2 August 2018. Fourth day of hearing the “Trade union case” in Belarus
An employee of the Department of Financial Investigations (DFI) is threatened by REP union?
Gennady Fedynich and Ihar Komlik, chairman and chief accountant of the Radio and Electronics Industry Workers’ Union (REP), an affiliate of the IndustriALL Global Union, are accused of large-scale tax evasion. They may face up to three to seven years’ imprisonment. The investigation started in 2017 lasted ten months, and at least 800 REP members were interrogated by the Investigative Committee of Belarus. According to reports, union members were mostly questioned about trade union activities, rather than about the union’s financial matters.
The case against the union leaders is a clear retaliation against the union’s active engagement on issues affecting workers, like a tax for unemployed.
IndustriALL publishes regular updates about the court hearing.
On 2 August, prosecutors presented key testimonies via skype by Sergey V. Dmitriev, an employee of DFI, a division of the State Control Committee, known as the KGK. He had led the search of REP Union’s central office with 20 special service agents on 2 August 2017.
Judge Marina Fyodorova denied the demand by Gennady Fedynich, to interrogate Dmitriev in person, which is why he testified to the court via Skype. It is not clear why this witness is provided with extra security measures, as if there is a threat.
Dmitriev claimed that in 2011, Fedynich and Komlik opened an account at the SEB Bank in Lithuania, where they received 140,000 euros and US$17,000. According to Dmitriev, the money was withdrawn and handed to Fedynich and Komlik by different people. The DFI employee claims that the money was imported for trade union activities, but were instead used for personal purposes.
Dmitriev has counted that in 2011-2017, Fedynich crossed the Belarusian border more than 160 times.
The case files contain a copy of the excerpt from the bank, but Dmitriev was not able to say whose bank details were on it, or how it was obtained.
All information was found during searches and the correspondence was taken from an email account, Dmitriev said. The information about the email account was obtained as a result of intelligent operations, and some of the letters were extracted from the computer of Igor Komlik, who supposedly used this email account. However, the case files clearly state that the access point for incoming and outgoing mail of this account were not found. The investigators also failed to discover the owner of the email account.
“Doubts about reliability of evidence arose constantly”
Mikhail Pastukhov, the former Judge of the Constitutional Court of Belarus, says that:
“Doubts about reliability arose constantly. The situation with the email that had been allegedly partially used by Igor Komlik looks very contradictory and confusing.”
“There questions about reliability and admissibility of evidence remain. Not all the questions were answered: the DFI employee hid behind secrecy. As to the admissibility of evidence, the DFI employee had no legal grounds not to appear in court as a witness. Evidently, there were no threats, he could calmly appear in court and be questioned, same as other witnesses.”
“We are ready to go through a lie detector (polygraph). Together with Dmitriev.”
Gennady Fedynich is indignant at the remote questioning of the DFI employee:
“What threat there can be to the DFI employee from the trade union REP? The Investigating Committee has put you on the list of witnesses; it doesn’t matter whether you are a machinist or engaged in intelligence operations – the law does not allow you not to come to court. Unless, of course, there is a threat to the health or life of you or your family members. Perhaps, the DFI employee didn’t want to go to court because he confused his testimonies; for example, he said that Komlik used the mail account they found; but the materials of the criminal case state absolutely different. He is sure that my mother-in-law’s dacha belongs to Fedynich; he, allegedly, was there and saw it…”
“Dmitriev brought forward doubts about witnesses’ refusing from their initial testimonies, and suggested that they pass a lie detector test. Ok, then let’s go through it together, why didn’t you come to court? I asked Dmitriev a simple question: what is the correct name of our trade union? Unfortunately, he couldn’t answer.”
Observers: talks about weather and visit to a dentist – can they be an evidence?
Nazar Djanaliev, a member of the Central Committee of the Mining and Metallurgical Trade Union of the Kyrgyz Republic, who was present at the court as an observer from the IndustriALL Global Union, believes that the defendants are under pressure:
“The main witness refused to show in person; he preferred to use technical means; he found it difficult to answer questions and referred to the secrecy of investigation; he failed to answer specific questions during the court session. We believe that the case has been fabricated; and there is direct pressure on the defendants. We also believe that the aim of this criminal prosecution is to put the union on its knees and to blacken its leaders,” Nazar Djanaliev stressed.
