Law enforcement Moloch. Ivan Golunov could share the fate of thousands of innocent people devoured by the system
A lot was written about the case of Ivan Golunov. Plenty of opinions were expressed. The framed-up criminal proceedings have been terminated. However, two important questions still remain in relation to the shameful tradition of the police to plant prohibited substances – either fulfilling somebody’s orders or to improve the performance statistics.
Fist, how do police officers plant drugs, how are the falsifications performed, and what tricks are used for that?
Second, what is wrong with our law enforcement system? Why is the planting of drugs so widespread that each of us may fall victim to it?
When the police and disbanded Federal Drug Control Service of the Russian Federation (FSKN) started using this dirty trick? Whose inaction or connivance made it possible?
The international reputation of Russia, authority of the national leadership, and fates of thousands of people convicted in the framework of the ‘war on drugs’ waged by the state against its own citizens are at stake.
We decided to discuss the incident involving the journalist of Meduza.io with a former FSKN officer. He agreed to give this interview on condition of anonymity.
— We would like to hear about the tricks used to plant drugs and procedural disguises of such actions. How widespread is this practice?
— I will respond to you in detail. It will be a monologue. Please do not interrupt me with questions.
— First of all, to plant a drug, the policeman needs to get it. There are several ways to do so. The first way is usually associated with synthetics, hard drugs, and exotic plant narcotics, including cocaine or pure psilocybin. An officer may capture a drug addict or drug dealer, seize the stuff, and release that person without filing an official report.
No report, no criminal case, nothing. Of course, no one would complain about that. The policeman may also launch the official procedure, measure off the amount of the drug sufficient to prosecute the offender and appropriate the rest of it. Sometimes, people dependent on an officer give him certain amounts of drugs. Sometimes, operatives find drugs in caches. In fact, the law instigates the detective not to register such a discovery officially – but either pocket it or throw away.
If an officer launches the official procedure, the discovered ‘abandoned’ drug turns into a cold case. The procedure requires to institute a criminal case for drug storage and dealing. This hopeless case would bring plenty of problems to the policeman. Isn’t this senseless? It would be much more logical to enable the police to legitimately destroy discovered drugs if it is impossible to identify their owners. But now they must institute a case, perform a useless investigation, and put the case on hold due to the impossibility to identify suspects.
The second way: such ‘classics’ as marijuana and poppy straw may be obtained not only as described above – but grown by the policeman. This is pretty easy. Seeds, remote woodland, or an abandoned field, or a country lot – and in a couple of months, the harvest is ready. The stuff obtained this way is of poor quality – but sufficient for an expert assessment. It may also be used for the production of derivatives (condensed marijuana milk, acetylated opium, poppy straw extract, etc.). The concentration of substances may be low – but sufficient for another checkmark in the statistics.
The third way: the drug may be produced by the operative or his ‘trusted' drug addict. This way is not really popular nowadays. But a few years ago, many officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) or FSKN had produced desomorphine and meth using medicines available in pharmacies. Currently, these drugs are not accessible without prescriptions and rarely used to frame up criminal cases. But in the past, plenty of addicts were convicted for flasks with ‘stuff' concocted by operatives.
Narcotic medicines produced on medicinal plants are extremely rarely involved in the illegal turnover – normally, they are handled by doctors. Sometimes, respective documents are forged and medical drugs illegally obtained – but again, very rarely. Now we are going on to the next point – planting tricks.
— In detail, please.
— There are several different tricks. The most popular one is to plant from a sleeve or palm. This is how drugs are put during a personal search to a pocket, bag, backpack, or hood. This trick requires certain manual dexterity because sometimes searches are carried out in the presence of bystanders – for instance, on the street, in a mall, or park. If somebody sees the clumsy work of a rogue cop, a scandal is quite possible. As I said, this trick is pretty complicated. 8–10 years ago, there were plenty of such ‘prestidigitators’ in the police and drug police. There are very few of them now – and these people work mostly against thieves-in-law and other prominent figures. It is unlikely for an ordinary person or journalist to encounter such a professional. Young officers are unwilling to learn this skill – they prefer the ‘quick way’.
— What ‘quick way’?
— A direct way based on the force and difference in tactile stimuli. It works as follows: two operatives run into a person walking down the street, hook his arms through, and hit in the chest or legs. Sometimes, they ‘drop' the victim on the ground. The person is shocked by the physical impact and feels nothing else – at that moment, they plant the sachet to his pocket or bag. This goes unnoticed when the person is hit or thrown to the ground. The victim is focused on its sensations – pain and fear – and does not feel somebody's hand in its pocket or purse. 10–40 minutes later, the personal search of the handcuffed person beings. He is asked whether he has anything prohibited and responds: "No". And they pull the drug out of his clothes... Similarly with the first way, this one is 100% effective if the search witnesses are real bystanders summoned from the street. They will sincerely confirm that you were offered to surrender the drug voluntarily – but refused claiming that you don't have anything. "Policeman N pulled a sachet out of his pocket and asked what was it. The detained person was unable to explain this." This a ‘ticket' to conviction. You cannot prove anything if they seize the clothes and pour some drug on the pockets to find drug traces on the underwear. You may only admit the guilt and hope for mitigation of the sentence.
