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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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September 25, 2012

A Russian Chemist in Jail

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Posted by Derek

There's a bizarre case in Russia involving chemist Olga Zelenina:

Zelenina heads a laboratory at the Penza Agricultural Institute, some 600 kilometres southeast of Moscow, one of the best-equipped chemical-analysis labs in Russia. She is a specialist in the biology of hemp and poppy, and is a sought-after expert in legal cases involving narcotics produced from these plants.

In September 2011, the defence attorneys of Sergey Shilov, a Russian businessman under investigation by the Russian Federal Drug Control Service (FDCS), asked her to provide an expert opinion on the amount of opiates that could possibly be extracted from 42 metric tonnes of food poppy seeds that Shilov had imported from Spain in 2010. . .

. . .On the basis of gas-chromatography and mass-spectrometry measurements of samples analysed in her lab, Zelenina calculated the overall morphine and codeine content in the poppy-seed consignment in question to be 0.00069% and 0.00049%, respectively. In such low concentrations, opiates can only be identified or extracted in well-equipped analytical chemistry labs, she wrote.

“This opinion apparently failed to satisfy the prosecutors,” says Irina Levontina, a linguist at the Russian Language Institute in Moscow, who is frequently heard as an expert in libel and drug lawsuits. “It has become quite common for Russian prosecutors to accuse independent experts if they don’t like their opinions. It can be downright dangerous for experts to appear in court.”

Apparently so. She was arrested in August, for allegedly assisting drug trafficking, and ordered held until October 15, awaiting a still-unspecified trial date. C&E News reports that scientists in Moscow and elsewhere are signing petitions for her release and showing support for her in court hearings. But if the Russian government doesn't like you, what can avail? Perhaps bad publicity can help?

Update:Zelenina has been released from custody, pending her trial. It's a start, but she's still facing all sorts of penalties if convicted.

Comments (17) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Current Events


1. NoDrugsNoJobs on September 25, 2012 10:13 AM writes...

Great Post. But lets not feel too good, In the United States, they would have confiscated all of the alleged drug dealer's property and never given it back even if he beat the criminal charges under our asset forfeiture laws. The police get to keep and sell whatever they seize so they love to do it and the burden of proof is a civil version (more likely than not rather than beyond a reasonable doubt) and very difficult for the person to get their stuff back even after being acquitted in the criminal court. These sorts of things corrupt our own system dramatically - Thankfully we are not throwing expert witnesses in jail yet but lets look to the Russian example and then turn a sober eye to our own drug law abuses.

Permalink to Comment

2. Henry's cat on September 25, 2012 10:44 AM writes...

Maybe she's sharing a cell with Pussy Riot...

Let's not point too bony a finger at this despicable regime without first looking back over our shoulders. Ahem - Bradley Manning.

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3. sgcox on September 25, 2012 10:51 AM writes...

"Maybe she's sharing a cell with Pussy Riot..."

Actually she was, with Tolokonnikova.
I say was because she is released today.

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4. Anonymous on September 25, 2012 11:02 AM writes...

#3 Who was released today specifically?

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5. nitrosonium on September 25, 2012 11:11 AM writes...

i really miss mother russia. i will return home soon.

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6. anonymous on September 25, 2012 11:13 AM writes...

#2 False equivalence much? Bradley Manning leaked thousands of documents indiscriminately. It was part of his oath of service not to. Even if it was nothing more than the Whitehouse beer recipe if it was classified he shouldn't have been leaking it.

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7. DrSnowboard on September 25, 2012 11:14 AM writes...

"Updated: Since this story went to press, a judge at a Moscow city court ruled on 25 September that Olga Zenelina immediately be released from custody, pending her trial. A date for the trial has not yet been scheduled."
Footnote to

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8. Algirdas on September 25, 2012 11:17 AM writes...

#4, Who was released?

according to

There was a court hearing today (Tue, Sept 25) and the judge ordered immediate release of Zelenina. Trial at some later time still pending, apparently.

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9. mass_speccer on September 25, 2012 11:29 AM writes...

@ #6

I guess you mean "...allegedly leaked..."?

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10. Vladimir Chupakhin on September 25, 2012 11:32 AM writes...

She was released today.

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11. milkshake on September 25, 2012 11:54 AM writes...

I don't think it goes as far as arresting and charging defense expert witnesses but in US the law enforcement authorities play exceeding dirty in drug-related cases. They would go routinely hiding exculpating evidence from defense, pressuring inconvenient witnesses to make them change their story. The all time favorite is trumped up expert testimonies and cooking up entrapment-based conspiracy charges with help of informants (who cooperate on to have charges reduced/dropped in their own sealed case - and will therefore do anything to put someone else in the jail).

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12. Sili on September 25, 2012 2:44 PM writes...

Ahem - Bradley Manning.
PFC Breanna Manning, I believe.
Bradley Manning leaked thousands of documents indiscriminately. It was part of his oath of service not to.
"her oath"

And "Befehl ist Befehl" hasn't been valid for the last 66 years.

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13. metaphysician on September 25, 2012 4:12 PM writes...

#12- Given said leaked documents have yet to show even a single compelling argument for whistle blowing, you pick a curious position. Do you believe that anyone should be free to leak any information they want, for any reason they choose?

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14. startup on September 25, 2012 6:50 PM writes...

What's bizarre about it? It's Russia after all. And it's not like she is done, from what I understand she still can't go back home, and she still has to stand trial where she may very well be convicted and spend the rest of her days in prison.

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15. emjeff on September 26, 2012 1:29 PM writes...

#2, If you are comparing this unfortunate woman to that piece of scum who was violating his oath of servive by handing Wikileaks thousands of pages of classified documents (which , by the way resulted in at least 1 person being killed, as I recall) then you really are an idiot.

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16. Falanx on October 2, 2012 6:47 AM writes...


Last time I checked, members of the US Armed forces were required to directly ignore orders they consider illegal and exercise their own moral code.

I'm sorry that you equate a vulnerable person in a position to make a decision about publising something they consider deeply wrong with pondlife, but that says more about you than them.

And no-one had died as a direct result of their actions, but a rather large number have perished because of the actions they have publicised.

Befehl nichts befehl, thank you.

Anyways, derail over :-)

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