01 August 2018. Third day of the court hearing of the “Trade union case”.
Strange witnesses and wiretapping
On 1 August, the prosecution summoned some more witnesses, and also interrogated Gennady Fedynich’s 83-year-old mother-in-law, Yanina Borisevich.
After the death of her husband, Yanina Borisevich sold their house in the Uzda district, and in 1993 she was granted a plot of land in the village of Sukhodoly in the Dzerzhinsk District. Since 1996, she has been constructing a dacha (holiday home) there, which is still unfinished. In September 2017, in connection with the criminal “trade union case”, investigators seized the land owned by Yanina Borisevich.
“I have no idea about the work of my son-in-law; I know him only as the husband of my eldest daughter. He has not given me any money, including for the construction of my dacha,” she said.
The following two witnesses attended by accident. Seven years ago, the REP Trade Union helped the builder Yuri Sekerin to obtain a salary unpaid by his employer. He has once visited Yanina Borisevich’s dacha and gave some construction advice.
A witness called Dmitry seemed to have no involvement in the “trade union case”. He was listed in Gennady’s phone as “Dima-banya”, and Gennady Fedynich had once gone with him to a sauna (banya in Russian).
On what grounds and for what purpose did the prosecution summon these witnesses?
Gennady Fedynich says on the random witnesses:
“Today’s session is like an absurd play. There were Yuri Sekerin and Dima, whose surname I don’t remember. We helped Yuri Sekerin and colleagues to get their wages. There are many Yuri’s in my phone book; he was mentioned there as ‘Yuri-builder’. I presume that when investigators found this entry their logic was simple: ‘Yuri-builder’ means that he was building something. Sherlock Holmes should learn from these investigators. Yuri was summoned to the court as a witness, but he has no idea about the case. I really invited him to the dacha, when the team of builders began heat-insulating the house (I’m not a builder) – just for consulting, so that they don’t deceive me. And he came once, gave some instructions and never came again.”
“The case with Dima is more serious, because I once went to a sauna with him, and I listed him as ‘Dima-banya’. But the investigators, as it’s clear, decided that Dima was also building a sauna for me. Dima came to the court, saying that he had no idea about the case. ‘Who is Borisevich?’ – ‘How do I know?’ (Borisevich is my mother-in-law). ‘Do you know Sukhodoly? (where the dacha is located, – note of the Editor)’ – ‘Which Sukhodoly? I don’t understand what you’re talking about at all.’ Guys, look what you’re doing. The people were summoned (they have to come to court),” the leader of the union REP has no words to explain the actions of the investigators and the state prosecution.”
The trade union leader explained why his mother-in-law was on the list of prosecution witnesses:
“Investigators concluded that the dacha was being built by the money of the project, allegedly supervised by Fedynich. The dacha has been under construction since 1996, all the neighbours know about it, and it is still under construction. She was summoned to the Investigating Committee and gave her explanations; the tax inspectorate checked her expenses and incomes for ten years and found no violations.”
IndustriALL Global Union oversees the “trade union case”
IndustriALL Global Union is sending its representatives to every session on the “trade union case”. On 30-31 July, Valery Matov, member of the IndustriALL’s Executive Committee attended two seesions of the trial, on 1-2 August, Nazar Djanaliev, member of the Central Committee of the Mining and Metallurgical Trade Union of the Kyrgyz Republic, an affiliate of IndustriALL, is attending the trial.
Nazar Djanaliev comments, “Today, we participated in the court session. There was a prejudiced attitude on the part of the prosecution and the presiding judge. I did not like the fact that the prosecution was very disrespectful towards an elderly woman (the mother-in-law of Gennady Fedynich, – note of the Editor). They almost had to call an ambulance to her. This outraged all those present in the courtroom,” Mr Djanaliev has emphasized. “We think that the trial will end in favour of our colleagues, whom we will support in every way from abroad.”
