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September 2012



Prosecutors above the law

We have a ton of problems here in the United States with out-of-control prosecutors who seem to be completely unaccountable (and immune to lawsuits when they abuse their position).

We’re not the only ones with that problem. Check out this story from Russia.

Zelenina heads a laboratory at the Penza Agricultural Institute, some 600 kilometres southeast of Moscow, one of the best-equipped chemical-analysis labs in Russia. She is a specialist in the biology of hemp and poppy, and is a sought-after expert in legal cases involving narcotics produced from these plants.

In September 2011, the defence attorneys of Sergey Shilov, a Russian businessman under investigation by the Russian Federal Drug Control Service (FDCS), asked her to provide an expert opinion on the amount of opiates that could possibly be extracted from 42 metric tonnes of food poppy seeds that Shilov had imported from Spain in 2010. . .

. . .On the basis of gas-chromatography and mass-spectrometry measurements of samples analysed in her lab, Zelenina calculated the overall morphine and codeine content in the poppy-seed consignment in question to be 0.00069% and 0.00049%, respectively. In such low concentrations, opiates can only be identified or extracted in well-equipped analytical chemistry labs, she wrote.

“This opinion apparently failed to satisfy the prosecutors,” says Irina Levontina, a linguist at the Russian Language Institute in Moscow, who is frequently heard as an expert in libel and drug lawsuits. “It has become quite common for Russian prosecutors to accuse independent experts if they don’t like their opinions. It can be downright dangerous for experts to appear in court.”

Talk about a chilling effect on both science and criminal defense.

She’s been released pending trial, but faces serious charges. More here

Just as a reminder, Russia has an extremely backward zero-tolerance drug policy that outlaws heroin replacement programs and needle exchange — a policy that has resulted in a 10-fold increase in HIV cases in the past decade.

Oh, and the head of the UNODC is Russian representative Yuri Fedotov.

[Thanks, Lars]

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