The daughter of a powerful Siberian official is facing a police investigation after an internet outcry that she was not going to be charged over a horrific car crash that left one woman dead and another paralysed. In a sign of the growing power of the internet as a mobilising force in Russia, police yesterday issued a statement insisting that Anna Shavenkova, a 28-year-old from Irkutsk, would be investigated over the crash after all.
Viewers of local television were horrified by CCTV footage of the crash which aired on the news in early December. Two young women are seen strolling along a pavement in the centre of the Siberian city, when from the left of the shot a white Toyota veers on to the pavement, hitting the two women and throwing them several feet back into the side of a building. The car's female driver then steps out of the vehicle, and ignoring the bodies of the two victims, approaches the front of the car to check for damage to the bumper. She then casually walks to the passenger side to retrieve a handbag and make a phone call, without once looking at the bodies of the two women.
The victims, two sisters aged 27 and 34, were later taken to hospital. One of them, Elena Pyatkova, died in hospital, while her sister, Yulia, survived but is severely injured.
The video clip was forgotten until earlier this week, when a local news site in Irkutsk revealed that the driver of the car, Ms Shavenkova, was a political consultant to United Russia, the monolithic pro-Kremlin political party backed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Her mother Lyudmila is the head of the regional electoral committee. Because of her important connections, the website alleged, Ms Shavenkova was being treated as a witness rather than a suspect in the accident, and was liable to escape without any punishment whatsoever.
The Pyatkova family hope to sue Ms Shavenkova in a separate civil case for compensation they say they will use to fund the expensive treatment Yulia requires to aid her recovery.
According to Viktor Grigorov, the lawyer representing the family, a whole range of procedural violations occurred during the investigation, and Ms Shavenkova has not even been questioned, supposedly due to the fact that she is pregnant. She has not even had her driver's licence revoked. There are reports that the police tested for alcohol in the blood of the victims, but not the driver.
"It's worrying that not only has the investigator allowed illegal actions or simple inaction regarding this case, but a large number of serious mistakes have been made which could be accidental or could be deliberate," the lawyer told Radio Liberty.
A local news website reported the story and published Ms Shavenkova's work phone number, and angry comments from readers, who promised to set up a campaign group to ensure that she faces justice. Through Twitter and other networking sites, news about the case spread and anger grew.
By yesterday morning, Russia's national newspapers had picked up the story, and Irkutsk police released a statement acknowledging the "wide internet discussion" of the case, and insisted that all procedural norms were being followed. They claimed Ms Shavenkova is indeed a suspect in the case, a step which appears to have been taken only after the public outcry.