31 July 2018. Second day of the court hearing of the “Trade union case”.
Earlier testimonies are given under pressure
The “Trade union case continued on 31 July at the Sovietsky district court of Minsk, where seven witnesses were questioned. All referred to the psychological pressure during investigation and demanded that their earlier testimonies were not considered. During the hearing they testified in favour of the defendants, Gennady Fedynich and Igor Komlik.
This trial coincided with Gennady Fedynitch’s 61st birthday, who was congratulated by the court attendees.
As the first witness of the day, Alla Fedynich, Gennady Fedynitch’s wife, was summoned. She took advantage of her constitutional right and refused to testify against herself and her family members.
“I’m proud of my husband,” she said to the court, triggering a storm of applause among the audience.
Another witness, Nikolai Gerasimenko, who worked in the trade union REP from 2012 to 2016 as a press-secretary addressed the judge and state:
“I wrote an official rejection of my testimony given at the Investigating Committee, because during the interrogation there I was provided with only one document, where I was indicated as a suspect; it just shocked me. During the interrogation, they threatened me, telling that the convoy was nearby, and that I would go to prison. For me it was like an axe over my head. Questions were asked in an ultimatum like form, to which only yes or no could be answered,” Nikolai Gerasimenko emphasizes.
Galina Smirnova, head of the REP city organization in Bobruisk, said in her statement:
“I was interrogated as if I was a member of an organized criminal group. There was an impression that for them the trade union REP and an organized criminal group are the same.”
Commenting on the outcomes of the second day of the trial Gennady Fedynich said:
“Almost all of the witnesses say that during the interrogations in the Department of Financial Investigations they were under a lot of pressure; and naturally, all the papers signed by them went to the Investigative Committee. It’s obvious that people are not aware of their rights – indeed, they are not summoned for interrogation every day? Of course, they made a lot of mistakes, but most importantly, today people told the truth, and this needs be recorded in protocols. If these people were summoned for interrogation now, perhaps, they would behave differently; but then, the data was squeezed out of them as needed by the Department of Financial Investigations and the Investigating Committee.”
He added that, despite a colossal pressure during this period – in the course of the investigation, and now, during the trial – the union continues working and fulfilling its main mission – helping people to defend their labour rights.
On behalf of IndustriALL two observers were present at the first two days of hearing in Minsk: Valery Matov, Chairman of the Trade Union of Atomic Energy and Industry Workers of Ukraine “Atomprofspilka” and also a member of the IndustriALL’s Executive Committee, and his colleague Lesya Semenyaka, international officer of Atomprofspilka.
Aiming to discredit the union
Valery Matov noted:
“In my understanding, the authorities seek for a reason to strengthen the punishment and set an example. I think the accused will be given a choice; according to which article their ‘crime’ should be sentenced. The goal is to force the defendants to agree to a compromise solution, but given the atmosphere around the trial I don’t think that will happen.
“We saw numerous witnesses rejecting testimonies given during previous interrogations. This scenario of the authorities is failing; in addition, it should be supported by the accusations of non-payed taxes. The aim is to completely discredit and liquidate the trade union.
Lesya Semenyaka supports his views:
“The criminal case is based on events of 2011-2012. However, at the trial, witnesses were questioned about a different period. Practically all of them rejected their earlier testimonies, an indication that they had been given under pressure. Today, it is obvious that the trade union has authority; its activities are aimed at protecting people’s rights; and its members are supporting these activities, while the trial is aimed at somehow punishing the union REP and restricting its activities. This goal is so obvious.”
There must be an acquittal
Oleg Volchek, head of the Human Rights Centre (HRC) “Legal Aid to Population” (registered in Ukraine), believes that the “trade union case” must end with an acquittal:
“Investigators have no evidence; it looks like we are listening to a lecture on the everyday activities of the union REP. I haven’t heard of any facts confirming that the union REP had moved money, or took part in unregistered projects, everything is unjustified and superficial. And most importantly, as I am convinced, all the confessions were forced ones, made under pressure with elements of torture. By torture, I mean not providing breaks during interrogation, failure to clarify the rights to a witness or a suspect, and abuse of power … I conclude, that in any case there must be an acquittal.”
