(Extensions of Remarks - May 01, 2018)

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[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages E577-E578]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []



                       HON. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH

                             of new jersey

                    in the house of representatives

                          Tuesday, May 1, 2018

  Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, on Friday, April 27 I chaired a 
hearing at the Helsinki Commission inquiring into whether a U.N. 
Commission founded to fight corruption worked with the Kremlin to 
destroy a Russian family. The Russian government regularly pursues its 
vendettas beyond its borders, harassing and even murdering Russian 
emigres abroad--people who are on the Putin circle's target list for 
various reasons. The poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in England 
is one of the most recent examples to reach the news.
  The family in question is the Bitkovs, and the Kremlin's sadistic 
pursuit of them is in its way just as shocking as its cruel murder of 
Litvinenko and the attempted murders of the Skripals. The Bitkovs are 
still alive today, but they have been hounded for over a decade, to the 
opposite end of the world, and beyond the limits of human endurance--
merely for resisting Putin favorites who sought to take over their 
successful paper manufacturing company.
  More shocking, the facts of the case strongly indicate--and we will 
hear testimony on this today--that the United Nation's International 
Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG, became deeply 
involved in the Kremlin's persecution of the Bitkov family. Indeed that 
CICIG acted as the Kremlin's operational agent in brutalizing and 
tormenting the Bitkov family.
  Congress has a special responsibility in this matter because the 
United States is one of the largest contributors to CICIG's budget. 
There has been little congressional oversight of CICIG--it's clearly 
time for that to change.
  In the 1990s Igor and Irina Bitkov built the Northwest Timber 
Company, acquiring and modernizing old factories to increase paper 
production. As their company grew, the Bitkovs took loans from several 
Russian state banks to finance further modernization. Their business 
prospered--grew to a value of hundreds of millions of dollars--and the 
family was approached by a powerful bank executive who sought to buy a 
majority share in the company at a significantly below-market rate. 
Other officials asked Irina to become politically involved in the 
President Vladimir Putin's party.
  When the Bitkovs refused things got very ugly. Their 16-year-old 
daughter, Anastasia, was kidnapped for several days, drugged, and 
repeatedly raped. Her parents ransomed her--paying the money to 
policemen, who said they were go-betweens to the kidnappers. Then the 
banks suddenly called in the loans, even though the Bitkovs had 
excellent credit. The family was threatened with imprisonment and 
  Fearing for their lives, the family fled Russia. They found what they 
thought was legal refuge in Guatemala with the help of a Guatemalan law 
firm. They acquired Guatemalan passports, bought a house, learned 
Spanish, and gave birth to their second child, Vladimir.
  But the Kremlin caught up to them and VTB Bank, one of Russia's 
biggest state-controlled banks, often referred to as ``Putin's Piggy 
Bank,'' filed a complaint against them in Guatemala, alleging use of 
false identification documents.
  While we don't know exactly what transpired internally to CICIG and 
the Guatemalan state agencies that work with them, it appears to have 
been taken up by the Guatemalan state and CICIG. In any case, the 
Bitkov's suddenly found themselves catapulted into what has become for 
them a horror without end.
  On January 15, 2015, Igor, Irina, Anastasia and Vladimir were awoken 
by an armed raid on their home--70 or so armed policemen woke them up, 
took them away, and spent 20 hours tearing apart their home and their 
  It got much worse--the Bitkovs were put into cages for nine days. 
Their daughter--remember she had been kidnaped and repeatedly raped 
years earlier--was denied medication, now suffered a nervous breakdown. 
As the ordeal continued, she would later make multiple suicide 
attempts. Their infant son was torn away from them, not even permitted 
to stay with friends, and sent to an orphanage, where he sustained 
facial injuries, a chipped tooth, conjunctivitis, lost the ability to 
speak. When family friends recovered him they found that, when given 
food, little Vladimir immediately began hiding it under his shirt. I 
will not say more now about the Bitkovs harrowing ordeal--their lawyers 
will speak to that. Suffice it to say that Igor, Irina, and Anastasia 
have remained incarcerated since January 2015.
  In January of this year, despite an earlier appeals court ruling that 
the Bitkovs' alleged offense was only administrative in nature and 
punishable with a fine, Igor was sentenced to 19 years in prison and 
Irina and Anastasia were sentenced to 14 years each. These sentences 
were far harsher than those given to Guatemalan officials who 
perpetrated the sale of passports--they are harsher than sentences 
given to rapists or murderers.
  What was CICIG's role in all of this? What we know for a fact is 
this: CICIG and a special branch of the attorney general's office 
worked together on the investigation and arrest of the Bitkovs--CICIG 
personnel participated in the raid on the Bitkovs home. Then CICIG and 
VTB Bank initiated and aggressively pursued the legal case against 
them, consistently arguing at every level of the judicial process 
against the Bitkovs, including against their appeal to be tried as 
migrants guilty of an administrative offense rather than a criminal 
one. CICIG--via its representative Claudia Gonzalez Orellana--defended 
the role of the VTB Bank in the prosecution of the Bitkovs. Oddly, 
CICIG never prosecuted the law firm which provided the Bitkovs with the 
passports that destroyed their lives.
  As Bill Browder testified: ``Inexplicably . . . In January 2015, a 
criminal case against the Bitkovs was opened at the direction of CICIG. 
Immediately after, 70 armed police officers raided the Bitkov's home, 
arrested Irina, Igor, and Anastasia and detained them in cages behind 
the parking garage in the main court building of Guatemala City.''

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