Thursday, July 30, 2009

Stalin’s Grandson Sues Newspaper for Libel

Evgueny Dzhugashvili, a grandson of Joseph Stalin, sued the Novaya Gazeta newspaper for libel. The newspaper published an article, stating, in particular, that “Stalin [committed] terrible crimes, first and foremost against the people.” Dzhugashvili demands to discalaim the statement and compensate his moral harm in the amount of 10 mln rubles (cr. $300,000).

Kyrgyz Elections Held Constitutional

The Constitutional Court of Kyrgyzstan found recent presidential elections, won by current President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, constitutional. Numerous complaints alleging violations were passed to local law-enforcing bodies for investigation. Earlier Commonwealth of Independent States observers found the elections “transparent and democratic,” whereas Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe observers reported “mass violations” and found the elections “inconsistent with international standards.”

Policeman’s Victims May be Prosecuted for Indiscretion

Investigators warned the victims of Major Denis Evsyukov, a former police department head who went on a shooting massacre in a Moscow supermarket, that they may be prosecuted if they disclose “secrets of investigation” to the court hearing their civil claims to the government. The investigators also refused to bring Evsyukov, now kept in custody, to the court to testify. Later on, the court dismissed one of the suits on the grounds that the government is not responsible for a police officer shooting out of duty; the other suit is pending.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Russian Judge in Strasbourg Must Withdraw

The European Court of Human Rights, located in Strasbourg, proposed Russian judge Valery Musin, who was supposed to participate in the consideration of the YUKOS v. Russia case, to withdraw. The reason is that Musin has just been elected to the Board of Directors of Russian state-run corporation Gazporom, which may result in a conflict of interests. If Musin withdraws, President Dmitry Medvedev will have to select another judge to take part in the YUKOS case. Musin is a law professor who taught now-President Dmitry Medvedev and now-Prime minister Vladimir Putin.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Consumer Rights Agency Restricts Exit from Russia

Consumer Rights Agency Restricts Exit from Russia
Rospotrebnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision in Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare) issued an order prohibiting educational trips of Russian schoolchildren to the U.K. The stated reason is that the U.K. is unsafe in terms of the swine flu. Rospotrebnadzor’s head Gennady Onishchenko explained that the agency may prohibit Russian tourist companies from issuing travel documents to children and request the Russian border control service to stop children groups on the border. Experts opine that restricting constitutional rights of citizens Dr. Onishchenko grossly exceeded his authority, which may qualify as criminal offence. Rospotrebnadzor and its head are notorious for imposing sanitary-grounded “sanctions” on countries having political frictions with Russia. In particular, Dr. Onishchenko has declared import bans on Moldovan wine, Georgian wine and mineral water, Latvian sprats, Byelorussian milk, and U.S. poultry. (Russ.)

Consumer Rights Agency Corrects Supreme Court

Rospotrebnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision in Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare) published a press-release criticizing the recent Russian Supreme Court’s (SC) letter on the issue of the loan agreement cases venue. According to the Supreme Court, contractual provisions setting venue in the judicial district where the bank is located should be upheld. In contrast, Rospotrebnadzor, citing consumer protection legislation as a ground, insists that the borrower may chose venue at his/her place of residence, despite the contractual provision. Rospotrebnadzor points out that the SC letter is not legally binding, and opines that “the artificially stirred interest to the [SC] letter . . . can hardly strengthen citizens’ trust . . . in judicial branch representatives.”

Journalist’s Sentence Reduced

On appeal, the Moscow Cit Court reduced the term of punishment to journalist Oleg Lurie from eight to four years of imprisonment. Earlier Lurie was found guilty of extortion and fraud. According to the judgment, he demanded from Federation Council member Vladimir Slutsker $50,000 for non-publication of discrediting materials (extortion). After the materials had been published, Lurie allegedly demanded and received EUR11,500 for their removal from the web, but failed to do it (fraud). Lurie pled not guilty and insisted that he had asked money only for advertising services.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Constitutional Court Refuses to Support Demonstrators

The Russian Constitutional Court published its reasoned decision in a case related to public meetings and manifestations. Applicants, several Russian citizens, challenged the constitutionality of the current legislative provisions allegedly allowing local authorities to easily ban undesirable manifestations on farfetched grounds. The Court, believing the legislation is constitutionally fine, refused to consider the complaint on the merits, although pointed out that local authorities’ refusal must be sufficiently well-grounded to be legal. Justice Anatoly Kononov dissented, arguing that the Court “dodged its main duty – the protection of citizens’ constitutional rights and freedoms.”

