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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Limonov Declares Victory Over FSB

Itar-TassLimonov, left, and Aksyonov listening to the verdict Tuesday from the defendant's cage in the Saratov court. Belyak, sitting at the table, is looking toward Cherepkov.
SARATOV, Central Russia -- A Saratov court cleared writer and National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov of all terrorism charges Tuesday, sentencing him instead to four years in prison for ordering the purchase of six Kalashnikov assault rifles.

In a sharp rebuke to prosecutors and FSB investigators, Judge Alexander Matrosov demanded that the Federal Security Service and the Prosecutor General's Office discipline them for putting forward a weak case filled with inconsistencies and fabrications.

Limonov, 60, declared the verdict a victory over the FSB for the Russian people. "I have never seen such a precedent," he said, standing in the steel defendant's cage in the courtroom.

"After this trial, the FSB won't be able to repeat anything like this with other people. ... I believe that all Russian citizens have won a victory in this court today."

Prosecutors said they were considering whether to appeal.

The court found Limonov guilty of illegally acquiring weapons and leading an organized crime group. He was arrested on April 7, 2001, and the 13 months he has spend in pretrial detention will be shaved off his sentence. He can file for parole in 19 months.

Also Tuesday, the Saratov regional court sentenced Sergei Aksyonov, the 32-year-old editor of the National Bolshevik Party's Limonka newspaper, to three years and six months in prison on charges of illegally acquiring weapons and being a member of an organized crime group.

Party members Dmitry Karyagin and Vladimir Pentelyuk, both 26, were sentenced to 30 months each for arms possession. They were caught red-handed after buying four rifles in Saratov in March 2001. Party member Oleg Laletin, 31, got 27 months for buying two more rifles in Saratov in March 2001, while member Nina Silina, 26, was found guilty of delivering money from Aksyonov to Karyagin to buy the weapons. She got 28 months.

Journalists and party members -- mostly young people in black clothes and heavy boots -- packed the courtroom. Also in attendance were two State Duma deputies, outspoken Communist Vasily Shandybin and former Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov. A dozen court guards were reinforced with a dozen OMON officers armed with batons and a black Rottweiler.

The 194-page verdict took five hours to read. Limonov and Aksyonov, who appeared downcast when the hearing started, began to relax and smile as Matrosov droned on, announcing the dismissal of charges that they had plotted to overthrow the government, created illegal armed formations and planned terrorist acts.

The court found that Karyagin and Laletin met with Limonov in his Moscow apartment in February 2001 and he ordered them to buy weapons. The apartment had been bugged by the FSB a month earlier with the Moscow City Court's approval.

Aksyonov coordinated the details of the purchases and provided the money, Matrosov said. Limonov and Aksyonov denied this, but the judge said the evidence showed otherwise.

The five male defendants, who all wore black, listened to the verdict from the defendant's cage. Silina, a small woman with a boyish haircut, stood outside the cage under the close eye of a female police officer.

During his months in custody, Limonov has traded his trademark crewcut for a gray ponytail and imperial beard. In a short break before the sentence was read, he leaned against the cage and twirled his thin moustache with a pleased expression on his face.

He had reason to be pleased. State prosecutor Sergei Verbin earlier had demanded that he be given a 14-year sentence, most of which stemmed from the terrorism charge. Verbin had asked for 12 years for Aksyonov.

Limonov and Aksyonov were accused of masterminding a plan to carry out an armed invasion of northern Kazakhstan, which is populated mostly by ethnic Russians. The plan was described in several articles in Limonka and newsletters circulated among party members in 1999 and 2000. Limonov and Aksyonov denied drafting the plan and testified in court that they had never called for the violent overthrow of the government.

The court said investigators failed to prove Limonov and Aksyonov had put together the plan and their witnesses could not confirm that the two men had publicly called for the overthrow of the government. Investigators offered the court audiotapes secretly recorded in Limonov's Moscow apartment in early 2001 in which he discussed an invasion of Kazakhstan with party members. The court called the conversations "common theoretical talks."

Only one witness, party member Artyom Akopyan, testified about alleged terrorist acts, saying Limonov ordered him to look for places to set up guerrilla bases along the Altai region's border with Kazakhstan. Limonov denied this, and none of the witnesses who testified in court could confirm the order, the judge said.

Akopyan was among the party members arrested with Limonov on an Altai farm in April 2001. He later was released by the FSB, and criminal charges against him were dropped.

Judge Matrosov said that the National Bolshevik Party's acquisition of guns did not necessarily mean it was planning terrorist acts or building illegal armed formations, as investigators had insisted. He rejected a request by prosecutors to give suspended sentences to Karyagin and Laletin, saying they needed to be punished for acquiring weapons. Limonov's lawyer said earlier that the two men were cooperating with investigators.

Matrosov said he decided to hand out relatively light sentences because the defendants had been so closely monitored by the FSB that they had never really posed a threat to anyone.

After he finished reading the verdict, Matrosov lashed out at the prosecutors and investigators for their handling of the case. He said court papers filed by investigators to prove their case against Limonov had contained a lot of information unrelated to the case and some of it had been grossly manipulated to make matters look worse than they actually were. "The 12 investigators did not do a good job despite the lengthy investigation," he said.

Matrosov said he would ask FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev and Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov to investigate those who had put together the case and report to the Saratov court what disciplinary actions had been taken against them.

Prosecutor Verbin said the evidence presented in court had been sketchy because the party's plan was uncovered at an early stage.

Limonov's lawyer, Sergei Belyak, said he was satisfied with the verdict.

"There weren't any political charges left in it, and my client has been held for two years for political reasons. Arms trade is a banal crime in Russia that is usually decided in lower courts in about a month," he said. "In Limonov's case, the guns purchase was just a pretext by the FSB to frame him and punish him for his views."

Limonov has written numerous books and articles critical of the government, and his party has gained notoriety for holding violent demonstrations in other former Soviet republics, ostensibly to defend the rights of ethnic Russians living there.