A Russian woman who fled Vladimir Putin with her family and who was unjustly jailed in Guatemala along with her husband and daughter, testified June 9th at a U.S. congressional human rights commission hearing and said that she and her family suffered “unthinkable abuses committed openly by the Guatemalan Judicial System.”
“We came to Guatemala in hope of survival, but the Kremlin caught up with us and used its influence to encourage Guatemalan prosecutors, judges and even magistrates to fabricate a case against me and my family. Not only did they imprison and tortures us, they put our 3-year-old son Vladimir in an orphanage.”
Ms. Bitkova testified at a Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing co-chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) that “On 3rd of November 2014, (CICIG Commissioner) Ivan Velasquez personally asked General Prosecutor Thelma Aldana to merge the complaint of VTB…right after that my husband, my daughter and I were arrested and imprisoned…”
Ms. Bitkova testified that their ordeal—which isn’t over—began in 2008 when Russian banks including VTB Bank and Gazprombank coercively took over their successful paper mill company.
Amid death threats and the abduction and rape of their 16-year-old daughter who was freed only after paying a ransom, the Bitkovs fled Russia and assumed new names and travel documents to conceal their whereabouts from Putin and thought they had found a safe haven in Guatemala.
Five years later—in 2013—the Russian Government found the Bitkovs in Guatemala.
In 2014, Russian Banks VTB and Gazprombank got CICIG’s Ivan Velasquez to push the prosecution.
“It’s shocking” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). “For escaping Russia and using fake travel documents to survive, Igor was sentenced to 19 years in prison and has already been incarcerated for three and a half years. Irina and Anastasia were both sentenced to 14 years each and have already served one and a half years in prison—another grossly unfair and unjust sentence that was affirmed by a Guatemalan appellate court last July. Currently under house arrest, all three have the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads and can be sent back to jail at any time. Additionally, both Irina and Anastasia would be forced to return to Russia at the end of their sentences.”
“Equally shocking” Smith continued “is that the now-defunct United Nations International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) worked with the Russians to persecute, prosecute and jail these innocent people. The Bitkovs should have gotten political asylum in Guatemala, not unjustly jailed. Free the Bitkovs now and investigate corrupt officials at the now defunct CICIG,” Smith said.
Smith said that among the witness at that hearing was “human rights champion Bill Browder, the man who tenaciously and brilliantly led the campaign for the enactment of the Magnitsky Act—and Global Magnitsky—after the government of Russia arrested, tortured, and killed his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, in November of 2009. Mr. Browder said: ‘Inexplicably, VTB Bank gained the legal status as an ‘interested party’ in the Migration Case against the Bitkovs with the support of CICIG. In January 2015, a criminal case against the Bitkovs was opened at the direction of CICIG.’ Immediately after that, he said that ‘70 armed police officers raided the Bitkovs’ home; arrested Irina, Igor, and Anastasia; and detained them in cages behind the parking garage in the main court building in Guatemala City.’”