Transnistria Strengthens Presidential Power

Transnistria, a breakaway Moldovan province, began the “popular discussion” of the draft of its new Constitution, the referendum on which is expected by the end of this year. The new Constitution makes presidential power much stronger then now: according to it, the president appoints upper parliament chamber members, may dissolve the lower chamber, appoint local administration heads, top judges and the prime minister, etc. The drafters say they have used the Russian political system as a model. The Transnistrian authorities have declared that their main goal is to join Russia as a constituency.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ex-Mayor Sentenced for Murder

Irkutsk Region Court sentenced former Mayor of Ust-Ilimsk, Russia, Viktor Doroshok to nine years of imprisonment for organizing assassination of his commercial competitor. According to the judgment, in 1996 Doroshok, then a businessman, hired for $25,000 a killer to assassinate the CEO of a company that challenged in court the ownership of some industrial assets (woodworking workshop) controlled by Doroshok.

Gazprom Loses a Golden Parachute Case

Russian natural gas monopoly Gazprom lost a high-profile case related to the payment of “golden parachute” compensations to managers of its subsidiary, OGK-2, in the total amount of about 450 mln rubles ($13 mln). The managers left, and received contractual “golden parachute” compensation, after Gazprom had acquired control in the company. Gazprom sued company’s CEO arguing he had exceeded his authority when signing the contracts with the “golden parachute” clause. The court disagreed.

Russian Language to Lose Its Official Status

Russian will lose its official status of “interethnic communication language” in Tajikistan. According to the bill promoted by Tajikistani President Emomalii Rahmon, all communication with state bodies will be possible only in Tajik language. Under the new law each Tajikistani citizen will be obliged to know Tajik. Experts opine that this may create substantial communicational difficulties for ethnic minorities residing in Tajikistan, such as Uzbeks.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ex-Police-General Arrested on Journalist Murder Charges

Former Ukrainian police general Alexey Pukach, in hiding for the last six years, was found and arrested on accusations of kidnapping and murdering journalist Georgy Gongadze in 2000. Three other police officers were sentenced for the murder to various terms of imprisonment in 2008; Pukach escaped and has been wanted since then. According to the investigators, Pukach personally strangled Gongadze; then the murderers decapitated the body and left it in a forest. Gongadze was a pro-opposition journalist focusing his criticism, in particular, on then Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. Later in 2000 Kuchma's bodyguard Major Mykola Melnichenko published secret tape records allegedly showing that Kuchma expressed annoyance with Gongaze's writings and discussed with the Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko ways to shut Gongadze up (including kidnapping but not including killing). Only in 2005, after the "Orange Revolution," new President Vladimir Yushchenko re-launched an investigation resulting in sentencing three immediate murderers in 2008. However, it is still unproved who exactly ordered the murder. Ex-Minister Kravchenko committed suicide in 2005 before being interrogated (reportedly, with two shots to the head). (Russ.)

Traffic Police Stop Russian Rockets

The traffic police in Sevastopol, Ukraine, stopped two trucks of the Russian Black Sea Fleet transporting Malakhit anti-ship cruise missiles from a military unit to another one. This is a second incident of this kind in a month; the last time rockets had to return to the departure point. The Ukrainian authorities believe that transporting rockets without a special permission breaches the Russian-Ukrainian treaty on the terms of Russian's fleet basing in Sevastopol. The Russian Foreign Ministry, however, insists that Russian seamen's actions are perfectly legal. (Russ.)

Supreme Court Protects Banks from Remote Borrowers

The Russian Supreme Court issued an opinion, technically non-binding but at least very persuasive, concerning the venue of the resolution of disputes originating from loan agreements. According to the Supreme Court, if the agreement itself says (most such agreements do) that disputes should be resolved by a court at the bank's location, they indeed should be resolved by that court. Earlier many courts had held that disputes should be resolved at the borrower's place of residence, notwithstanding the contractual venue. This had made easier borrowers' life but had created substantial problems for banks; the new ruling reverses the situation. Some human rights activists believe that the ruling will decrease the borrower's chances for objective consideration of the dispute, let alone the practical possibility for them to appear in court (perhaps located in another city). (Russ.)

