COURT RELEASES WAR CRIMINAL KONONOV

By Anna Pridanova

RIGA The Supreme Court of Latvia decided on April 25 to release the former Soviet guerrilla Vasily Kononov and ordered additional investigation. Kononov is appealing his conviction on war crimes which brought him a sentence of six years in prison.
The court ruled to release Kononov, 77, two weeks after the Riga Regional Court rejected the Russian Foreign Ministry's request to allow the Russian Federation ambassador and medics to meet the convict in prison. The refusal caused a new wave of unpleasant remarks from Russia charging Latvia with politicizing the issue.
Kononov said that the international communityís pressure influenced the decision of the court. He was happy about his victory, although surprised it came so suddenly.
"I expected a decision like this, but not so soon, I knew that we are approaching the victory," he said. "The truth is on my side. I've never tried to escape the investigation, even when I was advised to. I said - never! I always did fight for the truth, and so I will in the future. Sooner or later I will prove that the truth is on my side," said Kononov.
The judgment of the lower court was overturned because of a number of substantial mistakes allowed in the preliminary investigation, said the Supreme Court office in prepared remarks.
The paragraph on which Kononov was charged contains references to international conventions which define what crimes are treated as war crimes.
The Supreme Court office said the Kononov case does not contain precise references to the international documents defining Kononov's committed crimes as war crimes. This is an essential flaw since not every crime committed during war time qualifies as a war crime. Aleksandr Ogurcovs, Kononovís lawyer, said that it is what he stressed for a long time.
"The Kononov case was investigated as a murder case and not as a war crime case," read the Supreme Courtís releases.
Besides, the case contains no judgment of either international or domestic experts, regarding whether the people killed were civilians. That must be proved, since it is reported that one of them served in the German occupation, assisting police and the Kononov squad confiscated the guns of another five men.
"If there are six well-armed persons during war, who patrol the area and are connected with either of the sides, it is clear that they are actively engaged in war," Ogurcovs said.
His client is now released and under a court order to remain at his residence and not in the country. Now he is going to take some rest and learn in details the courts decision, he said, and is going to stay in Latvia because of roots his family has had in Latvia for several generations.
Concerning the Russian citizenship he recently received, he said that he thought it possible to have double citizenship in Latvia and in Russia.
"With Latvian citizenship it will be a bit difficult," he said. "I cannot drop Russian citizenship in the current situation. I am going to weight all pros and cons, read the laws, meet some people, including my lawyer, and only then make a decision," Kononov said the morning after his release.
The Naturalization Board a week ago started to gather information to evaluate a move to take away Kononovís Latvian citizenship.

The Baltic Times
APRIL 28 - MAY 3 , 2000

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