Summary of fourth day in court

Publish date: November 26, 1999

Written by: Runar Forseth

The short fourth day of the Nikitin trial ended on schedule at approx. 13:00 today. "We are not looking for compromises," was Yury Schmidt's main message at the following press briefing.

Fourth day of trial concluded:

The court concluded its discussion of sources to the Bellona report today, dealing with subchapter 2.3.3. Again, prosecutor Gutsan did not venture a single question, while Aleksandr Nikitin did a thorough job of documenting his open sources to the particular report sequence in question. Most of those sources were actually students’ textbooks.

“Aleksandr was in a good mood today,” said chief defender Yury Schmidt. “We did a good job of documenting the report’s sources, covering all aspects of the subchapter.”

“It is my feeling that the judge understands that Aleksandr did not disclose any secrets,” Schmidt continued. “The judge, of course, doesn’t tell us about his opinion at this stage in the trial, but we are very sensitive to the reactions of the court.”

Norwegian to testify next week

Bellona Foundation’s expert on Russian nuclear affairs, Thomas Nilsen, who co-authored the Northern Fleet report with Nikitin, will testify before the court. This will happen on Wednesday December 1, possibly in an open session.

On Monday the court will discuss the law-application in the case. The defence have been very clear on this point all the time: the use of secret and retroactive legislation, such as the Ministry of Defence decrees referenced by the various expert committees, is clearly illegal according to the Russian constitution, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights.

“The procedure the judge now follows is very sound,” said Bellona legal adviser Jon Gauslaa. “First the court examines the subject matter of the case, establishing what the case is really about, then proceeds to discuss the application of law on that matter. Then, if there still is a case for the court, the witnesses are heard.”

The silent prosecutor

During the three day’s of actual court proceedings, Prosecutor Gutsan has only asked two questions. “Any Western court would have dismissed the case upon such silence from the prosecution,” said Schmidt. In Russia the legal tradition is closer to the ‘presumption of guilt’, leaving the defendant to prove his innocence rather than the prosecution to prove the defendant’s guilt. “To some extent that tradition still is operative, but this is not really a problem in this case,” said Schmidt. “We can prove Nikitin’s innocence not only once but ten times.”

Frederic Hauge, President of the Bellona Foundation, is worried about the prosecutor’s silence. ” It could be a signal that the outcome has been settled up front, but at the same time it seems that the judge, Mr. Golets, is handling the case very properly and in a correct way,” he stated.

“Look what a mess the FSB has created”

Five expert assessments regarding chapter 2.3, carried out by the same staff from the Ministry of Defence, are referred in the indictment (we are sorry for stating otherwise in this morning’s update). In addition, one assessment was carried out by Minatom, and one by some alleged experts on economy. There are three interesting points here:

The five defence ministry committees, more or less comprising the same staff, concluded that state secrets were revealed in chapter 2.3.3. But where the first committee said this was in accordance with a secret decree’s provision no. 612, the second said no. 315, the third no. 317, the fourth no. 277 and the fifth no. 355. And these were the same people making the assessments.

“This is just an example of the mess FSB has created in this case. Our law demands an explanation for such discrepancies, but there is no such explanation in the indictment,” commented Schmidt.

Second, the Minatom assessment, carried out by the people in charge of the actual reactor design and construction, concluded that no secrets had been revealed. This conclusion was omitted from the indictment. Aleksandr Nikitin, however, presented that committee’s findings to the court today.

Economy or military capability

The third point is about economy. “The previous indictment’s assessment of an economical loss of close to 1,000,000 USD has now been reduced to 20,000,” said Schmidt. This figure allegedly corresponds to the designers’ loss of sales possibilities, due to their technological secrets having been revealed – although the Minatom group did not see any such problem. Neither do I realise what business opportunities could possibly exist in this almost thirty year old technology.”

The main point though, is that as far as business opportunities have been lost, then the information in question can not be defined as state secrets pertinent to Russia’s defensive capabilities. And if the latter were the case, any business would be out of the question. “The prosecution must stick with either the one or the other, both is not an option,” said Schmidt. And added, “but of course there are no secrets in the report, neither military nor economic, as Minatom clearly concluded in their expert evaluation in September 96. And since Minatom owns the reactor project, it is they that would stand to loose money.”

You can’t have happy wolves and no sheep eaten

There are some similarities between the Nikitin case and that of Gregory Pasko, who was cleared of accusations of revealing state secrets but found guilty of some lesser crime earlier this autumn. The crime in the verdict had not been mentioned in the indictment. Asked about this, Schmidt said, “It is quite possible that the prosecution will suggest some sort of compromise, but we will not accept that. Our goal is a total victory. And quite frankly, I don’t see that there can be any room for compromise in this case. You can’t have happy wolves without getting some sheep eaten.”