Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wide-Ranging Prison Reforms Imminent

Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov announced proposals to reform the prison system, with emphasis on shifting from widespread use of detention to milder alternatives such as administrative sanctions for lesser crimes, and eliminating the system of corrective labor institutions, which Konovalov described as a throwback to Stalin-era concentration camps. Prison reform has been on the national agenda since 1997, but efforts have increased over the past year, and recent impetus has come from the November 2009 death of tax advisor Sergei Magnitskey in pre-trial detention from lack of medical care. The head of the federal prison agency has indicated that Magnitskey's death was the reason for the dismissal of Moscow's chief prison official.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Kyrgyz Child Slaves Freed near Moscow

Russian police freed fifteen Kyrgyz children, aged 11 to 17, who were recruited from poor families by a Kyrgyz native and forced to work in an illegal sewing factory in Noginsk near Moscow. They say they were kept in barracks and worked 12 hours a day for food, mostly bread with mayonnaise. Criminal charges are expected. (see video)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Presidential Widow Seeks German Asylum

The widow of Georgia’s first post-Soviet president Zviad Gamsakhurdia has requested political asylum in Germany. She asserts that her son Tsotne is being held on false assault charges for political reasons. Investigators have described the alleged assault as the result of a personal conflict. Tsotne was previously charged with attempting to overthrow Georgia’s government in 2007.

Customs Seeks Currency Powers

The Federal Customs Service has proposed legislative amendments authorizing it to seize currency from a traveler who refuses to disclose its source or when the currency is suspected of being connected to money laundering. Under current legislation the Customs Service may only check whether currency over $3,000 is declared. Neither the Customs Service nor other officials could explain the purpose of the proposed new powers, and an official of the Ministry of Economic Development commented that the Customs Service is seeking authority beyond its jurisdiction.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Court Increases McDonald's Rent 1,000-fold

A court in Moscow upheld the claim of the Moscow government seeking to increase the contractually agreed rent paid by a McDonald's restaurant in central Moscow. In 1992 the Moscow government, striving to attract McDonald's to Moscow, offered a 49-year rental contract at 1 ruble per square meter per year. Now the government apparently thinks this is too low. The court agreed to increase the rent to 1,000 rubles per square meter, which is still the lowest rent in Moscow.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Ukraine Seeks Genocide Verdict

Ukraine’s state security service is conducting an investigation of the 1930s famine in the country and has named Joseph Stalin and other top Soviet and Ukrainian Communist Party leaders as the main suspects in genocide against the Ukrainian people. The investigators are expected to seek a court decision equating Communism with Nazism, but some observers argue that essential elements of a court case are missing, for example, living defendants.

Chechen President Not to Attack Georgia and Ukraine

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov’s representatives stated the media wrongly accused Kadyrov of plans to “attack Ukraine and Georgia.” In his interview with Reuters Kadyrov said: “Georgia, South Ossetia, Ukraine, all this will go on and on. It's Russia's private affliction. Why should we always suffer if we can eradicate this for good? We are a great power, we have everything - an army, technology. We need to attack.” Ukraine and Georgia expressed discontent with the “aggressive statements.” In response, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that “Russia's foreign policy does not envision making attacks on other states.”

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Former Moldovan Interior Minister Prosecuted

In Moldova criminal proceedings were instituted against a number of former high-ranking police officials, including former Interior Minister Georgy Papuk. The investigation is related to the mass disorders that took place in Moldova in the wake of April 2009 parliamentary elections, when opposition demonstrators took over and looted the presidential palace and the parliament building. The opposition, in turn, acсused the police of unnecessary brutality. The police officials are charged with “criminal negligence.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Criminal Liability for Tax Offenses Relaxed

Russia’s State Duma adopted amendments to criminal and tax legislation according to which tax offences are largely decriminalized. First-time offenders can avoid criminal liability by paying the back taxes, interest, and fines. The amendments still need to be approved by the Federation Council and signed by the President.

Platon Lebedev Prevails in Supreme Court

Russia’s Supreme Court found illegal and formally annulled the 2003 arrest of Platon Lebedev, an officer of former Russian oil giant Yukos. The decision was made in the wake of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg which found Lebedev’s detention during certain periods in 2003 and 2004 illegal and awarded him 10,000 Euros. After that investigation Lebedev together with Mikhail Khodorkovsky was sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment. They are now on trial for new Yukos-related charges; thus, the decision on the 2003 arrest will not free Lebedev from jail.

Monday, December 21, 2009

UN Adopts Anti-Nazi Resolution

The UN General Assembly adopted a Russia-sponsored resolution on combating racism and xenophobia, condemning “the glorification of the Nazi movement and former members of the Waffen SS organization.” Although specific countries are not named in the resolution, apparently it is directed against political practices of certain former Soviet republics, like Georgia, Latvia, and Ukraine. 124 countries voted for the resolution; 55 countries, including all EU members, abstained. The only “Nay” was the vote of the U.S., in which Russia expressed disappointment.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Russia to Ratify Strasbourg Procedures

Russia is expected to ratify, perhaps as early as January, European Court of Human Rights procedural amendments known as Protocol No. 14, which are expected to simplify and expedite resolution of cases before the court. Russia is the only European Council member that has not ratified Protocol No. 14, which was opened for signature in 2004. Cases brought against Russia by its citizens account for 28% of the court’s docket. Controversial parts of Protocol No. 14 include allowing cases to be heard by a panel that does not include a judge from the country being sued, and investigation by the court before an initial determination as to whether the petition can be decided on the merits.

Arbitrazh Court Proceedings Will Open to Public

The Chief Judge of Russia’s Supreme Arbitrazh (commercial) Court has issued new internal guidelines according to which hearings before arbitrazh courts shall be open to the public, not only to parties as was the previous practice. A representative of the high court stated that the new guidelines are already in effect, and that from the beginning of next year high court presidium hearings will also be broadcasted.

North Ossetia and Ingushetia Sign “Peace Treaty”

North Ossetian President Taymuraz Mamsurov and Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov signed an agreement on cooperation and good-neighborly relations between the two Russian constituent regions. The agreement is intended to relax the tension between Ossetians and Ingushes dating back to the 1992 armed conflict of ethnic militias killing hundreds civilians. Now Ingush refugees may return to their home places in North Ossetia. The Ingush President, in turn, has declared that Ingushetia does not have territorial claims to North Ossetia.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

House Arrest Introduced

Russia’s State Duma adopted amendments to the criminal legislation introducing a new type of punishment: house arrest. A convict sentenced to house arrest will be allowed to leave home for work etc., but generally disallowed to travel, participate in mass actions, etc. The term may be up to four years.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

E-Government Portal Launched

The Russian government launched a unified web portal of government services The portal is a part of the “E-Government” concept for which 181 mln rubles ($6 mln) has been allocated. However, as of this writing the portal was “temporary unavailable or too busy.”

Update of 16 Dec. 2009: It works now!

World's Smallest Nation to Recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia

Nauru, a South Pacific island nation with 14,000 citizens, is ready to recognize breakaway Georgian provinces Abkhazia and South Ossetia as sovereign states. In turn, Nauru requests from Russia financial aid in the amount of $50 mln. Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been recognized only by Russia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

Update of 16 Dec. 2009: Diplomatic relations with Nauru established

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Constitutional Court Restricts Freedom of Movement

Russia's Constitutional Court upheld a statutory prohibition on the issuance of international passports to convicts before they have fully served their sentence, including probation or parole. The statute was challenged by a paroled former police officer who wanted to attend hearings on his case in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and a woman seeking medical treatment abroad whose two-year prison sentence for tax evasion was suspended. Recently Russia's Supreme Court found legitimate a similar restriction for persons under criminal investigation.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Policeman Convicted of Killing Oppositionist

A court in Ingushetia (a Russian constituent region) sentenced former police officer Ibrahim Yevloyev to two years of imprisonment for negligent homicide in the 2008 killing of Ingush opposition leader Mahomed Yevloyev. (The victim and the convict are not related.) The victim was detained by police officers at the airport after flying to Ingushetia, shot in the head in a police car, and dropped by the side of the road.

