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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lawyer Flees Russia Over 'Political' Case

bellona.ruBoris Kuznetsov
Lawyer Boris Kuznetsov has fled the country in the face of possible charges of disclosing state secrets, a case he and his colleagues say may be politically motivated.

Kuznetsov said he left because his arrest would have made it difficult for him to defend his clients properly and that his work defending high-profile clients was behind the charges.

"None of this is happening by accident," Kuznetsov said Friday, speaking by mobile phone from an undisclosed location.

He added that he would continue to coordinate the defense for his current clients by telephone.

Kuznetsov refused to say how and when he left the country, citing concern for the safety of those who had assisted him.

Moscow's Tverskoi District Court ruled Wednesday that Kuznetsov had disclosed state secrets by submitting an appeal to the Constitutional Court over an Federal Security Service wiretap of his client, former Federation Council Senator Levon Chakhmakhchyan. The court ruling came at the request of the City Prosecutor's Office.

City Prosecutor's Office spokeswoman Valentina Titova refused to say Friday whether a criminal case against Kuznetsov had been initiated.

A Moscow City Court spokeswoman, who did not give her name, said such a case "apparently" had yet to be opened.

Colleagues at the firm Kuznetsov heads, Kuznetsov and Partners, said Friday that they had no information about Kuznetsov's whereabouts and had not been able to contact him for several days.

Beside Chakhmakhchyan, who is charged with accepting a $300,000 bribe as part of a sting operation, his clients have included Manana Aslamazian, head of the Educated Media Foundation, and Igor Sutyagin, a scientist sentenced by a jury to 15 years in prison after being convicted of high treason in 2004.

Kuznetsov also has represented the interests of the family of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered in her apartment building in October.

"They want me out of a number of cases, including that representing the interests of Politkovskaya's family," Kuznetsov told Kasparov.ru, the web site of Garry Kasparov, a leader of opposition coalition The Other Russia.

Two high-profile lawyers said Friday that Kuznetsov had acted properly in defending his client.

"A lawyer is obliged to protect his defendants and to file appeals," said Mikhail Barshevsky, the government's representative to the Constitutional Court. "The Tverskoi District Court ruled incorrectly, and this shows that judges simply don't understand the lawyer's function."

Genry Reznik, who has defended numerous high-profile clients against government charges, said he thought Kuznetsov's fears of political prosecution were warranted, but that he could not see what dividends such a prosecution could deliver for the government or security agencies.

"If [Kuznetsov's case] is the result of a desire to make things difficult for the lawyer, then it does not show those in the Federal Security Service who started this in a good light," Reznik said. "This will be a total embarrassment in the eyes of the international community."

An FSB spokesman said Friday that the agency does not comment on "speculation."

Kuznetsov said he would consider seeking political asylum somewhere abroad if there were any threats to his family's safety and that he might seek redress at the European Court of Human Rights if he could not reach some kind of agreement with Russian justice officials, Kasparov.ru reported.

He added that he hoped that the situation could be sorted out without having to resort to either measure.

Kuznetsov's lawyers, Robert Zinovyev and Viktor Parshutkin, now have 10 days to study the Tverskoi District Court ruling and decide whether to appeal it in the Moscow City Court, Kuznetsov said.

If charged and convicted, Kuznetsov could face up to three years in prison.