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.

Friday, August 21, 2009

British Council Wins Tax Case in Russia

A second-instance court in Moscow held ungrounded most of $7 mln tax claims to the British Council, a UK-based educational and cultural institution. Russian authorities closed Russian regional offices on the British Council in 2007, on the background of a diplomatic scandal related to the refusal of Russia to extradite to the UK Andrey Lugovoy, suspected of poisoning in London Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko. Tax claims to the British Council followed in 2008.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Abkhazia Complains to UN against Georgia

Breakaway Georgian province Abkhazia filed a complaint with the UN Security Council against Georgia over its seizure of a Panamanian-flagged tanker delivering oil products from Turkey to Abkhazia. Since Georgia considers Abkhazia a part of Georgia, its border control seized the tanker for illegally entering Georgian territorial waters. The Turkish and Azerbaijani crew was fined, the captain was jailed for two months, and the tanker is to be auctioned. In response the Abkhazian authorities declared that they may seize Georgia-bound ships.

Journalist Prosecuted for Defaming Authorities

The police instituted criminal defamation proceedings against Russian journalist Mikhail Afanasiev over his coverage of a recent accident at the Sayano-Shushenskaya Hydroelectric Station, which left dozens dead. Afanasiev allegedly stated that the local authorities failed to take necessary measures to rescue possible survivors.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Interior Ministry Orders Golden Beds

Russia’s Ministry of Interior is requesting bids for the supply of 5,000 furniture items worth about $800,000. The list includes two beds with decorative elements "plated with a thin layer of 24 carat gold" and other gold-plated furniture items. The Ministry has explained that the beds are for high-ranking foreign guests.

Azerbaijani Journalist Dies in Prison

Novruzali Mamedov, 67, a journalist sentenced in 2008 to 10 years' imprisonment for high treason, died in an Azerbaijani jail of cerebral thrombosis. Mamedov was convicted of publishing “anti-Azerbaijani propaganda” advocating secession for the Talysh ethnic group.

Ex-Speaker Fined for Non-Payment of Tax

A Tbilisi court fined former Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze $750,000 for non-payment of property tax on her country house. She bought the house, worth $7 million, from the state for 50 cents. Burjanadze calls the tax claims “political pressure.”

Foreign Donations to Russian Charities Held Tax Exempt

The Federal Arbitrazh Court for the Ural Circuit, acting as a third-instance court, held that foreign donations to Russian non-commercial organizations (NCOs) were tax-exempt. This is contrary to the position of the tax authorities that maintained that such donations should be taxed as regular commercial income in the hands of NCOs.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Netherlands Fines Russian Bankruptcy Receiver

Netherlands bailiffs notified former Yukos bankruptcy receiver Eduard Rebgun that he must pay a fine of €500,000 for failure to comply with a Dutch court decision. In 2006 Rebgun dismissed the management of its Dutch subsidiary Yukos Finance B.V. In 2007 an Amsterdam court held the dismissal invalid and ordered Rebgun to reverse his decision, which he failed to do.

Georgia Leaves CIS

Effective today, Georgia ceased to be a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Georgia renouced its CIS membership a year ago following its war with Russia over South Ossetia.

Arrested Chief Justice Sues Journalists for Libel

Former Chairman of the Lviv Administrative Court of Appeals Igor Zvarych, currently under arrest on bribery charges, sued for defamation a newspaper that called him a “posivalnyk” (sower). Zvarych had explained the presence of about $1 million in cash in his office by referring to an ancient Ukrainian tradition of having guests “sow” a new dwelling with money. Zvarych claims the epithet is “extremely offensive” and has demanded $13,000 from the newspaper and the journalist.

Monday, August 17, 2009

State-Appointed Attorneys’ Fees to be Increased

Russia's Ministry of Justice published a draft order increasing the fees of state-appointed attorneys of indigent criminal defendants by 7% to $35 per court day in jury cases and $10 in most other cases. Leading criminal defense attorney Genri Reznik called the pay “humiliating.”

