In his first interview since his release on February 15 after seven years in jail, Vladimir Pereverzin, the former deputy head of the oil major’s structured finance division, told of a life of arbitrary reprisals and threats to his life.
In comments that could cast light on conditions faced by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the one-time Yukos owner and Russia’s richest man, Mr Pereverzin described how his life became a nightmare after his arrest in December 2004.
The case against Mr Pereverzin and four other senior managers in the company accused them of facilitating the theft of almost all the oil Yukos produced. It also formed the basis for a second set of charges against Mr Khodorkovsky, extending his prison sentence to 2017.
“When you cross through the gates of a prison colony you enter the 1930s,” Mr Pereverzin said. “We have a country of legal mayhem, where official policies lead to lies and hypocrisy and arbitrary rules. You can’t consider that this is a civilised, modern country when these things go on just 100kms from Moscow.”
Mr Pereverzin, who had worked up to 2002 in a Yukos subsidiary in Cyprus trading oil, denied the charges. “One of the main pieces of evidence against me was my official ‘labour book’ which said I worked for Yukos. They threw me in jail for this, just for working for Yukos,” he said. He hadn’t met Mr Khodorkovsky or his business partner, Platon Lebedev, or the other senior manager, Igor Malakhovsky, who was accused of being his co-conspirator, until he wound up in a courtroom cage next to him, he said.
The prosecutors repeatedly called on him to testify against his former bosses in order to win a light sentence, but he refused. “When the prosecutor asked for a sentence of 11 years I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was a mistake. I was wrong and they broke my life,” he said.
Mr Pereverzin was shipped to the Melikhovo “strict regime” prison colony in the Vladimirskaya region where at first, in quarantine, he was forced to march for two hours three times a day.
Food consisted of barely edible mush taken away seconds after it was served; inmates were jammed into overcrowded barracks and toilets were impossible to enter after dark as they were filled with so much “filth”, he said. He worked on a sewing production line where, he said, the air was filled with chemicals, making it difficult for him as an asthmatic to breathe.
His chances for parole were quashed after he was transferred from Melikhovo after three years to colony five in Vladimir. There, prison officials presented him with a complaint alleging he had tried to start a fight. Mr Pereverzin said it was fabricated, and filed suit against the prison authorities. But they ratcheted up the pressure on him and inmates tried to draw him into fights, he said. “I understood that I only had two choices: either to withdraw the suit or they would kill me or I would kill someone. But I didn’t want to withdraw it. I’d gone through so much to qualify for parole.
“I bundled together several shaving blades and I planned to cut my stomach so that my guts would nearly fall out. They would have to transfer me to hospital,” he said.
Mr Pereverzin said he failed to cut deeply enough before inmates stopped him and he was forced to withdraw the suit.
Officials at Russia’s federal prison service could not be reached for comment.