Fifteen years after the death of Oxana Rantseva, a 20-year-old Russian brought over to work in a cabaret, and five years after a damning European court ruling, her employer and two ex-policemen stood trial in Limassol on Wednesday.
The former policemen are charged with abuse of power and her cabaret-owner employer for kidnapping and unlawful detention.
The young woman came to Cyprus on an ‘artiste’ visa on March 5, 2001. At around 6.30am on March 28, Rantseva was found dead on the street below an apartment which she had been taken to by people connected to the cabaret. Her handbag was over her shoulder. The police found a bedspread looped through the railing of the smaller balcony adjoining the room in which Rantseva had been staying on the upper floor of the apartment.
The woman had been returned to the care of the cabaret after running away, and after having been spotted in a nightclub, reported, detained and released by police.
The Limassol district court at the time ruled that Rantseva had died under unexplained circumstances, suggesting she was trying to escape from the flat and that the lack of evidence did not warrant a criminal investigation.
Cyprus was taken to the European court of human rights by Rantseva’s father, Nikolay Rantsev. He argued that there was no adequate investigation into the circumstances surrounding his daughter’s death, that she was inadequately protected by Cypriot police while she was still alive and that there was a complete failure to punish the individuals responsible for exposing his daughter to the sexual exploitation and ill treatment which ultimately led to her death. He also complained about the lack of access to the judicial process in Cyprus.
The government told the court that the original investigation file had been destroyed in light of the internal policy to destroy files after a period of five years in cases where it was concluded that death was not attributable to a criminal act. Officials supplied a duplicate file, containing all the relevant documents with the exception of memo sheets.
Of the eight police officers who attended the scene, the investigation file included statements made by six of them, including the officer placed in charge of the investigation. There was no record of any statements being taken either from other employees of the cabaret where Rantseva worked or from the women with whom she briefly shared an apartment.
The autopsy found a number of injuries on Rantseva’s body and to her internal organs. It concluded that these injuries resulted from her fall and that the fall was the cause of her death
An autopsy by coroners in Russia, however, concluded that “the colour and the look of bruises, breaches and wounds as well as haemorrhages with the morphological changes of the same type in the injured tissues indicates, without any doubt, that the traumas happened while she was alive, as well as the fact, that they happened not very long before death, within a very short time period, one after another.”
The European court eventually found Cyprus guilty on January 7, 2010, of not only failing to protect Rantseva from being trafficked or from being unlawfully detained prior to her death, but also failing to adequately investigate her death. Russia, the state of origin, was found by the court to have failed to adequately investigate the way in which Rantseva had been trafficked from its borders.
The ruling prompted the then attorney general Petros Clerides to launch a criminal investigation headed by Panayiotis Pelayias, who testified on behalf of the prosecution at Wednesday’s proceedings.
The conclusions of the criminal investigation led to the arrest of the three suspects.
Pelayias presented the court with details and evidence in the form of testimony taken from witnesses and others involved in the case.
The case is due to continue on October 12, 19 and 20 when the defendants are expected to submit a statement regarding the events leading up to Rantseva’s death.