he stood accused of treason.


It would be admirable if the U.S. government, which for so long so closely associated itself with Kokh and the other young privatizers orbiting around Anatoly Chubais, could be bothered to do some soul-searching on its Russian involvement. Instead, it seems to want the entire matter to go away - like Kokh.