Chief Justice Cracks Down on Dissenters

Russia’s Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin published a strongly-worded article accusing fellow Justices Anatoly Kononov and Vladimir Yaroslavtsev of attempting to undermine the court and ultimately destroy the Russian state. Kononov and Yaroslavtsev are known for their numerous dissenting opinions, but the immediate pretext of the attack was their recent interviews criticizing the Russian judicial system as being totally controlled by the executive branch. According to Zorkin, the court should “purify itself” of unprincipled persons serving unnamed enemies of Russia.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Citizens Avoid Census

The head of the State Statistical Service has proposed imposing penalties for refusing to provide information for the 2010 census. Estimates of non-participation in the 2002 census range from 6% to 25%. 46% of people surveyed fear that census data will become publicly available, as has occurred with tax records, real property ownership, and other confidential information collected by the government.

Prosecutors Find Customs Actions Illegal

The General Prosecutor’s Office, implementing new powers to oversee government agencies’ inspections of companies, found that 90% of the Customs Service’s inspections planned for 2010 are illegal for reasons including excessive duration and frequency. The Customs Service provided half of federal government revenues in 2008, but its planned collections for 2009 fall approximately 15% short of what the Ministry of Finance expects from it.

Improper Tax Action against Nestle Subsidiary

The General Prosecutor’s office for the Samara Region determined that a local tax inspectorate wrongly applied to court in October to liquidate Nestle’s Russian subsidiary. The stated basis for the application was that the company’s net assets as of the end of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 were less than its charter capital. The prosecutors pointed out that the law requires liquidation if assets are below charter capital for two years, and that the company’s 2007 assets exceeded charter capital.

Governor's Armored Mercedes under Attack

The General Prosecutor’s Office has been asked to investigate the Samara Region governor’s purchase of a 23 million ruble (~$750,000) armored Mercedes with public funds. Anti-crisis measures announced by the government in October for troubled car manufacturer Avtovaz, located in Samara Region, was additional public procurement from the company.

Domain Name Dispute Resolved

Russia’s Supreme Arbitrazh (commercial) Court resolved a domain name dispute in a decision of possibly precedential value. The disputed domain name was similar to a registered trademark. Although the domain had been established before the trademark was registered, the trademark owner prevailed because still earlier it had used an identical company name.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

President Wants to Use Army Abroad without Parliamentary Approval

Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev requested that the Federation Council (Russian parliament’s upper chamber) grant him permission to use the army abroad at his discretion. The Council is reportedly inclined to agree. Under the Constitution, the Council decides whether the armed forces may be used abroad. Although this rule has not always been followed (in particular, in the 2008 Russia-Georgia war), the requested permission would effectively eliminate the need to obtain the Council's approval. Experts opine that the intended move is blatantly unconstitutional.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Judge Convicted of Entering Wrong Judgments

Anna Zaytseva, formerly a federal district court judge in the Amur Region, was found guilty of knowingly entering unjust judgments and sentenced to a suspended prison term of five years. In 2000 she upheld 60 suits against the Russian government related to certain bonds of the former USSR, which the USSR had failed to pay off. Zaytseva ordered to pay to 10,000 plaintiffs some 550 mln rubles ($20 mln), but her judgments were later reversed by higher courts. In 2007 another judge of the same court, Alexander Kozlov, was sentenced to a suspended three-year term for upholding claims related to similar bonds.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Supreme Court Restricts Freedom of Movement

Russia’s Supreme Court affirmed rulings by lower courts upholding the prohibition against issuing international passports to persons under criminal investigation. In the case under consideration, a person being investigated for fraud and other charges visited Azerbaijan several times with the investigator’s consent. When his passport expired, he applied for a new one, but the application was rejected on the grounds he was under investigation.

START Pact Expires

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between Russia and the U.S., which has been a cornerstone of international nuclear security since 1991, expired on 5 December 2009. The parties failed to sign a replacement treaty by that date, as they repeatedly promised. Both the White House and the Kremlin, however, declared that they were still committed to a new treaty “at the earliest possible date.”

Friday, December 4, 2009

Court Annuls Elections Results

The City Court of Derbent, Dagestan (a Russian constituent region), annulled the results of a recent mayoral election. According to official results, the incumbent mayor, representing the ruling “United Russia” party, won the election. Opposition representatives alleged numerous violations, including failure to open polling stations on election day. United Russia will likely appeal. Judicial cancellation of election results is rare in Russia, and unprecedented in the North Caucasus.

Blogger Prosecuted for False Plague Report

The Saratov police instituted criminal proceedings against a student who published in a blog false information on pneumonic plague in the Saratov Region. Rumors about the plague and about authorities’ plans to spray disinfectant solution from helicopters caused panic in Saratov. Although officials denied the rumors, panic buying cleared stores of bottled water, and people locked themselves in their homes. The mobile communication system collapsed because of overload. The student has been charged with “knowingly disseminating false information related to an act of terrorism,” which may bring up to three years in prison.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Offshore Tax Evasion Schemes Targeted

Draft legislative amendments to prevent tax evasion by using offshore companies are circulating in the government. Under proposed amendments to the tax code, tax treaty benefits will be denied if the taxpayer is not a resident of the offshore treaty country. Also, proposed amendments for the treaty with the most popular offshore juridiction for Russian business, Cyprus (the source of 22% of investments into Russia in 2008), would simplify procedures for Russian government requests to identify owners of Cyprus companies.

Dissenting Constitutional Court Justice Forced to Resign

Constitutional Court Justice Anatoly Kononov, known for numerous human rights-oriented dissenting opinions, resigned under threat of dismissal for violating judicial ethics code prohibitions against "diminishing the authority of the judiciary" and "criticizing professional actions of colleagues." The immediate reason was an interview entitled "There Are No Independent Judges in Russia," where he criticized the court for measures taken against Justice Vladimir Yaroslavtsev for his interview entitled "State Security Bodies Rule Russia as in Soviet Times."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Yandex Released from Libel Claim

A Moscow arbitrazh (commercial) appeals court affirmed the dismissal of a libel suit against search engine Yandex. In one of Russia’s few judgments addressing the issue, the court held that Yandex, by enabling the allegedly libelous information to be searched, did not “distribute” it within the meaning of the Civil Code provisions on libel.

Second Railroad Bomb

Three days after the bombing of the train on the Moscow-St. Petersburg line, a bomb exploded under a passenger train in the southern Russian region Dagestan. The train was not derailed, and no injuries were reported.

Hague Arbitration Tribunal Accepts Yukos Case

The Hague Permanent Court of Arbitration accepted jurisdiction in a $100 billion suit by former Russian oil giant Yukos shareholders against the Russian government. The plaintiffs allege the government artificially forced Yukos into bankruptcy through tax claims, making their shares worthless. The suit is based on the Energy Charter, a multilateral treaty that Russia signed but did not ratify. Russia applied the treaty provisionally until 2009, when it formally declared (after the Yukos suit was filed) that it no longer intends to become a member. Nevertheless, the arbitration tribunal ruled that the case “can go forward on its merits.”

Monday, November 30, 2009

FSB General Blamed in Yushchenko Poisoning

Oleg Litvak, an official responsible for security matters in the administration of Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko, alleged in an “Echo Moscow” radio interview that an unidentified general in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) was involved in Yushchenko’s poisoning during the 2004 presidential campaign. Litvak stated that the FSB general is now living under an assumed name, and suggested that in the absence of laws that would permit the extradition of suspects to Ukraine, it would be better to stop the investigation into the poisoning rather than continue an “imitation” of an investigation.

Legal Aid to be Expanded

Russia’s Ministry of Justice is preparing draft legislation to provide for free legal services for the needy based on pilot programs currently operating. At a meeting on the subject, President Dmitri Medvedev equated free legal services with medical care as a basic service that citizens have a right to expect.

Magnitskey Death Investigated

The Ministry of Interior has opened a criminal investigation into the death of tax advisor Sergei Magnitskey in a Moscow investigative detention facility. At a discussion of the case in the Public Chamber, a representative of the Federal Prison Service admitted that the Service is “partially responsible” for Magnitskey’s death.

New Appeal Procedures Proposed

The Supreme Court has prepared a draft law providing for new procedures for review of trial court decisions in courts of general jurisdiction, similar to those used in the arbitrazh (commercial) courts. The proposed new procedures include review of the evidence presented in the lower court and allow for new evidence that the appellant did not have access to in the lower court. Retired Constitutional Court judge Tamara Morshchakova called the new procedures an overdue improvement to current cassation procedures, a formality typically lasting 20 minutes with predictable results.

