26 January 2022, Wednesday, 14:34
Sim Sim, Charter 97!

Vladlena Funk: They made it clear that Berezovsky is on friendly terms with top leaders of Belarus

Vladlena Funk: They made it clear  that Berezovsky is on friendly terms with top leaders of Belarus

In the KGB prison I was warned that one day I would be taken to the basement and raped - said Vladlena Funk, secretary of the US lawyer Emanuel Zeltser.

Vladlena Funk, who was convicted together with the US lawyer Emanuel Zeltser, and who served the term in the Belarusian prison, revealed sensational details of her case in an interview to “Belorusskiye Novosti”.

- Vladlena, for the first time after your release you state that you are ready to answer the questions of the press, despite of the written undertaking not to disclose information on the criminal case. Why?

- The reason is that Emanuel Zeltser has gone on hunger strike in the Belarusian prison, and in fact is ready to die to prove his innocence. He hasn’t even been given a copy of the verdict of court yet! I think that disclosing the details of the case will increase his chances to survive. And I am fully aware that I face criminal responsibility for that.

- Well, you and Mr Zeltser arrived to Minsk on March 12, 2008. Was it out of your free will?

- No, on March 11 we were in London on a business trip. We met with other lawyers. Boris Berezovsky, who lives in the Great Britain over the last few years, insisted on a meeting with Emanuel after learning about our arrival. I would like to remind that Mr Zeltser is still a lawyer in the case of Badri Patarkatsishvili’s legacy. According to the will, both wives of Patarkatsishvili are to receive 25% of his legacy, and 50% are distributed among children and relatives. Zeltser is not among the heirs certainly.

Several times Emanuel refused to meet with Berezovsky, excusing himself on the grounds of being busy, but at some stage he decided to meet with him. I suppose that during this meeting, at which some other people were present, some drug was added in our food or drinks. Investigation is to answer who had done that… But as a result, I found myself in Berezovsky’s jet that was flying to Minsk, and unconscious Zeltser was beside me.

- Did you have the original document of Patarkatsishvili’s will with you?

- Emanuel had the original will, but I do not know whether he had it when he arrived to Minsk. However, since March 11, 2008 nobody saw that document in London any more.

- Where and how were you detained?

- When we landed in Minsk, people in plainclothes entered the plane and forcefully dragged me into the car with tinted glass. Nobody explained where I was taken, on what grounds, and what was happening to Zeltser. We were taken to the KGB from the start, and I had been there since March 12 till November.

- How were you treated there?

- Nobody explained anything to me; nobody explained the grounds for my detention, as if I were a hostage. In 8 days I was granted a meeting with lawyer Zmitser Harachka (Dmitry Goryachko). To all my appeals to meet with a representative of the Russian consulate or to call the family I was told that it was forbidden. During interrogations I was demanded to sign a statement that Zeltser and Joseph Kay (a distant relative of Patarkatsishvili, appointed executor of the will) committed fraud and forged documents. Only on these conditions I was promised “some assistance”, otherwise the case would be taken to the court, they said, and the KGB won't stand any not-guilty verdicts in their cases, so I faced a term in Belarusian prison. And that’s what eventually happened.

I think it is no secret that video monitoring and bugging are taking place in the KGB remand prison 24 hours a day. For the first month I was alone in the cell, and then a woman was placed to my cell for 2 weeks. She tried to find out purposefully, what I knew. She tried to convinced me, that I’d better cooperate with investigation, otherwise violence is inevitable. She “warned” that one day I would be taken to the basement and raped by 8 men.

- In which way interrogation took place?

- Initially I was told that the KGB is not particularly interested in my person, and that they needed other people, and it would be better “to sign all the documents “willingly”. Besides, it was made clear to me that Berezovsky is on friendly terms with top leadership of Belarus.

I think that as Patarkatsishvili’s lawyer, Zeltser is posing a great threat for Berezovsky, who wants to gain control over the inheritance. In all democratic countries questions of such a kind are decided in a judicial proceeding: Emanuel has enough proof that Berezovsky has no rights for Patarkatsishvili’s estate.

On the third day I was offered a demonstrational excursion over the KGB remand prison, and on a screen I was demonstrated a room where Zeltser’s’ interrogation was taking place. Judging by his pose, he was unconscious: he was sitting on a chair with his head down, two guards were holding his shoulders. It looked as if he would fall on the floor if they relaxed their grip on him. Another person held a container with medicines in front of him. I was told that Zeltser will receive drugs after signing a plenary confession that he and Kay had forged Patarkatsishvili’s will.

- How the trial was held?

- It was held behind the closed doors. Allegedly it was needed to maintain incognito of public prosecution’s witnesses, including Berezovsky, who is considered to be a criminal in Russia and is on the Interpol list of wanted persons.

Berezovsky entered the court room accompanied by armed guards. In fact, he could say nothing concerning the commercial espionage. He stated that Badri Patarkatsishvili had invested $150 million to oil refining industry of Belarus. They allegedly had been invested in “Naftan” enterprise. It was oral testimony; there were no documents to confirm that. However the court of New York has information about all assets of Patarkatsishvili: he didn’t have property in Belarus.

- And what bearing does this fact has to charges against your?

- I haven't understood that so far, even after having served the term. Commercial espionage charges were based on evidence of a certain Shestakou. I saw him for the first time at one of interrogations. Shestakou was a witness in the case, but he was absent at the court trial. From his testimony it followed that during a meeting with him Zeltser offered a bribe to him for confidential information about the oil-refining industry of Belarus. And in particular, about assets and property of Badri Patarkatsishvili.

We denied everything: the fact of a meeting with Shestakou, and our interest in such information. Now it is known reliably that Patarkatsishvili does not have property in Belarus. But that does not have any value for the Belarusian court. How could I disprove anything? Shestakou said Zeltser offered a bribe to him, Zeltser says that he never met him. The court found testimony of the witness more trustworthy… And it seems to me that I recognized “Shestakou” on a photograph in a newspaper: he is a high-ranking Belarusian official, and his name is different.

As for the second charge, use of forged documents, it concerned Patarkatsishvili’s will, written on November 14, 2007 in New York, which allegedly had been forged by Zeltser and Kay. Under that document they did not receive anything themselves. Moreover, after two appeals, after two detailed hearings with witnesses and experts, a court in Georgia proved the will was authentic. Our lawyer Zmitser Harachka took that ruling of the Georgian court, but the judge didn’t include these documents into the documents of the case.

The original will of Patarkatsishvili didn’t appear in the case, we were tried for a scanned copy which was kept in Emanuel’s computer. Harachka said that under the Belarusian law, a copy cannot be considered an official document, as it does not have authentic signatures and stamps.

But I had an impression that nobody was interested in proving our innocence. A great philosopher Hegel often said that a fact’s scale is more important that the fact itself. It looks as if this is true about Belarus: people know about injustice in the country, but they simply do not understand its magnitude.

Now the story goes on: Emanuel’s lawyer has applied to Minsk city court, a document is needed to consider a question whether Zeltser should be included in the amnesty, and the document has been travelling from Minsk to Mahilyou for three weeks already…

I know that a fight for huge money is behind all this, and Belarusian officials might be implicated in all that. Trials are taking place in different countries; Patarkatsishvili’s estate hasn’t been received by anybody yet. If Zeltser is released, there would be more chances for the legacy to be divided justly and according to the will of the deceased.