Ex-Premier Testifies in YUKOS Case

Former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov passed to the European Court of Human Rights his written testimony in the YUKOS v. Russia case, recently accepted for consideration by the court. According to the testimony, in July 2003 Kasyanov, then Prime Minister, repeatedly asked Vladimir Putin, then President, of the reasons of the pressure put upon YUKOS and the arrest of its major shareholder Platon Lebedev (Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested later that year). In the end Putin allegedly responded that Khodorkovsky and other YUKOS shareholders had financed the Communist Party without Putin's consent (while liberal opposition parties Yabloko and SPS allegedly had been financed by Khodorkovsky with Putin's consent).

Investigators Allowed to Inspect Mail

The Russian Ministry of Communication issued regulations obliging mail service providers to give access to mail for "authorised bodies," such as police investigators, for opening and inspecting the mail. The regulations does not require mail service providers to ask investigators to produce a court order, without which the inspection is illegal (save for in certain specific circumstances). The Ministry says that the regulations are only a "technical document" and the presence of a court order is presumed. Human rights activists, however, insist that the regulations must explicitly require that a court order should be produced, otherwise the regulations are unconstitutional.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Top Manager Prosecuted for Fraud

Russian Standard Vodka (RSV), a major Russian vodka-producing company, took civil action and initiated criminal prosecution against its former CEO Carlo Radicati after he had left the company to become the CEO of a competing holding, Russian Alcohol. RSV asserts Radicati breached his duty of care by paying $14.4 mln to a RSV’s U.S. subsidiary for economically unjustified “marketing services.” RSV also maintains that Radicati committed criminal fraud by paying to himself a bonus of $100,000 without a relevant approval of the Board of Directors.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Chechen President Denies Involvement in Estemirova Murder

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov called Oleg Orlov, the head of the Memorial human rights group, who had accused Kadyrov of the involvement in the murder of Memorial member Natalia Estimirova. Kadyrov categorically denied any such involvement. “You will be ashamed when the crime is solved and the real murderers are found,” Kadyrov said. Later Kadyrov’s representatives declared Kadyrov’s intention to sue Orlov for libel. Meanwhile, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called the version of Kadyrov’s involvement “primitive” and “most unacceptable for the authorities.”

Ex-Minister Acquitted On Arms Trafficking Charges

An appeal instance court in Moldova acquitted Valery Pasat, formerly the Defense Minister, who earlier had been sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment on allegations of illegally selling MiG-29 fighters and Uragan volley fire systems to the U.S. in 1990s. Meanwhile Pasat, who calls all accusations “political,” had spent more than two years in confinement. (Russ.)

Social Tax Reformed

The Russian State Duma adopted a bill reforming the existing social tax by renaming it from “unified social tax” to three different “social charges” (effective from 2010), and increasing the maximum total rate from 26% to 34% of employee compensation amount (effective from 2011). (Russ.)

Cartel Agreements Criminalized

The Russian State Duma (parliament’s lower chamber) adopted a bill introducing criminal liability for price-fixing agreements (up to three years of imprisonment). Until now, the liability was limited to administrative fines. Now, to enter into force, the bill must be approved by the upper chamber and signed by President. (Russ.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Rights Activist Murdered

Prominent Russian human rights activist Natalia Estemirova was abducted in Grozny, Chechnya, and later found dead in nearby Ingushetia. Estemirova was a colleague of Anna Politkovskaya, another Russian human rights activist, murdered in 2006. In 2007 Estemirova was awarded the inaugural Anna Politkovskaya award from the Reach All Women in War group. Like Politkovskaya, Estemirova had been investigating human rights abuses in Chechnya. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev directed to take necessary measures to solve the crime. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, in turn, promised to personally control the investigation.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ukraine Bans Cohen’s Bruno

The Ukrainian Ministry of Culture and Tourism prohibited the distribution and showing of Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie “Brüno.” The movie is a best-selling U.S. comedy about a fictional gay Austrian. The ministry relied on an expert examination concluding that the movie contains “artistically unjustified display of genitalia, homosexual acts and perversions, obscene language, manifestations of sadism, asocial behaviour, capable of harming the moral education of citizens.” (Russ.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Yevloyev Case Goes to Strasbourg

The Supreme Court of Ingushetia, Russia, affirmed the refusal of a lower court to hold the detention of Mahomed Yevloyev illegal. Meanwhile, Yevloyev family filed a claim against Russia with the European Curt of Human Rights in Strasbourg. In 2008 Yevloyev, the owner of Ingush opposition web site, was detained by the Ingush police and shot dead right in the police car (a police officer is now tried on “negligent homicide” charges). (Russ.)