Customs Union Agreements Signed

At a summit meeting in Minsk, the presidents of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus signed agreements on creation of a customs union to be implemented in 2010, and discussed the possible future creation of a single economic space and monetary union. After the summit, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev reaffirmed his country’s intention to join the World Trade Organization, but stated that it is unclear whether Russia will apply alone or as part of the new customs union.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Official Suggests Self-Defense against Police Brutality

Russia’s top police official, Minister of the Interior Rashid Nurgaliev, commenting on recent police brutality scandals, stated that an innocent civilian attacked by the police without provocation has the right to hit back. Criminal defense attorneys stated that the suggestion is not helpful in light of laws against using force against police officers.

Journalist Imprisoned for Falsely Reporting Official’s Death

A court in Kazan, Tatarstan (a Russian constituent region), sentenced Irek Murtazin, formerly Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaymiev’s press secretary, later an opposition journalist, to one year and nine months of imprisonment for criminal defamation for falsely reporting Shaymiev’s death. That statement was published in Murtazin’s blog in 2008 when Shaymiev was temporarily unavailable to the public and press. Murtazin was also found guilty of “inciting hatred against a social group” (the group being the Tatarstan government) on the basis of critical materials he had published in his articles and a book.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Ukraine Gives Credit to Anti-Soviet Guerillas

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko issued a decree recognizing “Ukrainian liberation movement of the 20th century.” The decree seeks to exonerate anti-Soviet guerilla fighters, including some of those who cooperated with Nazi Germany. The Russian Foreign Ministry responded with a strongly-worded statement accusing Ukrainian authorities of “Russophobia” and “insulting the memory of millions of victims [of the Nazis] and their descendants.”

Moscow Mayor Sues Opposition Leader for Libel

A Moscow court began hearings in the libel suit of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and the Moscow government against liberal opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and Kommersant newspaper. Nemtsov published a book accusing Moscow authorities of large-scale corruption. In addition, Kommersant published an interview where Nemtsov, responding to a mayoral spokesman’s comment that “Luzhkov is a figure, while Nemtsov is nothing,” stated: “I think that Luzhkov is a corruptionist and a thief, while I am not!” Officials claim 5 million rubles (approx. $200,000) from Nemtsov and the same amount from Kommersant.

Update of 30 Nov. 2009:
Luzhkov won 500,000 rubles from each of the defendants.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Policemen Suspected in Fatal Fight

A late-night Moscow street fight between three drunk policemen in uniform and two Abkhazians resulted in the death of one of the civilians. The policemen have been dismissed and arrested pending investigation.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Russia Extends Death Penalty Ban

Russia’s Constitutional Court, with two dissents, ruled that courts cannot apply the death penalty unless Russia formally rejects Protocol 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (on abolishing the death penalty), which it signed in 1997 but has not ratified. The question of possible reintroduction of the death penalty arose in 1999, when the Constitutional Court ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional before jury trials are introduced in all of Russia’s constituent regions, which process is to be completed by the beginning of 2010.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hermitage Capital Advisor Dies in Jail

Sergei Magnitskey, a tax advisor at the Moscow law firm Firestone Duncan, has died in a Moscow investigative detention facility. He was held without bail since November 2008 and charged in October 2009 for facilitating tax evasion by the firm’s client Hermitage Capital Management, formerly Russia’s largest portfolio investor. (For background, see ABA Journal, 8/13/09, "Russia Claws at the Rule of Law.")

Friday, November 13, 2009

Former Security Officers Freed from Jury Duty

Amendments to jury selection procedures will allow former intelligence and other state security officers to decline jury duty. The Duma-approved amendments are intended to insulate such jurors from the influence of ex-colleagues remaining in state service.

Moscow Mayor Wins Suit against U.S. Journalist

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov added to his string of successful libel suits with a judgment against New York Times journalist Clifford J. Levy over an article in the newspaper's Moscow blog. A Moscow court ordered a retraction of statements that Luzhkov (1) incites separatism in neighboring countries, (2) champions interventionist policy far from the capital, (3) financed separatists in Moldova, and (4) supports separatists in Crimea. Luzhkov did not claim damages or sue the newspaper, which also published an English version of the article.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

High-Level Proposals to Free Judges from Political Pressure

A study commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Development (Board of Trustees chaired by President Dmitri Medvedev) found that the biggest threat to judicial independence in Russia is interference by government officials and chief judges in the decisions of rank-and-file judges in cases involving the government or big business. Also, appellate rulings tend to be pro-government, and lower court judges risk dismissal if their decisions are often reversed. At a discussion in Russia’s Public Chamber after the study was released, it was proposed that chief judges be elected by their fellow judges. A Supreme Court representative suggested that these criticisms of the judicial system might be colored by their source, including dismissed judges.

Ukraine’s Supreme Administrative Court Stops Work

The Supreme Administrative Court of Ukraine suspended work because of underfunding, explaining that it cannot "send mail, pay for services, or buy paper and disks.” One of the country's highest courts (along with the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, and Supreme Economic Court), its jurisdiction includes disputes over upcoming presidential elections.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Russian Military Police to be Established

Plans conceived in 1992 to create a military police will be carried out next year, according to sources in Russia’s Ministry of Defense. It is hoped that the force will contend with hazing and other irregularities such as criminal gangs based on regional loyalty. Legislation being drafted will provide for the MP to report to a Deputy Minister of Defense, perhaps an interim solution on the way to external control, for example by the Ministry of Justice.

Austrian Airlines Gets Reprieve on Russia Flights

Russia’s Ministry of Transport has questioned Austrian Airlines’ entitlement to its Russian routes under an Austria-Russia inter-governmental agreement, because the company was acquired by Lufthansa, a non-Austrian entity. The prime ministers of Russia and Austria have agreed on temporary permission for the 58 weekly flights from Vienna to six Russian cities to continue until February 2010 while a longer-term solution is discussed.

Medvedev Classmate to Head Appeals Court

Russia’s highest judicial appointments committee recommended President Dmitri Medvedev’s law school classmate as chief judge of the Moscow Region arbitrazh (commercial) appeals court. She was the only nominee and was not asked any questions at the hearing. Other Medvedev classmates in judicial service include the chief judge of the Supreme Arbitrazh Court and the chief judge of the Moscow Region arbitrazh trial court.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rusal Threatens Suit over Pre-IPO Reports

Rusal, the world's largest aluminum company, has threatened to sue Russian daily Vedomosti over recent negative reports, based on confidential sources, about Rusal's financial condition. Rusal asserts that the reports violate Russian securities law by giving investors who read Russian an advantage in Rusal's planned Hong Kong initial public offering of stock.

Police Officer Alleges Corruption

A Novorossiisk policeman, Major Aleksei Dymovskii, has made sweeping public attacks on police practices including taking bribes and fabricating evidence in order to fulfill quotas of "solved" crimes. His complaints, made by blog, videotape, and a Moscow press conference, are also directed at poor pay and other working conditions for police officers. Dymovskii states that recordings of conversations with superiors prove his claims, and that he is prepared to go to jail if charged with defamation. In response, Krasnodar regional police head General Sergey Kucheruk stated that Dymovskii may have been used by “third parties backed by western intelligence services.”

Government Lawyers Oppose Executions

At a Constitutional Court hearing on the Supreme Court's petition to clarify whether the death penalty may be reinstated in Russia from January 1, 2010, when jury trials will be available in all Russian regions (see "Death Penalty May Return," this blog, Oct. 29, 2009), lawyers representing all branches of government opposed ending Russia's moratorium on executions, instituted in 1997 when Russia signed Protocol No. 6 of the European Convention Rights Convention on ending the death penalty. They argued that Russia is obliged to honor Protocol No. 6 although it has not ratified it, as it undertook to do within three years of signing, and has also not denounced it.

Moscow Rights Groups Face Eviction

Two human rights organizations, Moscow Helsinki Group and For Human Rights, have been denied extensions on their office leases from the Moscow city government, a move they call an attempt to paralyze them. A city spokesperson denies the charge and asserts that the Helsinki Group has been offered alternative quarters. Regarding For Human Rights, the city representative asserts that neighbors complain of disorderly conduct, such as removing license plates from the car of a prominent actor, Emmanuil Vitorgan, but he says he has no complaints against the group.

$10 m. Embezzled from Moscow Region Government

Vladislav Telepnev, the former head of a Moscow region government investment company, has been indicted for embezzling 3 billion rubles ($10 million) that the regional government had disbursed for construction projects including public housing and court, governmental, and sports facilities. Another suspect, the former head of the region’s Finance Ministry, Alexei Kuznetsov, is believed to be hiding in the United States.

