Dear Edward Snowden: Welcome to Limbo

I don't envy Edward Snowden. Unless the Russian authorities have somehow taken him under their wing -- and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov seemed to disavow that with his comment that Snowden "has not crossed the Russian border" -- chances are he is now officially residing in purgatory. When his flight from Hong Kong arrived at Terminal F of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport at 5:05 PM on June 23, Snowden didn't have a valid Russian visa, meaning that he wouldn't be able to leave the international transit area. And since he didn't leave on that ballyhooed flight to Cuba as everyone expected, he's probably still there -- as apparently confirmed by Vladimir Putin earlier today.

Having spent a good portion of my life in Sheremetyevo, I can't say that I recall the experience with particular nostalgia. The dingy brown décor and the low ceilings always managed to dampen one's mood even after airport officials tried to brighten the place up by adding a bunch of pricey shops. The airport as a whole has received a major makeover in recent years, but it doesn't sound like anyone has succeeded in exorcising the old Soviet spirit from Terminal F, as described by one recent reviewer:

Architects did not allow for the numerous (and terribly overpriced) duty-free shops that have been added since. That left a very narrow passage almost completely devoid of any facilities except for a couple of bathrooms and some broken currency exchange machines. You can go to the second floor - there aren't any seats there, either, but at least there aren't any duty free shops, so you can camp out on the floor. For that reason, the second-floor gallery looks like a refugee camp.

That last line is probably a bit more apt than the writer realized. For years the transit lounge at Terminal F was also home to succeeding generations of refugees fleeing conflicts in Somalia and Afghanistan. Because Russia hadn't established a procedure for recognizing asylum applications, many of those refugees -- who, like Snowden, didn't have the proper documentation to enter the country -- preferred staying in the airport to returning to their countries of origin. You'd see them sleeping on pieces of cardboard in secluded corners on that second floor, or washing up in the bathrooms. (Just a few years ago, the U.S. State Department was still including references to Russia's treatment of Sheremetyevo refugees in its annual human rights report.) Unlike those unlucky folks, Snowden can presumably count on donations from sympathizers to fund his excursions to the Irish Pub. But I somehow doubt that that will make the hours any shorter.



Berlusconi Has 2,500 Problems but Prison Ain't One

The two-year Bunga Bunga Trial has finally come to a close, and a court in Milan has found Silvio Berlusconi guilty of paying for sex with a minor. The court sentenced the former Italian prime minister to seven years in prison and banned him from public office for life.

But before we wave goodbye to Silvio (like we have, prematurely, so often before), it's important to keep in mind that the remarkably resilient premier has a penchant for appeals -- and a knack for winning them. Yes, Berlusconi has, according to his own estimate, been the subject of some 2,500 court hearings. But, incredibly enough, the former prime minister has yet to serve a sentence:

  • 1990: Berlusconi is found guilty of perjury for providing false testimony regarding his membership in Propaganda Due, a subversive and illegal Masonic lodge. Amnesty granted in 1989 saves him from actual sentencing. 
  • 1994: Berlusconi faces corruption charges over subsidiaries of his company Fininvest paying bribes totaling $240,000 to tax inspectors. In 1998, he is sentenced to 33 months in prison, which he never serves because the statute of limitations expires during an appeal.
  • 1995: Berlusconi is found guilty of falsifying documents during Fininvest's acquisition of the Medusa film company. In 2001 he is acquitted, and thus never serves a mandated 16-month prison sentence. 
  • 1998: In his second conviction in a week, Berlusconi is sentenced to 28 months in jail for using an offshore company to bribe former Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi. An appeals court throws out the charges a year later because the statute of limitations has expired.  
  • 2002: The Italian Parliament passes a bill allowing defendants to appeal for a change of venue if there is "legitimate suspicion" that the judge involved in a case is biased. Berlusconi uses the legislation to his advantage by dragging charges out past the statute of limitations (he will go on to evade false accounting charges through other laws passed by his government).
  • 2013: An appeals court upholds charges of tax fraud against Berlusconi after he is initially sentenced to four years in prison and banned from public office for five years in 2012. Berlusconi is now appealing the verdict to Italy's highest court, which has yet to issue a final verdict.

As for the latest conviction, Berlusconi posted on his Facebook page that he had fully expected to be acquitted because there is no evidence to condemn him.

Let the appeals begin.

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