Blogs and Chats Deemed “Mass Media”

According to a new law adopted in Kazakhstan, all web resources, including blogs and chats, qualify as “mass media,” which implies they are governed by relevant Kazakhstan legislation. This means, in particular, that in case of violations Kazakh authorities may demand to remove the dubious materials or direct to block the site altogether. This refers not only to Kazakhstan sites, but to sites hosted in any country of the world. (Russ.)

American Convicted of Bribing Azerbaijani Leaders

Frederic Bourke, a well-known U.S. businessman, was convicted by a U.S. jury of conspiring to pay bribes to government leaders of Azerbaijan in a 1998 oil privatization deal. Bourke invested $8 mln in the deal allegedly knowing that his partner Viktor Kozeny, a Chech expatriate, intended to bribe then Azerbaijan President Heidar Aliyev and now-President Ilham Aliyev. In the end, the Azerbaijani authorities refused to proceed with the privatization, which wiped out the investment. Bourke was found guilty of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and may get a 10-year prison sentence.

Judges Discuss Khodorkovsky’s Project

Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s project of a judicial reform became a subject of heated debate in the Russian legal community, judging by the responses published by the Kommersant-Vlast journal, which also had published the original article by Khodorkovsky (proposing a large-scale judicial reform with the main idea to secure the independence of Russian courts).

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Court Directs President to Set Referendum

A district court in Kyiv directed Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko to set referendum on the issues of joining NATO and of joining the “Common Economic Space” (an economic union with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan). In 2006 activists collected 4.5 mln signatures for the referendum, but President failed to set it as the law directs. Yushchenko favors close relations with Europe and NATO rather than with Russia, but the majority of Ukrainian population is believed to be reluctant to join NATO. (Russ.)

Police Shuts Down History Website

The St. Petersburg police ordered the hoster to shut down history web site because of finding there the text of Adolph Hitler’s books “Mein Kampf.” Notably, the police did not care to obtain a court order or even institute formal criminal or administrative proceedings; they simply directed the hoster to close the site referring to possible license suspension and criminal liability for complicity in “extremist activity.” The hoster complied.

Latin Letters in Government Contract Bid Invitations Illegal

RF Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) discovered that some governmental entities, when placing on the specialized official web site the information on government purchase orders, had used in the order texts Latin letters instead of similar Russian letters, the numeral “0” instead of the letter “о,” etc. The apparent purpose was to prevent potential bidders from finding the order in the database, and, accordingly, letting the bidder favored by the responsible official to easily win the contract. FAS found the practice illegal and cancelled several of the resulting contracts of such kind. FAS warned responsible officials of administrative and possibly criminal liability for using Latin letters in Russian governmental order texts.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

U.S.: Russian WTO Plans “Unworkable”

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke expressed scepticism as to Russia’s new idea to join the WTO with Kazakhstan and Belarus as part of a customs union, rather than as a stand-alone country. "According to most of the members of the WTO that is just unworkable, unprecedented and would only delay matters," Locke said. “We are still very hopeful, very eager and very supportive of Russia acceding to the WTO," he added. (Last month Russia declared its intention to pull out of unilateral membership talks, bringing no success in 16 years.)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Deep Purple’s Concert Violates Deep Purple’s Rights

The Russian Authors Organization (RAO), a collective right-management organization, sued OOO Yug-Art, a Russian company that had organized in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, a concert of Deep Purple, a legendary English rock band. RAO demanded from Yug-Art compensation for “unauthorized pubic performance” of songs copyrighted by Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Steve Morse, and Ian Paice, on whose behalf RAO allegedly acted. The peculiarity of the case is that on the concert Gillan, Glover, Morse, and Paise (the Deep Purple members) performed their own songs themselves. Nevertheless, the court agreed that the performance was indeed “unauthorized.” RAO won the award of 450,000 rubles (cr. $15,000, or $1,000 per song).