Constitutional Court on Party Election Practices

On a petition by a former candidate in 2007 elections for the Krasnodar region legislature, who was removed from the ballot by his party, Russia with Justice, Russia's Constitutional Court ruled that political parties may not remove candidates from election ballots without a statement of reasons. Reversing a decision of the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court further explained that the reasons given must be related to the party's interests and may not be arbitrary or discriminatory.

Computer Hackers Indicted in $9 m. Heist

Federal prosecutors in Atlanta, Georgia have indicted seven computer hackers in Russia, Moldova, and Estonia for computer fraud in a $9.4 million theft in November 2008 from a Royal Bank of Scotland payroll services division. The indictment alleges that the defendants raised account limits on payroll debit cards and used counterfeit debit cards to remove the cash in 12 hours from 2,100 ATMs in the United States, Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, Italy, Hong Kong, Japan, and Canada. Indictment proceedings are pending against the defendants in Estonia.

Russia and U.S. to Cooperate on Competition

Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) signed a cooperation agreement with the US Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission. The agreement, which provides for exchange of information and technical cooperation on competition policy and enforcement, is the United States’ first agency-to-agency (as opposed to intergovernmental) antitrust cooperation agreement.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Presidential Election Fraud Charges Refused

The General Prosecutor of Belarus rejected the request of an opposition party to institute criminal proceedings against President Alexander Lukashenko for manipulating election results. Lukashenko stated in interviews that he ordered the results of the 2006 presidential elections changed from 93% in his favor to only 82%, in order to make the results more psychologically acceptable. The General Prosecutor's Office explained that documentary evidence of vote-rigging is lacking.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Russia-U.S. Criminal Enforcement Cooperation to Expand

The first visit of a Russian Minister of Justice to the United States in 10 years resulted in a decision to create working groups on Russia-US cooperation in the fight against organized crime and human and drug trafficking. Russian media reported that Minister Alexander Konovalov also proposed that the countries enter a bilateral extradition treaty. A Ministry press release noted that the Russian delegation met with ABA and other bar groups in New York and Washington.

Court Orders Putin to Take Measures and Report

A St. Petersburg military court, considering a serviceman’s claim for compensation for unused leave, issued a “specific ruling” (chastnoye opredeleniye) addressed to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the Defense Ministry. The court held that a statute required that the compensation be paid, but that the Defense Ministry had failed to issue regulations on the payment procedure. The court ordered payment and also required the responsible officials to take relevant measures and report to the court in a month.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Markelov Murder Solved?

Two alleged members of a radical nationalist organization have been detained as suspects in the January 2009 murder of attorney Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova. Markelov often participated in court cases against ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis. One suspect has confessed, according to Federal Security Service Director Alexander Bortnikov.

Former Terrorism Suspect Sues Banks

Timur Saidgareyev, a former terrorism suspect, sued several banks for refusing to open an account for him. Saidgareyev was tried for conspiring to murder the St. Petersburg governor, and was acquitted by a jury in 2008. He then won a lawsuit for wrongful prosecution, but could not collect the money because several banks refused to open an account for him, referring to legislation on money laundering and financing terrorism (apparently Saidgareyev remained on a terrorism blacklist). Now he demands that the banks open an account for him and compensate him for moral harm of $1,700.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Military Housing Funds Embezzled

A Ekaterinburg military court has ordered the arrest of three senior army officers who head a military construction department. They are suspected of embezzling 130 million rubles (over $4 million) intended for construction of officers’ quarters in the Ural-Volga region.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Proposed Restrictions on Drug Promotions

Responding to criticism by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of pharmaceutical companies' gifts and payments to doctors who promote their products, Russia's Federal Anti-Monopoly Service has prepared legislative amendments that would prohibit drug manufacturers and their representatives from organizing travel, entertainment, or educational and scientific events for doctors who promote their products, or from giving them cash or other gifts worth more than 3,000 rubles ($100). The amendments are to be reviewed by the Ministry of Health by February 2010.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Another Freedom-of-Assembly Demonstration Dispersed

In Moscow the police dispersed an opposition demonstration meeting in support of Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, which guarantees the "right to assemble peacefully, without weapons, hold rallies, meetings and demonstrations, marches and pickets." The opposition holds similar meetings on the 31st day of each month having 31 days. The meetings are invariably banned and dispersed by the authorities.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Deripaska Visited U.S.

Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska has visited the United States twice in recent months despite his longstanding inability to obtain a visa because of suspicion of ties to organized crime. Deripaska asserts thats the visits were regular business trips and that no visa restrictions are in place, while the FBI states that it made special arrangements for the visits in order to question Deripaska, and the State Department notes that it has not lifted the visa restrictions.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Death Penalty May Return

Russia’s Supreme Court asked the Constitutional Court to explain whether Russian courts may impose the death penalty from January 1, 2010. In 1999 the Constitutional Court ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional before jury trials are introduced in all of Russia's constituent regions. On January 1 juries are to be introduced in the last region, Chechnya. On the other hand, Russia signed in 1997 Protocol 6 to the European Convention of Human Rights, which prohibits the death penalty. Although Russia has not ratified the protocol, the 1969 Vienna Convention arguably prevents Russia from taking measures contrary to the protocol before formally declining its ratification.

Court Holds against Parallel Imports

A St. Petersburg first-level appellate court upheld the claim of a trademark owner, the German manufacturer of UVEX safety eyewear, against a Russian company importing UVEX products without the trademark owner’s permission. The court found such “parallel import” illegal under Russian trademark law. On the other hand, a Moscow appellate court recently held for a parallel importer of trademarked automobile parts in a suit filed by the trademark owner, Japanese company Kayaba. The legality of parallel imports has yet to be resolved by the legislature, the Supreme Arbitrazh (Commercial) Court, or second-level appellate courts.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ingush Rights Activist Murdered

Prominent Ingush rights activist Maksharip Aushev was shot dead in Kabardino-Balkaria, a Russian region neighboring Ingushetia. The police found 60 machine gun shells at the crime scene. Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov stated that the murder may have been committed by siloviki (law enforcement or military officers). He promised to “do the best to solve this crime.”

Anti-Monopoly Service Fines Oil Companies

Russia’s Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) imposed a record fine of 5.3 billion rubles ($180 million) on state-owned oil company Rosneft for “abusing its dominant position in the wholesale market for oil products” and artificially pushing up oil product prices in the first half of 2009. Earlier two other major oil companies, TNK-BP and Gazprom Neft, were fined on similar grounds. Rosneft may challenge the FAS decision in court.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rights Activist Prosecuted for Defaming Chechen President

Criminal defamation charges were brought against Oleg Orlov, the head of Russian rights group Memorial, for stating that Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov was “guilty” of the murder of Chechen rights activist Natalia Estemirova. Earlier Kadyrov won a libel suit against Orlov and Memorial for this statement.

Court Upholds Cristal Champagne Trademark

The Arbitrazh (Economic) Court of Moscow reversed an April 2009 decision of the Russian patent agency's Disputes Chamber that French champagne producer Louis Roederer's elite "Cristal" trademark is not protected because it is "confusingly similar" to "Kristal" vodka, a trademark owned by a Russian state company. The patent agency admitted in court that it was wrong, which it rarely does.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Millions in Cash Stolen from Traveling Lawyer

In the biggest burglary ever from a Moscow apartment, thieves took two suitcases with $4.5 million and €7 million in cash, and hid in the apartment an additional $1.5 million from one of the suitcases. A young lawyer from Novosibirsk, who had recently rented the apartment, says he was holding the money for his client who inherited it. Authorities are investigating.

Pro-Kremlin Youth Movement Sues Media

Pro-Kremlin youth movement “Nashi” sued several Western media in a Russian court for defamation. “Nashi” is unhappy with its media portrayal: The Independent - “Hitler Youth,” Le Monde - “an ideological battalion serving the Kremlin,” Le Journal du Dimanche - “a fierce mix of patriotism and xenophobia.” “Nashi” claims $12,000 from each defendant, and has also sued several Russian media on similar grounds.

