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Soviet genocide suspect denies guilt

  • 2004-11-10
  • Baltic News Service
RIGA - The Russian citizen Nikolai Tess pleaded not guilty to charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in postwar Latvia at a hearing in the Latvian Supreme Court on Nov. 9, claiming that the case against him had been fabricated.

Tess, 83, said there had not been any genocide as the deported Latvians had worked, attended school and lived well in Russia. "They even bought cows and goats. That's some genocide!" he said.

The defendant asked the court to close the criminal case and acquit him. He said the criminal charges against him were political, and he did not blame the judges and prosecutors for carrying out orders from above.

Tess complained that the court wanted to make him guilty for crimes of the Soviet rule and repeated that he was only a cog in the machine.

Tess' task had been to check the lists of people due to be deported from Latvia for the names of anyone who had served in the Soviet Army during WWII or had been awarded by Soviet authorities. But he was not able to do this, he said, because of a lack of information.

"The charges say that the deportees suffered from hunger, exhaustion, and cold weather. But where's the proof that I'm to be blamed for that," asked Tess, adding that only the government had the right to deport people.

He complained that the investigation has made him ill and he has felt like a death-row inmate since 1998 when he was first arrested. "It is torture by time, and it's something that even the Holy Inquisition did not think of," he said.

Last December the Kurzeme Regional Court gave Tess a two-year suspended sentence, but he appealed the decision, saying he wanted a full acquittal. The court ruled that Tess was guilty of deporting 42 Latvian families in 1949. In passing the sentence the court took into account the defendant's age, poor health, as well as the fact that he had been carrying out his superiors' orders.

Tess has been charged with crimes against humanity and genocide for his part in the deportation of a number of Latvians in March 1949. As an official of the Soviet Latvian State Security Ministry, he prepared and signed documents for the deportation of 138 people, among them children and elderly people, of whom 11 died in exile.