“Flag with a Cross” Banned

The Russian Ministry of Justice added a "flag with a cross" to its list of prohibited "extremist materials." The ban, apparently aimed at the Nazi swastika, is broad enough to cover the Russian Navy flag, the Red Cross flag, national flags of Switzerland, Finland, Greece, Georgia, etc.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Russian President Doesn't Buckle Up

Two citizens filed petitions with the Russian Traffic Police asking to fine President Dmitry Medvedev for illegally driving without a seat belt. A TV news report showed Medvedev leaving a Sochi cafe and driving away unbuckled. A police spokesperson stated that "the President's conduct on roads is outside of the Traffic Police's competence."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Chechen President Sues Rights Group for Libel

A Moscow court began hearings in Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov's libel suit against Russian human rights group Memorial over the accusation by its head, Oleg Orlov, that Kadyrov was involved in the murder of Memorial activist Natalia Estemirova. Kadyrov has also requested that the Moscow police bring criminal defamation charges against Orlov.

Ukraine Rejects Russian Accusations

In response to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's recent reproach of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's “anti-Russian position,” Yushchenko published a letter that expresses disappointment with the “unfriendly nature” of Medvedev’s message, states that Ukraine has the right to supply arms to Georgia because no international sanctions against Georgia are in place, and asserts Ukraine's right to join NATO as an “unalienable element of state sovereignty.”

Thursday, August 13, 2009

American PR Firm Hired by South Ossetia, Abkhazia

Saylor Company, a U.S. public relations firm, entered into contracts with the governments of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to help them to improve their international image. The contracts have been made public in accordance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938. In particular, the firm contracted to help Abkhazia to “[e]xplain Georgia’s long history of aggression towards the Abkhazian people” and “[u]nderscore the importance of . . . the need for a Russian military presence within [Abkhazian] borders.” Similar provisions are also found in the South Ossetian contract. The contracts are governed by Californian law and are subject to arbitration in California, although the U.S. does not recognize the governments of Abkhazia or South Ossetia.

Russian-Lithuanian Trade War Unleashed

Russia’s Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Supervision (Rosselkhoznadzor) banned the importation to Russia of milk products of certain Lithuanian companies on health-related grounds. Lithuanian authorities deny the presence of any dangerous substances in Lithuanian milk products. Days ago the Russian customs unexpectedly imposed intensified customs examination requirements for Lithuanian trucks, which resulted in large-scale jams on the Russian border.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ex-Top-Official Convicted of Bribery

Andrey Taranov, formerly the head of Russia's Federal Fund of Obligatory Medical Insurance (FOMS), was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to seven years of imprisonment on bribery charges. FOMS is a state agency responsible for collecting social security payments and channeling them to medical institutions. According to the judgment, Taranov and accomplices extorted bribes from pharmaceutical companies and regional medical funds in exchange for FOMS contracts nad subventions.

Russia Curtails Relations with Ukraine

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev published on the Kremlin web site a message to Ukrainian President Vladimir Yushchenko. Medvedev accuses Yushchenko of an “anti-Russian position,” including arms supplies to Georgia, and the intention to join the NATO. As a result, Russia postpones appointing an ambassador to Ukraine. Experts opine that the purpose of the move is to influence the upcoming presidential election campaign in Ukraine.

Thailand Refuses to Extradite Alleged “Merchant of Death”

A Thai court rejected a U.S. request for the extradition of Viktor But, a Russian citizen accused by U.S. authorities of illegal arms trafficking. The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed satisfaction.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Russian Army to Fight Abroad Lawfully

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev submitted to the State Duma (Russian parliament’ lower chamber) a bill changing the purposes for which the Russian army may be legally used. According to the current legislation, the army may be used only for (1) countering an aggression against Russia; (2) protecting the territorial integrity of Russia; and (3) fulfilling international obligations of Russia. According to the bill, the army may also be used outside of Russia for (1) countering attacks against Russian army units located there; (2) countering an aggression against any other country; and (3) protecting Russian citizens. According to Medvedev, the purpose of the bill is to cover conflicts like the 2008 South Ossetian war.

Charity Activist Murdered in Chechnya

Zarema Sadulayeva, the head of a Russian charity operating in Chechnya, and her husband were abducted from the charity office in Grozny, Chechnya, and found dead the next day. The case follows last month’s abduction and murder of prominent human rights activist Natalia Estemirova.