Constitutional Court Dismisses Khodorkovsky Complaint

Russia’s Constitutional Court published its July decision denying consideration on the merits of a petition by former Yukos oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Jailed for tax fraud, Khodorkovsky challenged the constitutionality of statutes underlying new charges against him, arguing that if oil was sold for value, it cannot be considered “stolen.” The Court held that it lacks jurisdiction to rule on the law's application to Khodorkovsky's case. Justice Anatoly Kononov dissented, arguing that Khodorkovsky’s complaint “has all reasons to be considered on the merits.”

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bidding for High Court Holiday Concert

Russia's Supreme Arbitrazh (Economic) Court is requesting bids to present a New Year concert in the Court’s premises. The initial price is 1.5 million rubles($50,000). For that amount the organizer must secure the appearance of certain famous actors, as well as Ded Moroz (Russian Santa Claus, "Grandfather Frost") and Snegurochka (his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Moldovan Policemen Convicted of Heroin Smuggling

A Moldovan court sentenced two Turkish citizens and two high-ranking Moldovan police officers to various prison terms (2 to 13 years) for drug smuggling. According to the judgment, the Turks transported 200 kilos of heroin from Afghanistan to Holland through Moldova, and the policemen provided security.

Russian Customs Withdraws Suit against Bank of New York

The Russian Customs Service formally withdrew its $22.5 billion Moscow lawsuit against the Bank of New York for allegedly facilitating money laundering by its Russian clients. Apparently, no formal settlement agreement has been certified by the court. However, the bank reportedly agreed to pay $14 million in legal expenses and to grant $4 billion in low-interest loans to unspecified Russian banks.

Court Orders Vote Recount

A Moscow court ordered a vote recount in a Moscow election district in recent regional elections. The tally in that district shows no votes for liberal opposition party Yabloko, although Yabloko leader Sergey Mitrokhin and his family voted there. Opposition parties claim unprecedented vote-rigging, and on October 14 all State Duma deputies that do not belong to the ruling United Russia party left the assembly in protest.

(Update, October 23: The recount in Mitrokhin's district yielded 16 votes for Yabloko.)

Artist Sues TV Channel for Using Olympic Mascot

Viktor Chizhikov sued TV company NTV for using in its documentary series the image of Misha the Bear, the 1980 Moscow Olympics mascot that Chizhikov authored. Misha became a symbol of the TV program, although it is unrelated to sports. Chizhikov claims 20 million rubles (about $700,000) for copyright infringement and moral harm. NTV argues that its Misha was not authored by Chizhikov.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Kyrgyzstan Reorganizes Government

President Kurmanbek Bakiyev initiated a large-scale reform of Kyrgyzstan's state governance system. The government resigned. The presidential administration and the security council will be abolished, and most of their authorities will pass to the president.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Deputy Minister Accuses Investigators of Torture

The Interior Minister of the Russian region Buriatia and his deputy were arrested on large-scale smuggling charges. The deputy minister has asserted that when he was arrested, the FSB (State Security Service) tortured him, applying methods of drowning, electric shock, and freezing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Editorial Defends Juries

An editorial in the news daily Vedomosti criticized statements by Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee of the General Prosecutor’s Office, that juries acquit too often and that the jury system should be changed to include more than one judge to preside with 12 jurors. The editorial asserts that less than one percent of Russian criminal cases are tried to juries, and that jury acquittal rates of around 20% in Russia are normal by European standards.

WTO Customs Union Application to Come Later

Reversing a June 2009 decision to apply for membership in the World Trade Organization as a customs union, representatives of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus met in Geneva and announced that the three countries will apply as separate states, but will coordinate their applications and after joining will seek membership of the customs union. (See 10/3/09 post for recent background.)

Warning Against Election Protests

The head of Russia's Central Elections Commission warned members of the Duma (lower parliamentary chamber) who are alleging vote-rigging in recent regional elections that their complaints may violate a criminal prohibition against interfering with elections.

Putin Criticizes Corruption

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made a last-minute addition to the agenda of an October 15 meeting of top government officials: a report by General Prosecutor Yuri Chaika about corruption in regulatory bodies in key economic sectors. Based on Chaika’s report, Putin asserted that governmental supervision has become a “profitable business” in which governmental functions are delegated to private companies affiliated with officials in the relevant agencies. One attendee predicted personnel changes and reorganization of ministries by the end of the year as a result of the report.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Supreme Arbitrazh Court Publishes Future Judgment

Russia’s Supreme Arbitrazh (Economic) Court mistakenly published on its web site a judgment in advance of the hearing in the case, which is scheduled for next week. The case is a tax dispute in which the court, according to the published text, will hold for the tax authorities. Observers disagreed as to whether preparation of the document before the hearing indicates that the Court has reached a final decision on the result of the case, or the document is merely a draft prepared by a court employee and is subject to revision based on the Court's deliberations after the hearing.

Stalin’s Grandson Loses Libel Suit

A Moscow court dismissed a lawsuit by Josef Stalin’s grandson Evgueny Dzhugashvili against Novaya Gazeta newspaper. Dzhugashvili had claimed $300,000 in damages and a retraction of statements in the newspaper accusing Stalin of crimes.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Conviction for Abducting Son from Finland

A Finnish court sentenced a Russian citizen to a suspended 1.5 year prison term for abducting her 6-year-old son to Russia. The court also ordered her to compensate her ex-husband for moral harm (€20,000) and to pay expenses related to the boy's return to Finland (€5,000). A Finnish consul who brought the boy to Finland in his car trunk was declared persona non grata in Russia.

Guinea Seeks Nationalization and $1 billion from Rusal

The Guinean government that came into power after a 2006 coup is seeking the return of the privatized Friguia bauxite and alumina complex from Russia's Rusal, the world’s largest aluminum producer, as well as $1 billion in damages including underpaid taxes and royalties. The government claims that the terms of the arbitration were unfair. Rusal is contesting, in Paris arbitation and in Guinea, a recent Guinean court order reversing the privatization.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Russia Liable for Restricting Speech

The European Court or Human Rights issued two decisions against Russia for violating journalists' right to freedom of expression under the European Human Rights Convention. In one case, a Ekaterinburg newspaper editor was convicted of criminal libel for publishing a report that a homosexual relationship led a regional administrator to use public funds to buy an apartment for an official in Moscow. In the second case, a civil libel action, founders of a newspaper in Vladivostok were held liable for publishing an open letter that criticized a local administrative department of the Supreme Court, which had a quota to sell timber, for undocumented cash sales to foreign companies.

Owner Refuses to Take Hijacked Ship from Navy

Finnish company Solchart, the owner of Maltese-flagged bulker Arctic Sea, which was seized by the Russian Navy near Cape Verde after it had been allegedly captured by Estonian pirates in the Baltic Sea, has refused to accept the ship from the Navy unless the owner’s losses from the seizure, estimated at €700,000, are compensated. The ship is stranded in the Mediterranean because no country has allowed it to enter a port with Russian military personnel aboard.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Armenia Normalizes Relations with Turkey

Armenia and Turkey signed an agreement to normalize relations. The agreement, which is subject to ratification by both countries’ parliaments, provides for establishing diplomatic relations, open borders. recognizing each country’s territorial integrity, and creating a commission to study historical records related to the countries’ dispute over whether Turkey committed genocide of Armenians at the end of World War I. Another remaining source of tension is Armenia’s conflict with Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, where Armenia’s occupation of an ethnic Armenian enclave led to the closure of the Armenian-Turkish border in 1993.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Prosecutors Oppose Variable-Interest Loans

A letter from the General Prosecutor's Office to the Association of Russian Banks states that banks may not unilaterally increase interest on loans to individuals, even if permitted by the loan agreement. This position is expected to lead to more inspections of banks by prosecutors and to court challenges by banks.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Medvedev Promises Cleaner Tenders

In his blog, President Dmitri Medvedev stated that a computer system will be unveiled in October that combats the use of Latin letters in government tenders in order to prevent potential bidders from finding requests for proposals. (For background, see September 25 posting in this blog, Rэs Ipsa Loquitur).

Kazakhstan Judge Accused of Attempted Murder

A judge in the city of Kostonai, Kazakhstan was questioned by local police in connection with accusations by his ex-wife, herself a former judge, that he tried to murder her by running up to her car and shooting in while it was stopped at a red light. The two have been in dispute over ownership of a brick factory.

Blogger Convicted of Extremism

A Samara court sentenced blogger Dmitry Kirilin to a one-year suspended prison term for extremist statements calling for overthrow of the regime. The blog stated that the current system of government is causing the degradation, demoralization, and dying out of the Russian people. Kirilin also advocated granting Chechnya independence, ceding the Kuril Islands to Japan, abolishing the draft, and disenfranchising alcoholics, criminal defendants, and people without secondary education.