30 July 2018. First day of the court hearing of the “Trade union case”.
Today the hearing started of the case of Gennady Fedynich and Ihar Komlik, chairman and chief accountant of the Radio and Electronics Industry Workers’ Union (REP), an affiliate of the IndustriALL Global Union, dubbed for its political background the “Trade union case”. Fedynich is also a substitute member of the executive committee of IndustriALL.
The trade union leaders are accused of large-scale tax evasion. They may face up to three to seven years’ imprisonment. The investigation lasted ten months, and at least 800 REP members were interrogated by the Investigative Committee of Belarus. According to reports, union members were mostly questioned about trade union activities, rather than about the union’s financial matters.
The case against the union leaders is a clear retaliation against the union’s active engagement on issues affecting workers, like a tax for unemployed. The protests forced the president of Belarus to abolish the decree.
About one hundred people came to support the trade union leaders, including trade unionists, journalists, ambassadors, as well as representatives of the IndustriALL Global Union.
Valery Matov, chairman of the “Atomprofspilka” Trade Union of Atomic Energy and Industry Workers of Ukraine and a member of the Executive Committee of IndustriALL Global Union,
“IndustriALL’s Executive Committee has decided that such a procedure should be under the close supervision of our representatives. A criminal case is an extraordinary event. The issue was repeatedly discussed at the sittings of the Executive Committee. I would call it a forgery, because such trials – the pressure on trade unions – exist in different countries; there are plenty of examples. This trial, more precisely the circus performance that we see today, is a test case.”
“One thing is clear: there is a re-qualification, an obvious overlapping of one event over the other; they try to put pressure on witnesses in order to get the scenario they want. It’s difficult for me to judge all the witnesses, because we haven’t listened to all of them – just to a few people. I think that the pressure on witnesses is a general trend in those trials, where testimonies are knocked out.”
In conclusion, Valery Matov wished the defendants in the “trade union case” to sturdily pass all the trials presented to them by their fate:
“My colleagues Fedynich and Komlik carry themselves with dignity; let them hold on to the victory; I wish them good luck!”
Sergei Antusevich, deputy chairman of the trade union centre to which REP is affiliated, the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Unions (BKDP), said: “Today we are here to look at the process from within, today is an important day for the entire trade union movement of Belarus, for the entire civil society of Belarus, the matter is that there have not been so far cases like this one.” The BKDP is affiliated to the ITUC.
Gennady Fedynitch gives interview. Photo courtesy of http://praca-by.info
According to eyewitnesses, about 50 people were able to enter the courtroom, and as many remained behind the doors. Representatives of the court refused to provide a larger room. The court attendees initiated a collective collection of signatures under the appeal to the head of the court with a request to provide a larger room so that everyone could get to the hearing. 60 people signed the complaint. The complaint was forwarded to the court secretariat.
Ihar Komlik entering the court room. Photo courtesy of http://praca-by.info
The REP trade union organized a video broadcast from the hall in front of the courtroom. A broadcast from the courtroom has been denied so far.
Video from the court session (in Russian):
Full information in Russian about the court session is available on the page of the trade union REP at http://praca-by.info/all-news/item/5880-sud-idet-tekstovaya-i-foto-translyatsiya-suda-po-delu-profsoyuzov
Court room, Photo courtesy of http://praca-by.info
The audience greeted both Fedynich and Komlik with supportive applause when they left the courtroom during the break. Fedynich said that so far in the course of the hearing the judge ignored all three petitions of the defendants. The petitions are: to provide a larger room, holding at least 70 people; to question the defendants before questioning witnesses, and to allow video filming. Fedynich said that if one more petition is rejected, a request will be made to substitute the judge.
Ihar Komlik in the courtroom, Photo courtesy of http://praca-by.info
The interrogation as a witness of the former secretary of the REP started, who admitted that she had been a KGB agent since 2015 and was rewarded for it. The secretary worked in the REP trade union from 2014 to 2016. The judge rejected the protest of the lawyer who said it was not related to the case, which relates to 2011-2012.
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