Staunton, August 25 – The case of Igor Bitkov and his family, now in prison in Guatemala at the insistence of Russian officials, is a dangerous sign of the times in a double sense. On the one hand, it underlines the contempt Putin’s Moscow has for international law and due process even beyond Russia’s borders.
And on the other, this case reflects the Kremlin’s all-too-good understanding of the nature of the Western media: if there is a continuing flood of stories, no one of them will be covered for very long. Instead, it will soon be forgotten by most and in other cases as well, the Russian government’s criminal role will be forgotten and ignored.
Consequently, for all those who care about human rights and opposing the threat Putin poses to human rights and international law, it is important that these cases not be forgotten but instead revisited often so that no governments will be able to deceive themselves as many of them seem to want to by focusing on only the very latest development.
(For background, see supportthebitkovs.com; “Putin Rebuilding the Iron Curtain in His Typical ‘Hybrid’ Fashion,” July 19, 2015, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/06/putin-rebuilding-iron-curtain-in-his.html; and “Putin Now Seeking to Intimidate Journalists into Not Covering His Opponents,” June 26, 2015, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/06/putin-now-seeking-to-intimidate.html.)
This week, Grigory Pasko, whom the Russian authorities tried to block from covering the story, updates it and makes it even clearer on the basis of an interview with Bitkov himself and with the Russian ambassador in Guatemala that what is being done to Bitkov and his family is the direct result of Russian government actions (echo.msk.ru/blog/bordo07/1609304-echo/).
The Russian journalist had a three-hour conversation with Bitkov in the elite Guatemalan prison where the former Russian businessman is being held on charges having nothing to do with his past problems in Russia where officials seized his company and accused him of corruption and other crimes.
Russian officials very much want to suggest that the Guatemalan charges and the Russian ones are completely separate, Pasko says, but the evidence provided by Bitkov and indirectly confirmed by the Russian ambassador on the scene suggest quite the contrary and that Bitkov and his family would not be behind bars in a foreign jail if it were not for Moscow’s insistence.
After speaking with Bitkov, the Russian journalist met with the Russian ambassador, Nikolay Babich, for 30 minutes. The diplomat insisted that Bitkov had been arrested at the initiative of the Guatemalan authorities, that he had been accused of passport manipulation, and that “this arrest has no relationship to the criminal case opened in Russia” earlier.
Babich said while he was responsible for keeping track of the treatment of Russians held by Guatemala – and there isn’t any other at present – he had not gone to the jail immediately because it was unclear whether Bitkov was a Russian citizen and had not provided him with a new Russian passport either.
Pasko said that as he listened, he reflected on the following facts: Russian officials called the Bitkovs criminals before any trial had taken place, the Russian embassy has not provided any help to these Russian citizens, and Russian banks have sent detective to Guatemala who “certainly have played not the last role in the arrest of the Bitkovs.”
“And so on and so forth.” Whom should people believe? The facts are these, Pasko says. “The Bitkovs have been in jail since January 2015. They haven’t been charged. There hasn’t been a hearing.” Their children face serious problems, but “an investigation isn’t moving forward in Russia.”
“Certain experts,” Paskov continues, “assert that the cause of all this is the old and well-known phenomenon known as ‘credit raiding,’” in which banks drive companies into bankruptcy so that the firms can be seized and then handed over to those with good political connections. That is something Yury Murashko, a former banking executive, has described in his book.
It is bad enough that the Putin regime is using this kind of criminal action within the borders of the Russian Federation; it is worse that it is now extending it beyond those borders by getting some other countries to go along with or even assist in its malfeasance. The Bitkov case is a reminder of just how dangerous that can be if it is allowed to happen without protest.
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