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Poland Faces Torture Claims in Court, Putin Sacks Chechnya’s Chief Investigator

Plus, the secrets of Russia’s ‘dead road’ are brought to light, and Berlusconi reportedly plans to resurrect his career in Eastern Europe.

by Ky Krauthamer, Barbara Frye, and Ioana Caloianu 4 December 2013

1. Former Romanian officials jailed for commercial espionage


The Romanian Supreme Court sentenced two former cabinet ministers to prison 3 December in the culmination of a long investigation into suspicious privatization deals.


Codrut SeresCodrut Seres
Former Economy Minister Codrut Seres will serve six years for commercial espionage and treason, and former Communications Minister Zsolt Nagy five years for being part of a criminal group, the Associated Press reports.


The court said the officials were involved in obtaining secret commercial documents related to privatizations in the mid-2000s, including that of the Petrom energy company and the state telecommunications monopoly, Romtelecom, according to AP.


Two other defendants received sentences of 9½ and 10 years. The sentences can be appealed.


The trial of Seres and Nagy, along with several others, began in 2009, two years after prosecutors began probing the sell-offs of the state companies, reports. Seres resigned from the government in 2006 when media leaked conversations he had with a Bulgarian consultant suspected of involvement in the deals, and Nagy was suspended from office in 2007, according to Romania-Insider.


Seres and Nagy are the most prominent former officials to be sentenced for corruption in Romania since the 2012 conviction of former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase.


2. Poland accused of complicity in torture at secret CIA prison


Two men being held at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay prison are suing the Polish government for allowing them to be tortured at a secret CIA prison.


The case is the first time such allegations have been aired in open court, the BBC reports.


Lawyers representing Saudi Arabian Abd Al Rahim Hussayn Muhammad Al Nashiri and Zayn Al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, a Palestinian born in Saudi Arabia and also known as Abu Zubaydah, told the European Court of Human Rights that their clients were tortured during interrogations in 2002 and 2003 at a secret prison in Stare Kiejkuty, northern Poland.


The United States suspects Zubaydah of assisting associates of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, including some who were involved in the 9/11 terror attacks, according to the BBC. Nashiri is suspected of planning the attack on the U.S. warship Cole in 2000 that killed 17 sailors.


Both men say they were subjected to waterboarding and mock executions during interrogations in Poland. Due to security restrictions imposed by the United States, the trial evidence came from publicly available sources, according to the BBC.


Nashiri’s lawyer told the Guardian Polish officials “filed false flight plans and assisted in the cover-up of CIA operations" at the secret prison.


An internal Polish investigation into the two men’s claims reportedly came to a halt earlier this year.


In December 2012, the European court ruled that Macedonia violated the rights of a man it handed over to U.S. authorities as a suspected terrorist in 2003.


3. Putin sacks Chechnya’s chief investigator


Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov appears to support the Kremlin’s sacking of the republic’s top investigator, according to The Moscow Times.


On 2 December President Vladimir Putin’s office announced the dismissal of Sergei Bobrov, regional head of the Investigative Committee, only seven months after his appointment.


Ramzan KadyrovRamzan Kadyrov
“The Kremlin thoroughly examines these questions before taking such decisions [as the dismissal of Bobrov],” Kadyrov wrote on his Instagram page. The fact that Bobrov’s appointment had another 18 months to run shows the Kremlin did not take the step lightly, he added.


According to Kommersant, unofficial sources said Bobrov submitted his resignation for family reasons, but the true reason may have been his inability to work with Chechen security forces and officials.


“[T]he Chechen Interior Ministry has a track record of successfully thwarting Investigative Committee initiatives,” Radio Free Europe writes.


In one instance, Bobrov’s predecessor, Viktor Ledenev, wrote to Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov in 2010 to ask for more cooperation from Alkhanov’s subordinates, RFE writes. Human rights activists cited Ledenev’s grievances in a letter to then-President Dmitri Medvedev pointing out what they called “the grossest and most blatant” rights violations by Chechen security forces.


Kadyrov’s Instagram comment also referred to “lots of rumors in the press” about Bobrov, adding, "I am not keen to remind you about those rumors or to comment on them."


4. Virtual exhibition explores notorious Gulag railway


Historians of the Soviet Gulag have long known of the “Dead Road,” a railway ordered built by Josef Stalin.


“When construction was halted after Stalin's death in 1953, nearly 700 kilometers [435 miles] of a railroad to nowhere had been built at a cost of billions of rubles and thousands of lives,” Radio Free Europe writes.

“The camps used to build the railway were simply abandoned and many of them have remained untouched in Russia's polar taiga region ever since.”


This doghouse was one of 10 such structures the Czech expedition found at the Barabanicha camp. A food bowl lies in the entrance. Photo:


The railway was to run between the towns of Salekhard and Igarka in far northern Siberia. After three visits to the remote area to document the railway, abandoned camps, and hundreds of artifacts still lying as their owners abandoned them more than 50 years ago, a group of Czech enthusiasts has just launched a virtual tour of this little-known part of the Gulag, Radio Prague reports. So far the site offers photos of one camp, Barabanicha, with its administrative buildings, barracks, guard towers, and a rust-covered locomotive, one of five the expedition found.


The expedition used topographic maps as well as satellite imagery available on search engines such as Bing and Google, photographer Pavel Blazek told Radio Prague. To reach one of the abandoned camps, the team had to walk 30 kilometers through the trackless taiga, Blazek said.


“So we got to this camp after two and a half days walking and we find out that it burned down just three weeks before us.” founder Stepan Cernousek said the group was cooperating with the Czech Republic’s Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes on a wider project to track the approximately 30,000 Czechoslovaks who passed through the Gulag penal system.


5. Coming soon: Bunga bunga in Budapest?


Lawmakers in Italy kicked former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi out of parliament last week, but might voters in Bulgaria or Hungary look more kindly on him?


Rumors are being dissected in Italian, and now Bulgarian and Hungarian, media that Berlusconi is looking eastward for a place to run for the European Parliament. A conviction for tax fraud got him expelled from parliament in his home country, but he still faces various legal proceedings and could be looking for a way to secure parliamentary immunity elsewhere, according to reports.


Although it gives little credence to the idea, the website notes the friendly relations between Hungary’s prime minister and Berlusconi. “His good friend Viktor Orban … might delight in tweaking the European left’s nose by sending Silvio to Strasbourg,” it writes.


Meanwhile, cites various other media saying that Berlusconi is apparently on good terms with Bulgaria’s former prime minister, Boyko Borisov, although, as Borisov and his party are now out of power, it’s not clear how much use that would be to Berlusconi.


The former Italian prime minister and still powerful media mogul may not seem an ideal candidate for new political office, considering his prior convictions for having sex with an underage prostitute, abuse of power, and leaking a police wiretap to damage a political rival. He also faces trial for bribery and persistent rumors he paid off young women guests at his famous “bunga bunga” parties to testify in his favor.


Speaking of raunchy parties and friendly relations with current or former government leaders, we might suggest Berlusconi consider the Czech Republic as a place to land. We know that former Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek spent time hanging around Berlusconi’s swimming pool, having been photographed there in 2009, “naked and in a state of sexual arousal,” as the Guardian put it at the time. 


In any event, the rumors will likely come to naught, according to an Italian senator and party colleague of Berlusconi’s. Robert Formigoni said on Italian radio he wouldn’t rule out such a move but he said Berlusconi has “made it clear he wants to stay in Italy, and possibly suffer the pains in Italy,” according to Corriere della Serra.

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant.
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