Medical Malpractice Award Against Railroad

A Russian court awarded a cesarean section patient $17,000 for negligence leading to infection and a hysterectomy. Importantly, the award was made against deep-pocket Russian Railways Company, the hospital's owner.

Yukos Convict Punished for Newspaper Interview

A Russian court approved a prison reprimand and 12-day solitary confinement of former Yukos officer Platon Lebedev for unauthorized correspondence: answering readers' questions in Novaya Gazeta. The court rejected the suggestion of Lebedev's attorneys that because they transmitted his statements to the newspaper outside of the prison, those communications were not subject to prison regulations.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

St. Petersburg Gazprom Skyscraper Approved

The St. Petersburg city administration approved Gazprom's plans to build a 77-story skyscraper, which will be three times taller than St. Peter and Paul Cathedral, now the tallest building in the city. The project has been criticized as a threat to the city center's relatively intact 19th century architecture, to tourism, and to St. Petersburg's status as a UNESCO world heritage site, while supporters argue that the office and trade center will help the city share the prosperity that has transformed Moscow.

Chechen President Wins Libel Suit

A Moscow court held for Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov in his libel suit against rights group Memorial and its head Oleg Orlov for stating that Kadyrov was "guilty" of the murder of Chechen rights activist Natalia Estemirova. The court rejected Orlov's defense that he meant moral and political responsibility for creating an atmosphere in which such crimes were permissible, rather than criminal guilt. The court awarded $2,300 to Kadyrov. Kadyrov also asked the police to bring criminal defamation charges against Orlov.

Monday, October 5, 2009

VimpelCom War Over

Alfa Group’s telecommunications company Altimo and Norway’s Telenor announced the end of their five-year battle over corporate governance issues related to their holdings in Russian and Ukrainian telecoms providers VimpelCom and Kyivstar. Telenor’s stake in VimpelCom has been under threat of seizure to enforce a Siberian court’s controversial $1.7 judgment for a 0.0002% shareholder in VimpelCom that challenged Telenor’s opposition to VimpelCom’s entry into the Ukrainian market. Altimo and Telenor will create a jointly owned mobile operator, Vimpelcom Ltd., to operate in Russia, Ukraine, six other former Soviet countries, and Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

WTO Doubts Russia Will Join

World Trade Organization director general Pascal Lamy sees Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s announcement in June that Russia will seek WTO membership only as a customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus as a sign that Russia has abandoned its 16-year effort to join WTO. Lamy noted in an interview with the New York Times that the proposal lacks precedent under WTO rules, and he observed that there is “no energy in Moscow” to join the group. Analysts point to Russia's emphasis on energy exports (rather than diversification) and suspicion of Western motives as reasons for the loss of interest in WTO membership.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Bankrupt for a Day

On October 1, Raffeisenbank filed a bankruptcy petition against media and IT company RBC Information Systems, and announced the same day that it intends to withdraw the petition in light of continuing negotiations with the company. RBC is trying to restructure its total debt of $200 million, of which approximately $30 million is owed to Raffeisenbank.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Deripaska Wins Sochi Road Contract

Transstroi, of Oleg Deripaska’s Basic Element group, won a $1 billion contract for roadwork in Sochi. Transstroi was initially disqualified from the tender for submitting three bids, but the regional anti-monopoly authority ruled that this was a technical mistake and ordered that Transstroi be permitted to correct its submission.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Georgia and Russia Blamed for War

A European Union-commissioned investigation of the Russia-Georgia war of August 2008 over Georgian breakaway provinces Abkhazia and South Ossetia concluded that Georgia started the war by attacking South Ossetia, but that Russia shares responsibility for causing the war by supporting separatists in the two provinces. The report also faulted Russia for disproportionate military action during the war and recognizing Abkhazian and South Ossetian independence after the war.

Lawyers Vie for Sovereign Debt Work

International law firms Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Baker & McKenzie have submitted bids to advise the Russian government on international financial issues, including sovereign debt. The Ministry of Finance is to announce the tender results the week of October 6.

Chemicals Privatization Thrice Annulled

The third attempted privatization in two years of Odessa Port Factory, one of Ukraine’s largest producers of ammonia and nitrogen fertilizers, was annulled after Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko accused the bidders of collusion. The State Property Fund proceeded with the tender despite a decree by President Viktor Yushchenko and a Kiev court’s decision that the privatization should not take place. The Fund states that the President’s decree exceeded his jurisdiction, and that the Fund did not receive a required order implementing the court’s decision.

Prix Fixe TV

Russia’s Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) issued a warning for attempted price-fixing by the Association of Cinema and Television Producers, which controls 80% of the Russian TV serials market. The Association sought to counteract a decrease in the purchase price of TV production, resulting from decreased advertising revenues, by setting uniform pay rates for actors and other participants in the production process. The FAS only issued a warning because the Association did not succeed in imposing the rates.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Georgian Mutineers Admit Guilt

Thirteen Georgian military men accused of mutiny and planning a coup d'etat backed by Russia have admitted guilt in exchange for a lighter sentence and cooperation with the prosecution. In May 2009 the commanders of the Mukhrovani military base announced they did not recognize the current Georgian authorities, but after brief negotiations surrendered. Thetrial continues against twelve other defendants.

France Drops Investigation against Russian Tycoon

French prosecutors dropped the investigation against Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, suspected of running a prostitution ring at a ski resort in Courchevel. French authorities complain that the Russian General Prosecutor's Office failed to cooperate in the investigation. Prokhorov's defense says that the 16 women briefly detained with him in January 2007 were his friends meeting to celebrate the Russian New Year.

Monday, September 28, 2009

London Collection Claims against Obneftegaz

Vneshtorgbank’s Cyprus subsidiary, Russian Commercial Bank, is pursuing London court and arbitration proceedings against Obneftegaz and its surety Fedor Khoroshilov for repayment of $242 million owed by the company. The court ordered Khoroshilov to declare his assets, and meanwhile enjoined him from disposing of villas in France and Italy, a yacht, and a Boeing airplane. Khoroshilov denies having the property attributed to him.

Russian Property Immune from Berlin Seizure

German businessman Franz Sedelmeier continues to seek compensation for the loss of his investment in a joint venture with the St. Petersburg city government to restore a building on Stone Island that was taken over by the Presidential administration in 1995. In his most recent effort to enforce a 1998 Stockholm arbitration award, a Berlin court accepted the Russian government’s defense that the Russian House of Science and Culture is used for sovereign purposes and is therefore immune from seizure.

Abkhazia Gets Russia Country Code

Russia and Abkhazia signed a memorandum under which Abkhazia will use Russia’s country code (+7) in international telephone communications. Abkhazia, a breakaway Georgian province, previously used Georgia’s country code (+995).

HRW: Russia Fails to Remedy Rights Violations

Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report on Russia’s implementation of European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judgments on Chechnya. ECHR has issued 115 judgments on human rights violations in Chechnya in 1999-2004. In nearly all of those cases, it has held Russia responsible for disappearances, extrajudicial executions, torture, or failing to properly investigate these crimes. According to the report, Russia normally has timely paid compensation ordered by ECHR, but has failed to carry out the court's orders to ensure effective investigations and hold perpetrators accountable. HRW, inter alia, recommends to the Russian government to immediately initiate criminal investigations against apparent offenders named in ECHR judgments, including three generals: Yakov Nedobitko, Vladimir Shamanov, and Alexander Baranov.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Chechen President Names Successor

Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed president of Chechnya, said in an interview with the extreme Russian nationalist newspaper Zavtra (
that he has chosen his successor: Adam Delimkhanov, who has been accused of killing Kadyrov’s rival Ruslan Yamadayev in Dubai.

Rэs Ipsa Loquitur

Since 2006, Russia’s Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) has discovered over 2,000 government procurement tender announcements with Latin letters, which hinder uninformed potential bidders from finding the announcements by computer search, and has annulled over 300 such tender results. On September 1, a Moscow court rejected the first challenge of such an annulment, which was brought by the State Property Fund.