— So, it is pretty easy to convict an innocent person? But what about the absence of the drug under the suspect's nails and in hand wipes, absence of fingertips on the sachet with the drug, etc.? Can this prove the innocence if the suspect insists on it?
— No, it cannot. And this is absolutely reasonable. In many real arrests of real drug dealers supported by video records showing the sales and packing of the drugs and other evidential base, neither fingertips and DNA traces can be found on the sachets nor drug traces on the suspect's clothes and hands. Drug dealers are not stupid; they take precautions. They may pack the drug wearing gloves, put it into several sachets, etc. In addition, such evidence can be easily manufactured. Operatives may seize your shoes ‘for examination' and rub those inside with the ‘seized' drug. Or they may take a sample of your DNA from your gum with a swab bud – allegedly, for DNA mapping. And then they rub the sachet and this bud together – of course, without sending your DNA sample anywhere. This also applies to the epidermis, etc.
— It is not a problem to falsify hand wipes. They may offer the detained person a biscuit – and pour drug inside the package. Just a little bit. 95% of the people would accept the biscuit – especially if it is offered by a ‘good cop' who says that a mistake was possible and you may be released soon, just have a biscuit in the meantime... So, you eat it – and microparticles of the powder stick to your hands. Thirty minutes later, they take hand wipes and nail samples – and the result is positive.
— In other words, everything can be falsified, right? But the hand wipes of Ivan Golunov were clean. Why hadn’t they manufactured the evidence? And what about the drugs found in his apartment? The drug laboratory was a fake – but how could the drugs be delivered into his residence?
— You must have some brains to swindle perfectly. Smart officers started resigning from the MIA en masse during the rule of Nurgaliev. Now, under the rule of Kolokoltsev, they are on the verge of extinction. He is a weak and dependent minister – a functionary, not a detective. I think they could simply put the ‘stuff' to Ivan's backpack – and take it out after entering the apartment. No fantasy at all. And, in fact, this is for the better... Overall, there are three ways to smuggle drugs into the residence of an innocent person.
The first way is to infiltrate an agent. Make him accepted in this home. Provide him with drugs and give an assignment. The agent will plant the drug and even hide it in some safe nook. Then police operatives find the drug during a search. If they are really smart, they will find only a portion of it initially and locate the rest in the course of a repeated search. It is better to retain random search witnesses in such situations – they will say what they had seen. However, pretty often, the witnesses are not random people and, therefore, constitute a ‘weak link’ in the chain.
— The second way is the nastiest one and virtually unprovable. The point is that the police has operational search bureaus (in the past – operational search departments) and bureaus of special technical measures (in the past – departments of special technical measures). The FSKN had its own analogues.
The personnel of these subdivisions are undercover agents. Officially, they don’t serve in the MIA. Their residences are classified. They include specialists able to pick any lock. Official ‘burglars’. They receive training and licenses. The worst thing that they work undercover – even the police internal security cannot investigate them. Such subdivisions have their own security services. Nobody knows what is going on there. Normally, they are directly subordinate to heads of regional MIA administrations. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, they are subordinate to heads of the city MIA administrations. These guys may enter any apartment with regular locks if they have an order (or a verbal instruction) and do whatever they want there. For instance, install a hidden camera or bring a disassembled machine gun and hide it to make sure that the owners don’t find it immediately. And then, a search is conducted – and drugs, weapons, poisons, etc. are found in your apartment. And the third way, as said above, is to plant the substance during the search. With regards to Golunov, I am inclined to believe in this version (by the way, after his release, the journalist suggested the same in the interview to Ksenia Sobchak).
— How often are undercover agents used for such purposes?
— Very rarely. But still. Various media report that big money was involved in the case of the Meduza.io journalist. If that is the truth, undercover agents could be engaged. In theory. Not necessarily current agents – maybe retired ones. There are ‘civilian’ locksmiths as well. Finally, there are criminals skilled in lock picking.
— What would you suggest to lawyers representing illegally detained persons? What should they pay attention to?
