The prejudicial statements of Ministry of the Interior officials violate the presumption of innocence

By judgment of 9 July 2019, the European Court held that Russia has breached the presumption of innocence to the detriment of a Russian business man convicted for fraud because some officials of the Ministry of the interior had issued press releases defining the applicant as a “delinquent” and a “crook” at the early stages of the investigation.

The victim is Alexey Kalinichenko, represented before the Strasbourg Court by Andrea Saccucci, Associate Tenant at Doughty Street Chambers.

The facts date back to 2009-2011, when the investigating authorities of Ekaterinburg triumphantly announced that they had brought to light a pyramid fraud scheme for which Kalinichenko was alleged to be responsible. At that time, Kalinichenko was the financial advisor of a commercial bank (Bank24.Ru), which, in a few years, had achieved extraordinary results in terms of return on investment but had subsequently come at the center of the interests of the local organized crime suffering violent retaliation from the latter.

At the time when the arrest warrant was issued by the Russian authorities, Kalinichenko was resident in Italy, where he had made important investments and developed his family life.

Following the judgment of the Italian Court of Cassation authorizing his extradition to Russia notwithstanding the high risk of serious and politically motivated human rights violations, Kalinichenko took refuge in Morocco and lodged a complaint with the United Nations Committee Against Torture, which in 2010 decided to adopt interim measures requesting the State party to refrain from extraditing the applicant to Russia.

Nevertheless, the Moroccan authorities violated such decision and handed the applicant over to the Russian authorities despite the absence of an extradition agreement by means of a veritable “extraordinary rendition”. A very serious fact on account of which Morocco was condemned by a decision of the UN Committee of 25 November 2011 and for which the Italian authorities share responsibility for having authorized the extradition in violation of the UN Convention against torture at first.

The European Court reiterated that the prejudicial statements made in public by officials of the Ministry of the Interior towards subjects under investigation constitute a violation of the presumption of innocence irrespective of the outcome of the criminal proceedings.

In the case at hand, the Russian business man had eventually been convicted for the offence of aggravated fraud, but the statements defining him as a “delinquent” and a “crook” when the criminal proceedings was still at the stages of investigation were found to be in themselves in violation of the presumption of innocence. Such “opinions” had indeed been expressed without caution or reserve in such a way that the public was led to believe that the applicant was guilty and to compromise the independent assessment of the facts by the competent judges.