The image of impartiality of Spanish courts has been shaken due to the scandal surrounding the High Court of Las Palmas (Canary Islands, Spain). In October 2016, the local press published a filtered audio recording of private deliberations between four magistrates of the High Court (Audiencia Provincial), including Judges Carlos Vielba, Salvador Alba and the Chairman of the High Court, Emilio Moya. The judges discussed their fear of Russian children attending the same school as that of magistrates’ own kids. One of the magistrates affirmed that “all Russians are criminals, in particular the young ones and with money”.
Despite the media outcry and the official request made by the Russian Consulate in Las Palmas to identify the author of these remarks, the Spanish Department of Justice has not taken any measures in the six months following the scandal, and remained suspiciously mute on the issue. To the contrary in fact, as at least one of the magistrates has been reportedly promoted since the incident.
However, according to the reports by the Spanish press, the xenophobic incident has finally picked up some traction in April 2017 and is now being investigated by the Central Directorate of Spanish Justice (Consejo General de Poder Judicial). Apparently, this shift has been propelled by a formal request made on behalf of European Parliament to clarify the status of one of the most mysterious cases in the recent history of Spanish justice.
The so-called Kokorev Case, in which the requests for information have identified both political and xenophobic undertones, begins with the decision of an investigative judge from Las Palmas, Ana Isabel de Vega Serrano, to order a pre-trial detention of the whole family of Spanish entrepreneur of Russian-Jewish origins, Vladimir Kokorev. The businessman, his wife and his son remain imprisoned on Canary Islands for almost two years, under an alleged suspicion of being the front-men for Teodoro Obiang, the President of Equatorial Guinea. During all this time, no formal accusation has been presented and only very recently the case itself have become accessible for the defending attorneys.
Curiously enough, in the very same “auto” (judicial decision), that dictated the pre-trial detention, Judge de Vega admitted that “in so far [November 2015], this court has been unable to obtain any evidence linking the funds, [received by Kokorevs] with any acquisitions of real estate for any members of Guinean government”.
That is, the very same decision that put three persons with no prior criminal history behind bars for almost two years, also acknowledges that the court has no evidence against them. The reason that this patently absurd reasoning remained legally valid was that the very same Judge de Vega Serrano redacted the admission of lacking evidence against the accused, under the excuse of the secrecy of the case. The Spanish judge kept the case against Kokorevs secret for almost five years, two of which they spent in prison, without any knowledge of what they were accused of or on basis of what evidence, since, according to Judge Serrano “such knowledge could be damaging in the proceedings”. That is, the Spanish judge reasoned that it could be damaging to her case to let the persons that she put in pre-trial detention and their lawyers to know that there was no actual evidence against them.
This Kafkaesque decision to imprison the whole family based on secret evidence and secret reasoning was appealed in several occasions before Audiencia Provincial – the high court of Las Palmas (Spain). It is worth noting that the magistrates in charge of the review had access to the whole text of the decision – unlike Kokorev’s own attorneys – that is, they were fully aware of Serrano’s awkward reasoning of ordering a pre-trial detention while also admitting to lack evidence against the accused. However, every appeal was systematically rejected.
The members of Kokorev family are kept in separate facilities in Canarian prison Juan Grande, and under the most severe penitentiary regime reserved for especially dangerous criminals and terrorists. The patriarch of the family, Vladimir Kokorev, who had suffered a minor stroke and a prostate operation shortly before the imprisonment, is denied medical attention. His requests to allow a Rabbi to visit him were also ignored for 8 months until the prison administration budged under the pressure of Spanish Jewish Association.
“It is difficult not to agree with the defence’s opinion, which states that the record is being kept secret to hide the lack of evidence against the Kokorevs, giving the impression of a political case with private interests being served. Otherwise it is impossible to explain the obvious and flagrant violations of the norms of international law and the laws of the Kingdom of Spain,” states the letter addressed to the Spanish General Prosecution Office by two MEPs.
A week after the request was made public, the judge Serrano lifted the secrecy of case with a statement “although the investigation continues, the secrecy is no longer necessary”.
To the surprise and dismay of Kokorev’s defence attorneys, the case against them is based first and foremost on the statements provided of Vladimir Kokorev’s former Panamanian attorney, Ismael Gerli. Mr. Gerli is indicted on at least two counts of forgery in Panama, forgeries that he has committed with intention of taking over several real estate properties owned by Vladimir Kokorev and his son Igor, days after their arrest. The Panamanian attorney is awaiting for a trial and currently forbidden from leaving the country.
However, this does not mean that Kokorevs’ nightmare is anywhere close to its end. There is still no date for the hearing of the case, nor any formal accusation. A new appeal of Igor Kokorev to Las Palmas High Court has been recently rejected. The reasoning of the magistrate to deny Igor bail (after having spent 18 months in prison) is as puzzling as that of the investigative judge: “the pre-trial detention does not require any evidence, or does not require for such evidence to be authentic.” It certainly seems that the justice on Canary Islands abides by its own set of very particular rules.
According to the 2017 EU Justice Scoreboard Report, fifty-eight percent (58%) of Spaniards perceive the independence of their courts as “fairly bad” or “very bad”, a 2% increase from last year. Spain is the fourth country at the bottom of the list, together with Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovakia.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by WCT staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)