— First of all, create a public stir, address the media, request details about the operatives and witnesses. Search witnesses in such framed-up cases are often affiliated with the police officers. Accordingly, they could call each other prior to the incident. It is necessary to check whether the witnesses are police informants. Because they may be accomplices in the crime, the Federal Law On Operational–Search Activities permits to conduct probes against them. But this has to be done only by the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation. The MIA Main Directorate for Internal Security would either cover-up the corrupt policemen as per order of the minister or won’t find anything because of the lack of professionalism. The best way is to find the most cowardly falsifier and reclassify him into a witness in exchange for full confession. If he turns in the entire scheme, let him go. Too bad, unlike the USA, we don't provide complete immunity in exchange for collaboration with the investigation. This is a great tool. But, of course, unsubstantiated accusations are not sufficient – facts are required. In addition, it is necessary to check their contacts on WhatsApp, Viber, etc. The FSB may obtain info on communications through these messengers. Especially WhatsApp. Telegram cannot be checked retroactively – but it is possible to compare the timing of Internet sessions. This is indirect evidence, but still. However, a defense attorney may not perform such inquests. So, frame-ups will continue.
— How can you qualify the actions of the policemen? Are they drug dealers, too?
— No. If it was a real frame-up and forgery, then the cops can be charged under parts 3 and 4 of Article 303 (falsification of evidence) and part 2 of Article 228 (illegal acquisition, storage, transportation, making or processing of narcotic drugs) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. But not drug dealing. The purpose of the dealing must be further distribution – not withdrawal from the turnover. Even the review of legal practices of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation in relation to drug-related crimes approved by the Presidium of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation on June 27, 2012 states that “the simple handover of a narcotic drug to another person does not allow to interpret the actions of the guilty party as drug dealing. According to the law, drug dealing includes any handover of narcotic drugs to another person who does not own those. But it is necessary to establish that the intention of the guilty party was to distribute the narcotic substances”. Therefore, there is no need to charge them with drug dealing. The above Articles of the Criminal Code are more than enough for them. In addition, the Ruling of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation № 408-O of April 20, 2014 states that a person may be prosecuted under Article 228.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (illegal making, sale or dispatch of narcotic drugs) only subject to the intention to deal drugs.
— What about Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (exceeding official powers)? Is it applicable here?
— The law is either obeyed or not. Article 17 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (cumulative punishment) stipulates that “if a crime is covered both generally and specifically, then the cumulation of both crimes shall not be imposed and criminal liability shall arise according to the special elements”. Article 303 covers this crime specifically. Article 286 is general in relation to Article 303. The policemen could not commit this offense if they hadn’t respective official powers. Therefore, storage of drugs is in question, too – if we comply with the Criminal Code. If we act by the rules of the underworld, we may charge them with rape as well. Finally, the journalist was beaten; physical force and handcuffs were used. If the illegitimacy of the operatives’ actions is confirmed, then the use of force was knowingly illegal – this falls under part 3 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. So, we have a complete set of crimes here.
Analyzing the interview with the retired officer, it is possible to conclude that the lawlessness and lack of rights do really exist in the society. Another reason behind the incident with Ivan Golunov is ineffective work of the prosecution – who had supported the investigation and insisted on his detention. The procuratorial supervision is a formality, while courts became bodies legalizing and covering up all mistakes of law enforcement structures. The majority of the judges are elements of the system; they have forgotten their primary function.
Only the large-scale public stir saved Ivan Golunov from sharing the fate of thousands of innocent people devoured by the system. The rogue cops were fully aware that the court and Prosecutor’s Office won’t expose the frame-up. The current state of Russian Themis is pretty sad.
Of course, some judges are principled, uncompromising, and conscientious. But they are a ‘vanishing species'. After numerous reforms of the Criminal–Procedural Code of the Russian Federation, only courts of the first and second instances examine cases substantively – i.e. based on facts and evidence. After that, Russian citizens have no possibility to appeal an unjust sentence and defend themselves. Cassational instances examine only procedural violations – so, if the formalities had been complied with and the sentence seems legitimate, the innocent person would remain behind bars.
The failed ‘Golunov case’ is just a single episode illustrating the work of the Russian law enforcement Moloch destroying lives of thousands of people who may be innocent – but had got into wrong place and at wrong time – and are now deprived of justice.
The shocking defects of the state system described above made it possible to frame-up and detain our colleague. They also made possible the sluggish and deceitful reaction of the MIA representatives – who had tried for several days to convince the community that everything was fine and legitimate.
This is not even about the publication of fake pictures showing the drug laboratory and allegedly taken in the journalist's apartment – that turned out to be a cynical lie. The world realized that the Russian police would stop at nothing pursuing its selfish corporate interests and being 100% confident of its impunity.
Presumably, it concerns the US response to Ukraine’s help in the investigation against Joseph Biden, Trump’s main rival in the 2020 presidential election, who allegedly was in collusion with Kiev during the previous campaign.