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#7 - JRL 7265
July 25, 2003
Budanov found sane, sentenced to 10 years

Russia and the whole world could witness an end to the most notorious public examination for military crimes in Chechnya as Colonel Yuri Budanov, was found guilty of abduction, murder and abuse of office and sentenced to 10 years in a high-security prison on Friday by the military court in Rostov-on-Don. The court has also stripped him of his military rank and all awards. But Budanov’s defence said it would appeal.

The verdict brings to an end the nearly 3-year ordeal of the officer, seen by many of his supporters in Russia as a scapegoat for all abuse done by federal forces fighting a brutal war in the rebellious Caucasian region.

The first Russian officer ever to face a public examination for military crimes in Chechnya, Colonel Yuri Budanov was arrested in early 2000 on charges of raping and murdering a young Chechen woman Elza Kungayeva as well as abuse of office. Rape charges were dropped a short time later as one of Budanov’s subordinates confessed that he had violated the girl’s body after her death.

Before and during his first trial that began in February 2001 the colonel underwent four psychiatric examinations. In autumn last year the experts of Russia’s top Serbsky Institute in Moscow declared him officially insane at the moment when he strangled Kungayeva was killed. The experts blamed Budanov’s mental disorders on serious shell shock and depression.

In an unprecedented case the state prosecutor sided with the defendant’s lawyers and asked the court to drop the murder charges against the officer, punishing him only with a 3-year prison term for abuse of office, and thus making him subject to amnesty.

Human rights groups, who monitored the trial closely, said that if Budanov was allowed to leave the court room a free man, it would set a precedent for absolute lawlessness and federal servicemen in Chechnya would be given the go-ahead to carry out further acts of arbitrariness.

In December 2002 a military court in Rostov-on-Don said the officer could not be held criminally liable for murder and ordered him to undergo compulsory medical treatment.

The ruling caused an outcry on the part of human rights group, Chechens and western observers. A short time after the sentence was pronounced it was challenged by the lawyer representing the aggrieved party and by the prosecutors. In late February Budanov’s case was overturned by the Supreme Court and re-tria was ordered for the killer-colonel.

Kungayeva’s parents, represented in court by the well-known Chechen lawyer and human rights activist Abdullah Khamzayev, said they did not expect the verdict to be just. During the first trial the Kungayevs several times asked the court to move the trial to Nazran, where the girl’s mother lived, as she could not afford attend the hearings in Rostov-on-Don.

Those requests were continuously turned down, as Budanov’s lawyers claimed ethnic Chechen Khamzayev was set to deliberately protract the hearing.

It is noteworthy that Budanov underwent his first two psychiatric examinations during pre-trial investigation. The results of the initial test proved that when killing the 18-year-old, Budanov was capable of appreciating the nature of his conduct. During the second examination the experts concluded that at the moment of the murder the officer had suffered a fit of rage and was temporarily insane.

Budanov’s lawyers from the very start insisted that at the moment of murdering Elsa Kungayeva he was suffering a fit of rage, for he believed her to be a rebel sniper guilty of killing his fellow-servicemen.

During the first court examination of his case he underwent several more tests, in particular, at Moscow’s renowned Serbsky Institute. The Serbsky experts said the colonel was temporarily insane at the moment of murder, that he could not control his actions, or appreciate their illegality.

On the basis of that conclusion, the defendant’s lawyers – and the prosecution – asked the court to drop the murder charge. But at this moment federal authorities interfered the course of court hearings as Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov dismissed the prosecutor who had sought amnesty for Budanov. The new prosecutor asked the court for yet another psychiatric examination.

In December 2002 the psychiatrists reconfirmed Budanov’s insanity, and the court, in effect, acquitted Budanov. In February this year the Supreme Court sent his case for re-trial.

The colonel, who had already spent three years in custody when the new trial began, ignored the proceedings plugging his ears with cotton-balls and reading a book in the courtroom. He refused to make any more testimonies in court and to undergo any new psychiatric tests. The Rostov-on-Don court then ordered a team of experts to examine the defendant’s case right in the court room.

The team of psychiatrists, comprised of experts invited by the colonel’s defence, the prosecutors and the lawyer for the Kungayevs eventually concluded that the colonel was absolutely sane and in full command of his actions during murder, though those invited by the defence added, at the time of the killing he was in a ''highly agitated state''.

Last week the state prosecutor, Vladimir Milovanov, asked the court to sentence Budanov to 12 years in prison and to strip him of his military rank and all military awards. On his part, Abdulla Khamzayev, insisted that Budanov must spend 15 years and one day behind bars giving the demand a rather strange comment that he had made a bet that Budanov would spend over 15 years in prison and did not want to lose. The girl’s father said the murderer of his daughter deserves a life sentence.

Addressing the court on Wednesday this week, Budanov’s lawyer Alexei Dulimov asked the court to acquit his client of abduction and abuse of office and to relieve him of criminal responsibility for murder given his insanity. Dulimov suggested that instead Budanov should undergo compulsory treatment.

After the court decision was announced on Friday the prosecutors hailed it as “impartial”, whereas Budanov’s defence lawyers said they would challenge it.

According to the state prosecutor Vladimir Milovanov, the prosecution considers the verdict “impartial and conforming to the gravity of crimes committed by Budanov”. On his part, Budanov’s lawyer Alexei Dulimov told the press immediately after the verdict was pronounced that he intends to challenge it.

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