Alfa Moves on Basic Element Debt

Alfa Bank filed bankruptcy petitions against two subsidiaries of Russian aluminum giant Rusal: Sual and Rusal-Krasnoyarsk, which owe the bank $73.8 million. (Rusal’s total bank debt is $14 billion, over half of which is owed to foreign banks.) The filing took place amid negotiations to restructure Rusal parent Basic Element’s $800 million debt to Alfa. Rusal called the bankruptcy proceedings “raiding aimed at destabilizing the company’s operations,” while Alfa contends that its move was prompted by Basic Element’s demand to restructure its entire debt to Alfa as a condition for an agreement on Rusal. Alfa also threatened to file bankruptcy petitions against other unnamed Basic Element companies. A temporary solution for Rusal is reported to be in the making: repayment of all Rusal loan arrears to Alfa ($85.9 million), which Rusal’s other creditors have approved.

Lukashenko Admits He Determined Election Results

In an interview with Russian newspaper Izvestia, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko admitted manipulating the 2006 presidential elections: “For your information, 93% voted for me on the last elections. . . . . I ordered to make it not 93% but rather some 80%, I do not remember now how much. Because more than 90% is psychologically unacceptable.” Belarus opposition leaders have asked the General Prosecutor's Office to investigate fraud in the elections.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

TNK-BP Fights Customs Retaliation

British Petroleum’s Russian joint venture, TNK-BP, has protested to Russia’s Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) against the Customs Service’s revocation of TNK-BP's right to pay export duties through a single bank account, which other oil companies continue to enjoy. TNK-BP asserts that the arrangement costs almost $2 million less a month than the alternative of paying through dozens of separate accounts, and that its privileges were revoked in retaliation for its successful litigation against Customs for the return of hundreds of millions of dollars in excess export duties paid.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Russia Weighs Rights Procedures

Russia’s Duma (lower parliamentary chamber) is expected to adopt a declaration that neither ratifies nor rejects European Court of Human Rights procedural amendments that have been ratified by all other Council of Europe members. The declaration states that reform of the Court is important, but should not threaten Russia’s national interests. Controversial amendments include those that would accelerate the disposition of cases (the number of cases against Russia would be expected to increase) and permit cases to be decided by three-judge panels that do not include a judge from the member-country being sued. President Dmitri Medvedev stated that negotiations on ratification continue.

General Shields Son-in-Law from Investigators

According to a police wiretap of a telephone conversation of Russia’s Airborne Troops Commander-in-Chief General Vladimir Shamanov’s telephone conversation, which was leaked to the press and published by Novaya Gazeta, Shamanov ordered his subordinate to send two special-purpose military groups to detain a prosecution investigator conducting a search at a business owned by Shamanov’s son-in-law, who is wanted for attempted murder. The troops began but did not complete their mission, because other circumstances intervened. The Defence Ministry and prosecutors are investigating.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Daewoo Claims Russian Automaker Stole Secrets

General Motors' Korean subsidiary Daewoo sued a Korean subsidiary of Russian automaker TagAZ to prevent it from copying Daewoo Chevrolet Lacetti. Korean prosecutors recently arrested two former Daewoo engineers, now at TagAZ-Korea, for stealing Daewoo technology. A TagAZ-Korea executive committed suicide, leaving a note saying he was innocent.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Prosecutors: Protect Business

The General Prosecutor’s Office has issued recommendations on protecting the rights of business in areas such as government inspections, procurement, and registration and licensing procedures. The document calls the level of corruption in Russian government “unacceptably high,” and states that it often takes the form of inspections that exceed lawful authority. One example cited was a regional government’s incentive to employees of 50% of above-quota fines collected for administrative violations. The recommendations are on the web site of the General Prosecutor’s Office ( and have been issued in 1000 printed copies.

Debt-Equity Swap Draft Law

The Duma (Russia's lower parliament chamber) approved on first reading a government bill allowing debt of joint stock companies to be converted into equity, which the drafters intend as a help to companies seeking to avoid bankruptcy. Currently the Civil Code restricts such conversion by requiring charter capital to be paid with money or other property. The proposed amendments are being examined for risks to unsophisticated investors and minority shareholders.

Interior Ministry Loses Libel Suit

A Russian court dismissed a libel suit by the Interior Ministry against the General Prosecutor Office’s Investigation Department over its TV report of rape charges against a police lieutenant colonel. The Ministry claimed that the suspect was a former police officer and, therefore, the Department defamed the Ministry. The court held that even a retired officer may be called a police lieutenant colonel, and dismissed the claim.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Russian President: No Governor Elections within Next 100 Years

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev declared that Russia would not return to the system of regional governors’ direct elections, abolished in 2004. Since then governors are appointed by the President with some involvment of regional legislatures and political parties. “I do not see conditions under which we could renounce this decision – neither now, nor in 100 years,” stated Medvedev.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Yukos Sues Rosneft in U.S.

Yukos Capital S.a.r.l. (Luxembourg), controlled by the former management of defunct Russian oil giant Yukos, has filed an application in U.S. federal court (Southern District of New York, No. 09-7905-AKH) to enforce an arbitral award for 13 billion rubles ($419 m.) and a confirming Dutch court judgment against the Russian state oil company Rosneft. The case arose from Rosneft's failure to repay a loan to a Yukos subsidiary that Rosneft acquired in the Yukos bankruptcy. Before confirmation by the Dutch court, a Russian court had refused to confirm the award, which was rendered by the International Commercial Arbitration Court at the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Yukos Capital is represented in the New York action by Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Russian Customs to Settle with Bank of New York

Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin announced that the Russian Federal Customs Service will settle its $22.5 billion money laundering claim against the Bank of New York (BNY), brought in a Russian court under the U.S. civil RICO statute. According to Kudrin, the settlement amount will be not less than BNY's $14 million payment in 2005 to settle related claims by the U.S. government. Kudrin called the Customs Service's evidence "very insufficient."

For background on the 2005 settlement, see

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Defense Ministry Adopts Humanitarian Manual

The Russian Defense Ministry adopted a manual for Russian military on compliance with international laws of war. The 100-page document requires soldiers to protect civilians, refrain from torturing prisoners, use armed force proportionally, etc.

Prosecutors Investigate Bolshoi Embezzlement

Russian prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into the suspected embezzlement of millions of dollars in the long-delayed restoration of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater. According to the investigators, from 2003 to 2009 the federal agency responsible for the project paid a contractor three times for the same design work and documents.

Taxi Driver Admits Spying

The Supreme Court of Russia's North Ossetia sentenced Russian taxi driver Alexander Khachirov to seven years of prison for treason. Khachirov pleaded guilty to using his taxi to film Russian military units in North Ossetia and the breakaway Georgian province South Ossetia, and selling the footage to Georgian intelligence. Other espionage cases are expected to follow soon.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Supreme Court Upholds Mail Inspection Regulations

Russia's Supreme Court rejected a journalist's claim, supported by the General Prosecutor's Office, that recent Ministry of Communications regulations illegally permit law-enforcement bodies to inspect mail without a court order. The Ministry argued, with the support of the Federal Security Service, that the regulations assume the need for a court order, but that if necessary the court's approval can be obtained after the fact. The reasons for the Supreme Court's rejection of the journalist's challenge will be set forth in a subsequent opinion.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

UN Adopts Resolution on Abkhazia and South Ossetia

The UN General Assembly adopted a Georgia-sponsored resolution calling for the return of refugees and displaced persons to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgian breakaway provinces (by a vote of 48-19, with 78 abstaining). Russia condemned the resolution as “politicized and confrontational.” General Assembly resolutions are not binding on UN members.

Gulag Archipelago Made Compulsory

Russia's Minister of Education and Science ordered that Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago be compulsory high school reading. The book was published abroad in 1973 and was banned in the Soviet Union until 1989.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Energy Tycoon Liable for $210 Million for Self-Dealing

London's High Court has awarded Sibir Energy a partial award of $130 million (after a prior $80 million award) in its $400 claim against insider Chalva Tchigirinski for misappropriating the company's money. He has not appeared in the litigation.

Yukos Judge Fired

The Moscow Judges Qualification Board dismissed judge Elena Yarlykova from her position for gross negligence in releasing from prison, because of a mistake in identity, a fraud defendant who faced a possible 15-year sentence. Yarlykova presided in trials that resulted in the convictions of several Yukos-related defendants.

Ukrainian President: Russia Shelters Poisoners

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko accused Russian authorities of hiding several people who attempted to poison him during his 2004 election campaign, including the former deputy head of the Ukrainian Security Council. “The persons who directly organized my poisoning have been in Moscow for four years. I have addressed the Russian president three times and requested that Ukrainian investigators question them,” Yushchenko stated.

