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‘Insignificant’ criminal case that led pensioner to take own life dropped 

2 September 2020
Spouses Nikolai and Evgeniya Zakharchenko. Photo via Ruslan Yelmirzokov's Facebook page.

The criminal case against Nikolai Zakharchenko, a pensioner living in Kabardino-Balkaria, who took his own life after he was accused of storing large quantities of cannabis, was dropped ‘due to its insignificance’.

Ruslan Yelmirzokov, the legal representative of the deceased's wife, told OC Media that the case was dropped on Tuesday.

Zakharchenko, 85, was from the city of Nartkala in the east of the Russian republic of Kabardino-Balkaria. He took his own life in the early morning of 18 August.

As OC Media reported, on 13 August, police came to Zakharchenko's house with a search warrant because of a wild cannabis bush that had grown on his property.

The elderly man, who suffered from cataracts in both eyes, could not figure out what kind of plant it was, and fed his rabbits with it, Yelmirzokov wrote on Facebook.

A criminal case was launched against Nikolai Zakharchenko over his alleged storage of a particularly large quantity of a plant that contained narcotic substances.

Yelmirzokov told OC Media that the investigator added an aggravating circumstance — ‘particularly large quantity’ — because during forensics they weighed the entire bush, including the roots and stems.

The lawyer told OC Media that the Kabardino-Balkaria Investigative Committee has closed the investigation into the criminal case against Zakharchenko, as his actions ‘posed no danger to the public’.

‘Basically, the termination of the criminal case proves innocent Nikolai Zakharchenko’, Yelmirzokov said, adding that in order to verify the decision, the case was transferred to the prosecutor's office.

Valery Khatazhukov, the head of the Human Rights Center in Kabardino-Balkaria, told OC Media that Zakharchenko’s case requires special attention.

‘Neither Zakharchenko nor any of his relatives have contacted us in this case, but I think that the investigating authorities and the prosecutor’s office should conduct a thorough investigation of the incident and establish all of its circumstances’, he said.

‘This is all the more important because Zakharchenko’s case caused an extremely negative reaction among many citizens.’

Yelmirzokov told OC Media in August that the police officers had committed several procedural violations, including testing Zakharchenko’s hands for traces of narcotics only after instructing him to tear the bush out with his hands, and did not include in the official record any comments of the attesting witnesses to the search. 

‘They didn’t leave a copy of the search record’, he added. ‘They kept him in the police station until the evening for no reason.’

As OC Media reported, Yevgeniya Zakharchenko said that after the police had ‘purposefully’ found the cannabis bush during the search on 13 August, they held her husband at the Urvansky District police station for almost 8 hours, forcing him to sign blank documents. According to her, from the day of the search, Zakharchenko had been feeling very anxious, worried that he would end up disgraced and would die in prison.

The head of the police department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Urvansky District, Rodion Shogenov, has been suspended from office, with local media speculating that Zakharchenko’s death as the reason behind the suspension.

The Investigative Committee for Kabardino-Balkaria announced on 21 August that a pre-investigation check was launched over the death of the 85-year-old pensioner.

According to the Investigative Committee, the findings of the check show that Zakharchenko took his own life ‘because of the criminal prosecution by police officers who found wild cannabis on his plot of land’.

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