Brezhnev Kin Gets 12 Years for Taking Bribes
Former Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev’s son-in-law was convicted Friday of taking bribes and was sentenced to 12 years’ hard labor after a sensational trial intended to demonstrate President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s determination to stamp out official corruption.
Yuri M. Churbanov, once one of the country’s top law enforcers as deputy interior minister, stood silent and impassive during a 3 1/2-hour review of the case against him and eight co-defendants.
The Soviet media often referred to him not by name but simply as “the son-in-law.” It described him as a ladies’ man and as a man of mediocre ability who used family connections to climb to a high position in the Soviet hierarchy.
Solicitation of Bribes
In a 1,500-page indictment, Churbanov, 52, was accused of soliciting $1.1 million in bribes as well as gifts such as imported wines and brandies from police officials in the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan. Although the charges carried with them the maximum penalty of death, the prosecution had asked that he be sentenced to 15 years.
However, the military tribunal that has been hearing the case since Sept. 5 in the Supreme Court Building a few blocks from the Kremlin sentenced him to 12 years, saying it could only be documented that he had accepted $145,000 in bribes. It had found him guilty of “abuse of office committed systematically, with selfish motivation, inflicting substantial harm.”
Asked by the presiding judge, Maj. Gen. Mikhail Narov, whether he had any questions about the verdict, Churbanov replied, “No.” He left the courtroom without speaking to anyone.
The trial, which received prominent attention in the official media, was seen as a final step in Gorbachev’s efforts to discredit the Brezhnev Era and as a warning that the reform-minded president would not overlook high-level corruption.
Gorbachev has said the period of Brezhnev’s rule from 1964 to 1982 was one of economic stagnation and has ordered his name removed from schools, factories, streets and a town that once commemorated Brezhnev.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady I. Gerasimov called the trial “a warning against the repetition of such phenomena.”
During the trial, Churbanov admitted accepting large sums of money from Uzbeki officials but said he regarded them as presents rather than bribes and would have felt awkward returning them.
His lawyer, Andrei Makarov, defended Churbanov as “a product of the system and not its creator.”
Churbanov’s meteoric rise to power came after his 1971 marriage to Brezhnev’s only daughter, Galina. Following the match, which was Churbanov’s second and Galina Brezhnev’s third, the former junior police officer quickly rose in ranks to take the No. 2 job in the Interior Ministry. He also was made a three-star general and non-voting member of the Central Committee.
An investigation into the Uzbekistan corruption ring began under former Soviet leader Yuri V. Andropov, and Churbanov was demoted in 1984, two years after Brezhnev’s death. He was arrested in January, 1987.
Attorneys had said Galina Churbanov would testify in her own husband’s trial, but she never appeared in court. Soviet media have described Brezhnev’s daughter as a flamboyant woman, who after her marriage to Churbanov, fell in love with a circus performer known as “Boris the Gypsy” and, through him, became involved in a diamond-smuggling operation.
Six of Churbanov’s co-defendants were sentenced to spend terms ranging from eight to 10 years in labor camps.
The court acquitted former Uzbeki Deputy Interior Minister Tashtimur Kakharmanov and returned to the prosecutor the case of former Uzbeki Interior Minister Thaibar Yakhyayed for further investigation.
The trial provided the Soviet public with a rare glimpse into top level corruption, which the indictment said was so widespread in the Uzbekistan police force that the question “Have you reported to the chief?” was a euphemism for “Have you paid him off?”