Georgia Releases Turkish Skipper

A court of appeals in Georgia reconsidered the case of Turkish sea captain Mehmet Öztürk, who was sentenced to 24 years of imprisonment for delivering oil products to the Georgian breakaway province Abkhazia. The sentence was reduced to a $18,000 fine and a suspended prison term of three years. Georgia's Foreign Minister stated that the decision was made by President Mikheil Saakashvili at his meeting with the Turkish Foreign Minister, which took place hours before the court decision.

Moldovan Constitutional Court Dismisses Communists’ Complaint

By a 3-3 split decision the Moldovan Constitutional Court dismissed a complaint by the Communist Party challenging the hasty election of the parliament speaker before the Communists could form their parliamentary faction. The decision effectively allows the newly formed anti-communist parliamentary majority to proceed with elections for President of Moldova.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Federal Anti-Monopoly Service Drops Case Against Microsoft

The Russian Federal Anti-Monopoly Service, which announced in June two investigations in the IT sector, stated on September 7 that it is dropping the investigation into whether Microsoft had illegally limited supplies or engaged in abusive pricing.

(in Russian)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Russian Journalists Disallowed from Entering Georgia

Russian journalists Vladimir Mamontov and Maxim Shevchenko, having arrived to Georgia to participate in a round table conference on Russian-Georgian relations, were disallowed from crossing the passport control line in the Tbilisi airport. Georgian border control officers explained that the entry ban is based on “Article 14,” but did not say of which law.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Forged Statute Officially Published

The City Charter of Miass, Russia, officially published in the local gazette, was discovered to materially differ from the version adopted by the City Duma (municipal assembly). Somebody introduced numerous amendments to the Charter in the period between its adoption and publication. It is not immediately clear which version, if any, is now in force.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

64,000 Phones Wiretapped in 2009

According to officially published statistics, Russian courts in the first six month of 2009 gave 64,000 permissions for wiretapping suspects’ phones to law enforcement bodies. In 1,500 cases such a permission was denied.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Investigator Discloses State Secret

Attorneys for Boris Kuznetsov, a lawyer prosecuted for disclosing a state secret, announced that the investigator responsible for the case, when requesting an order for Kuznetsov's arrest, submitted classified documents to the court. Kuznetsov was prosecuted for a similar act: he copied a classified document (a memo on wiretapping that he argued was illegal) from his client's file and submitted it to the Constitutional Court. The defense has requested that the case against Kuznetsov be dismissed or that the investigator be punished. Kuznetsov fled to the U.S. in 2007 and obtained political asylum.

Abkhazian Citizen Convicted of Spying for Georgia

The Supreme Court of Abkhazia, a Georgian breakaway province, sentenced Abkhazian citizen Diana Shedania (Aseeva) to 19 years of imprisonment for espionage. She was charged transmitting secret information on Abkhazian military objects to the Georgian intelligence service.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Public Prosecutors Subject to Drunk Driving Laws

New regulations authorize the Russian traffic police to prevent public prosecutors and other officials with legal immunity from driving. According to a traffic police spokesman, intoxicated officials with immunity have caused many fatal accidents.

South Ossetian Officer Convicted of Spying for Georgia

The Supreme Court of South Ossetia, a Georgian breakaway province, sentenced Major Timur Gutsmazty (Guchmazov), formerly a South Ossetian border control officer, to 16 years of imprisonment for espionage. He was charged with selling secret information to the Georgian intelligence service. Reportedly, Guchmazov has Russian citizenship and was captured by the South Ossetian KGB on Russian territory.

Turkish Skipper Sentenced in Georgia

Turkish citizen Mehmet Öztürk was sentenced by a Georgian court (the Gagra City Court in exile) to 24 years of imprisonment for illegally crossing the Georgian border and breaching the “rules of navigation on occupied territory.” Öztürk was the captain of a Panamanian-flagged tanker delivering oil products to Abkhazia, a Georgian breakaway province. Georgia also seized and confiscated the tanker. In response Abkhazia has threatened to seize Georgia-bound ships.

Demonstration in Support of Freedom of Assembly Dispersed

The Moscow police dispersed an opposition demonstration meeting in support of Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, which guarantees the "right to assemble peacefully, without weapons, hold rallies, meetings and demonstrations, marches and pickets." Thirty participants were detained.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Chechen President’s Horse Groom Pleads Not Guilty

A trial in the case of the assassination of Sulim Yamadayev, an opponent of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, started in Dubai. (Controversy remains over whether Yamadayev died in the attack.) The two defendants - one of whom, Iranian citizen Mahdi Lornia, is Kadyrov's horse groom - pleaded not guilty. Lornia allegedly passed a Russian-made gold-plated gun to the attacker. Seven Russian citizens, including Kadyrov’s cousin, Russian State Duma deputy Adam Delimkhanov, are on the Interpol wanted list in connection with the crime.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Russian Officer Convicted of Spying for Georgia

Russian Army Lieutenant Colonel Mikhail Khachidze was convicted of high treason and sentenced to six years of imprisonment on espionage charges. He allegedly sold secret information on the Russian army to Georgia's intelligence service.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Georgia Fines Russian TV Channels

Georgian authorities fined several Russian TV channels, including the “Russia” channel, for broadcasting in the Georgian breakaway territories Abkhazia and South Ossetia without a Georgian license. The $30,000 fine is to be increased tenfold in case of a repeated violation.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Russian Navy Detains Ukrainian Bailiffs

Russian servicemen detained Ukrainian bailiffs on the territory of a Russian Navy unit in the Crimea. The bailiffs were attempting to enforce a court decision and take control of a beacon near the Khersones lighthouse. A Navy spokesman declared that “Russian law governs on the territory of [Russian] military units,” and that the bailiffs violated Russia-Ukraine agreements. The bailiffs were turned over to the Ukrainian police.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Photographer Sues TV Channel

Russian opposition journalist Arkady Babchenko sued state-run First TV Channel for unauthorized use of a photo he authored. The channel showed a program devoted to alleged falsifications by Western media in the coverage of the 2008 Russian-Georgian war over South Ossetia. To draw a distinction and illustrate an authentic image, a photo of a wounded solder was shown with the comment that it was by an American photographer in Iraq. In fact the photo had been shot by Babchenko in Georgia. Babchenko demands a retraction and $3,000 damages. The channel states the incident was a mistake.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Uzbekistan Secretly Restricts Exports

About a hundred rail cars with perishable fruits and vegetables purchased by Russian traders in Uzbekistan were stopped on the border without clearly stated reasons. Reportedly, this year Uzbek authorities adopted a “secret governmental ban on the exportation of vegetables and fruits” in order to bring down local prices. Earlier several Uzbek farmers were detained for exporting vegetables and fruits.

Russian Air Force Hires Dutch Lawyers

A Russian Air Force spokesman announced that Dutch law firm CMS International B.V. will handle civil claims related to the August 16 crash of two Su-27 fighters, which fell in a residential area near Moscow, destroying three houses and killing one woman.

Ex-Armenian Consul Prosecuted in U.S.

Former Armenian consul in Los Angeles Norair Ghalumian, now under arrest in the U.S., pleaded not guilty to a charge of obstructing immigration proceedings by writing letters, for a price, on behalf of Armenian immigrants resisting deportation.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pirates Prosecuted in Russia

A Moscow court authorized the arrest of eight men for capturing a Russian-crewed ship in the Baltic Sea. Several of the suspects have been convicted of various crimes in Estonia (apparently, most of them are Estonian residents, but only one has Estonian citizenship). The Maltese-flagged, Finnish-owned bulker “Arctic Sea” disappeared in the Baltic in late July and was found on August 17 by a Russian navy ship off the western coast of Africa. Two of the suspects have argued that their arrest is illegal because of procedural violations during their detention by the navy, and that Russian courts lack jurisdiction because the alleged capture of the bulker took place in Swedish waters.

Ukrainian President Proposes New Constitution

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko urged popular discussion of his draft of the new Constitution. The draft significantly reduces presidential powers and changes the structure of the parliament from one chamber to two chambers.

Police Disperse National Flag Demonstration

The Moscow police dispersed an anti-government demonstration on National Flag Day. The police stopped the demonstration (which proceeded despite the denial of a permit), confiscated a 25-meter long national flag, and detained the leaders, injuring one of them, Ilya Yashin.