RIGA - The Supreme Court upheld a seminal war crimes judgment on Sept. 28 against Soviet partisan, Vassily Kononov, sentencing him to one year-and-eight months in jail.
A court sentenced Kononov, 80, in April, but since he had effectively carried out this sentence during the pretrial period, the former partisan was released.
In court debates, the prosecutor requested that Kononov be sentenced to 12 years in jail, yet the defense wanted the case closed altogether for lack of corpus delicti. Kononov's lawyer also argued that he could not be tried for war crimes, as the crimes committed were carried out under Latvia's Nazi occupation, and Kononov was not part of the occupying force.
"I, myself, fought as a partisan for liberating my homeland from German occupiers, but I am accused of being an occupant," Kononov said at the court hearing.
Both Kononov and his lawyer stuck to the argument that the people Kononov shot in the summer of 1944 were not innocent civilians but "armed men fighting against the Soviet army."
"In times of peace, it is impossible to understand the language, laws and environment of war," said Kononov, pleading that he was the victim to a political process.
Kononov was in confinement from August 1998 to April 2000, when he was released for poor health.
Last year the Latgale Regional Court changed the charges against Kononov from war crimes to banditism and released him from punishment because the crime's statute limitation period expired.
Prosecutors, however, protested the ruling, and it was changed back to war crimes.
The Russian Foreign Ministry reacted to the move by announcing that it was "a new challenge to all who honor the heroic deeds done by those that fought against the Nazis, liberating Europe from the 'brown plague' in 1945."
The Riga Regional Court found Kononov guilty of war crimes in April 2000 and sentenced him to six years in jail. Kononov appealed this sentence and the Supreme Court sent the case for additional pre-trial investigation, after which it was sent to the Latgale Regional Court.
Kononov was found guilty of war crimes that involved the murder of nine civilians in Eastern Latvia's Mazie Bati village on Whitsuntide in 1944.