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Crime and No Punishment

Posted by Kris Roman on May 27, 2009

On May 13, Interior Ministry employee Roman Zhirov, driving his powerful SUV, hit and killed a 34-year-old pregnant woman on a Moscow crosswalk. Pregnant woman are not particularly known for sprinting across pedestrian crossways out of nowhere and catching an approaching driver by surprise.

Zhirov pulled into the lane of oncoming traffic to pass a car that had stopped at the crosswalk to let the pregnant woman pass. After Zhirov struck the woman, he raced away, but eyewitnesses wrote down his license plate number. In the West, this would be classified as manslaughter and fleeing the crime scene. In Russia, the investigation was handed over to the same department where Zhirov worked. He was questioned briefly and released.

A scandal erupted 10 days later. The victim’s husband wrote that Zhirov was back at work as if nothing had happened. The scandal spread to the Internet, where a record number of posts finally spilled onto President Dmitry Medvedev’s personal blog. After that, the Interior Ministry reported that Zhirov had been arrested.

But this turned out to be false. Zhirov had not been arrested, but only dismissed for “committing an act bringing dishonor to the police force.”

On Tuesday, the Investigative Committee reported on its web site that it has opened up a criminal case against Zhirov and that he would be called in for questioning “in the near future.” But Zhirov has not been arrested. If Zhirov is the prime — and only — suspect, he should be arrested immediately. What is the Investigative Committee waiting for?

Putin personally set the stage for this double standard of who must answer to the law and who gets away with murder — literally. In May 2005, a car driven by Alexander Ivanov — son of then-Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov — struck and killed 68-year-old Svetlana Beridze, who was also walking along a pedestrian crosswalk. Criminal charges were later brought against Beridze’s son-in-law, while Sergei Ivanov publicly declared that his son had suffered intense moral and physical trauma from the incident. Shortly thereafter, the criminal case against Alexander Ivanov was closed.

Moscow police Major Denis Yevsyukov, who went on a shooting rampage on April 27 that left three people dead and six injured, was just unlucky: He was caught red-handed by a surveillance camera. This was the only reason he was arrested. But nobody was filming Zhirov’s car when it killed the pregnant woman, and today he is free.

Yevsyukov’s patron, former Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin, described Yevsyukov as a “worker with a bright future” and called on people not to exaggerate or become overly dramatic about the shooting incident.

When a law enforcement official commits a crime — ranging from extortion to murder — the unofficial code within the ranks of the police provides for mutual protection, both within the police force and between the police and prosecutors. The crimes are swept under the carpet and rarely prosecuted.

In every civilized country of the world, the authorities protect the law. In Russia, they commit crimes with virtually full immunity.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.


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