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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Corrects Prosecutors' Homework

At a meeting with foreign journalists on the eve of his trip to the United States, President Vladimir Putin said that the case against Yukos involved "possible links of individuals to murders." "In such a case," Putin said, "how can I interfere with the prosecutors' work?"

Then last Friday, the Prosecutor General's Office raided a Yukos-funded orphanage and a business center belonging to the company in the Moscow region, seizing financial documents. Just as if they were following the money trail from the contract killers to the people who put out the contract.

Reading between the lines of Putin's statement, I think he was berating the law enforcement agencies. "You're all a bunch of 'D' students," he seemed to say, "and now the president has to correct your homework." Because, in fact, Putin was pointing out a very clever way to pillory Yukos.

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The procedure is simple. First you take a murder that occurred somewhere in the vicinity of Yukos.

The 1998 murder of Nefteyugansk Mayor Vladimir Petukhov, for example. Petukhov got himself into a conflict with the Chechen mob over the city market, and with Yukos over some big-money construction contracts. Yukos yanked the contracts, leaving the poor mayor deep in debt to his many criminal acquaintances.

Then you scour the local prisons for some low-life who has been cooling his heels for three months awaiting trial for the murder and rape of a 13-year-old girl. You make him an offer he can't refuse. "You'll get 20 years for murder, but you won't last a month before you get whacked in your cell," you tell him. "But if you confess, let's say, to murdering Petukhov three years ago, you'll get three years and be out in one on an amnesty."

Finally, you take an employee of the Yukos security service and break him with threats and psychotropic substances until he says that Mikhail Khodorkovsky personally ordered the hit. That's it. Yukos is screwed.

You say this is politically motivated? Putin himself said this is a straightforward criminal investigation. Why only now, five years after the murder? Who knows? The killer just happened to confess.

But instead of a cut-and-dried operation like this, the prosecutor's office has accused Yukos of tax evasion and privatization violations, tossing in a few criminal charges that are floating around like scraps of gristle in a bowl of prison camp swill.

Why, you might ask, has law enforcement squandered an opportunity that the president himself saw so clearly? The thing is, an ineffective, corrupt system functions according to three basic laws.

Law 1: The cogs in the system don't like to work. They like to take it easy. The operation I described above would be laborious and time-consuming.

Law 2: The cog doesn't really have to do its job so long as the boss is convinced it's keeping busy. Here publicity comes into play. And when you arrive at an orphanage with machine guns and a search warrant, you're guaranteed some publicity.

And most importantly, Law 3: When government agencies get used to serving private ends, the number of private ends they serve goes through the roof. The more charges you hurl at Yukos, the more you can serve other clients. What do you get for rooting around in the prisons looking for desperate criminals? Who's going to pay you to bring them around? No one. Apatit is another matter. Everyone in the business community knows that Yury Kantor, the owner of Novgorod-based fertilizer producer Akron -- one of Apatit's major customers -- would be extremely interested if the government decided to revisit the privatization of Apatit.

If the state really went after Yukos, the company wouldn't stand a chance. Commercial enterprises are no match for the law enforcement army.

When that army seeks not to conquer, but to plunder, however, its soldiers quickly break ranks in search of chickens, butter and eggs. In this situation, even the wise pronouncements of the commander-in-chief about the criminal nature of the case against Yukos are not enough to restore order.

Yulia Latynina is a presenter of "24" on RenTV.