Medvedev: Khodorkovsky Must Admit Guilt to be Pardoned

President Dmitry Medvedev, answering the question of an Italian journalist whether he intends to pardon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, said that “so far there is nothing to discuss.” Medvedev stated that in accordance with the existing rules “a person [to be pardoned] must address President, admit guilt, and beg for a relevant decision.” However, Khodorkovsky’s attorney Yuri Shmidt opined that Medvedev’s statement was erratic. Although it indeed reflects the regular practice, in fact the law does not require formal admission of guilt as a prerequisite for the pardon. Moreover, President is not legally limited to pardoning only those who filed a pardon petition, whether or not containing an admission.

Monday, July 6, 2009

NGO Legislation to be Liberalized

The State Duma (the Russian parliament lower chamber) approved President Dmitry Medvedev amendments to the Law “On Non-Commercial Organizations” (also known as “non-government organizations,” or NGOs). The amendments simplify the reporting of existing NGOs and the registration procedures for newly established ones. This refers only to domestic NGOs; foreign NGOs are still toughly regulated. Now, to enter into force, the law must be approved by the upper chamber and signed by President. (Russ.)

Senior Judge Sentenced for Swindling

Vladimir Bukreeev, formerly Deputy Chairman of the North-Caucasus Curcuit Military Court, was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment. The court found him guilty of demanding and receiving $200,000 in exchange for a promise to arrange for a milder sentence in a case heard by another judge. The court found that Bukreev in fact had not intervened into the case and had simply appropriated the money; hence the charge is “swindling,” not “bribery.” Bukreev is known for sentencing in 2005 Colonel Yuri Budanov to 10 years of imprisonment for murdering Chechen girl Elsa Kungaeva. (Russ.)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Russian Investigators Fail to Prove Saakashvili’s Guilt

The Investigation Committee of the Russian Prosecutor General's Office finalized the investigation of the circumstances of the 2008 events in South Ossetia (better known as the Russian-Georgian war). The investigators found that the Georgian army had committed “genocide” against South Ossetians, although the estimation of the number of the killed decreased from the original 1,600 to 160. The investigators declare they have proved the guilt of Georgian military officers, but not of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. The problem is that the investigators could not obtain a copy of Saakashvuili’s decree on starting the military operation. (Russ.)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Strasbourg Court Accepts Georgian Suit against Russia

The European Court of Human Rights accepted fro consideration the suit of Georgia against Russia. The suit is based on accusations of “arbitrary arrests and mass deportations” of Georgians in Russia in 2006-2007. The deportations followed the arrest of five Russian military intelligence officers in Georgia. (Russ.)

Policemen Sentenced for Robbing a Casino

Two former Tajikistan policemen and their accomplice were sentenced to the total of 66 years of imprisonment for a number of serious crimes, including robbing a casino, after which the gang members were arrested. The alleged head of the gang, a former border control officer, is still wanted. (Russ.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Casinos Outlawed

Effective from July 1 the activity of casinos and gambling machine businesses became illegal throughout Russia except only in four “gambling zones,” none of which is anywhere close to biggest Russian cities. Apparently, all Russian casinos in fact preferred to shut down rather than move to those zones. Bookmaking, instant lotteries, and poker clubs are still allowed under a number of conditions. (Russ.)

Senior Investigator Sentenced for Bribery

Dmitry Dovgy, the former head of the main investigative arm at the Investigation Committee of the Russian Prosecutor General's Office was sentenced to nine years of imprisonment for bribery. A jury found him guilty of accepting a bribe of 750,000 euro for closing a criminal investigation. Dovgy is known for his role in a number of high-profile investigations, including the one against Deputy Finance Minister Sergey Storchak. (Russ.)

Belarus Pardons American Attorney

President Alexander Lukashenko pardoned Emmanuel Seltzer, a U.S. attorney earlier sentenced to three years of imprisonment for forgery and commercial espionage. Seltzer was an attorney of Josef Kay, a relative of the late Georgian billionaire Arkady “Badri” Patarkatsishvili, struggling with other family members for Badri’s inheritance. Seltzer arrived to Belarus in March 2008 to claim some local assets of Badri. Seltzer was immediately arrested and in August 2008 sentenced on will forgery allegations. Notably, a court in Georgia found the disputed will authentic.; (Russ.)