Tajikistan Refuses to Extradite Kyrgyz Spy

Tajikistan refused to extradite to Kyrgyzstan Muhammadi Salimzoda, a Kyrgyz citizen earlier sentenced to 29 years of imprisonment for espionage. The Tajik authorities explained that Salimzoda’s “criminal acts encroached upon the constitutional integrity of the Republic.”

Monday, August 10, 2009

Anti-Monopoly Proceedings Instituted against Customs

The Russian Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) instituted administrative proceedings against the Federal Customs Service (FTS) and the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Supervision (Rosselkhoznadzor). The two agencies had issued regulations stipulating that used cars imported to Russia must undergo phytosanitary control, along with vegetables and fruits. The FAS believes the regulations breach the federal anti-monopoly legislation because of restricting competition on the market of domestic and used foreign cars.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Belarus Re-allows Wholesale Trade

Under unprecedented pressure of Byelorussian business community the Byelorussian government annulled its decree, issued on 31 July, which had effectively prohibited the activities of independent wholesalers and commercial intermediaries in Belarus. The ban on wholesale trade was in force for only five days and resulted in estimated $150-200 losses to Byelorussian trade businesses. (Russ.)

Spain Refuses to Extradite Fugitive YUKOS Employee

Spain rejected Russia’s request to extradite Antonio Valdez Garcia, a Spanish citizen who had worked for YUKOS, former Russian oil giant, now defunct. In 2003, after the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the head of YUKOS, Valdez Garcia resigned and left to Spain. In 2005 Russian investigators invited him to Russia to testify. According to Valdez Garcia, upon arrival to Russia he was detained and tortured to force him to testify against Khodorkovsky and other YUKOS top managers. In 2006 Valdez Garcia was put on trial on corporate theft and money laundering charges; the prosecution asked to sentence him to 11 years of imprisonment. In 2007, amidst the trial, Valdez Garcia managed to break away from the guards and escape from Russia. Russia asked Spain to extradite Valdez Garcia, but the Spanish government declined the request.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Opposition Journalists Detained on Extremism Charges

In Bashkiria, Russia, four persons involved in the activity of Bashkir opposition web site “Ufa-Gub” were detained on “extremist activities” charges. Specifically, they were accused of having published on the site excerpts from a third-party author’s book, highly critical towards current Bashkir leadership. Investigators maintain that the excerpts “called to extremist actions.” Earlier the site itself was banned by a court order, but simply moved to a non-Russian domain. (Russ.) (Russ.)

Politkovskaya Trial Restarts

A court in Moscow started hearings in the new trial in the high-profile Politkovskaya murder case. Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist and human rights activist, was assassinated in Moscow in 2006. Three alleged accomplices in the murder were acquitted by a jury in February 2009, but the Russian Supreme Court overturned the acquittal and ordered a retrial. The alleged killer is still wanted.

VOIS to Collect Phonogram Royalties

The Russian Organization for Intellectual Property (VOIS), a Russian right-management organization, won the competition for the right to collect royalties due to producers and performers (“neighboring rights” holders) from phonogram users, such as radio stations and TV channels. Upon an approval of the competition results and formal accreditation with the Rosokhrankultura, the responsible state agency, the VOIS will be able to collect such royalties even without a contract with the right holder. (Non-accredited right-management organizations may collect royalties only on the ground of a contract with the right holder.) Earlier another right-management organization, the Russian Authors Society (RAO), affiliated with the VOIS, was accredited to collect royalties due to composers and lyrics authors (copyright holders).

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Belarus Bans Wholesale Trade

The Byelorussian government issued a decree directing Byelorussian companies to buy any goods, including imported ones, only from those goods manufacturers or manufacturers’ commercial representatives (dealers), rather than from independent wholesalers or commercial intermediaries. This seems to effectively ban all wholesale trade in Belarus. Experts opine that the main purpose of the move is restricting imports to Belarus with a view to improve its trade balance.

Constitutional Court Refuses to Support Journalist

The Russian Constitutional Court denied consideration on the merits of the complaint of Moldovan journalist Natalia Morar over the prohibition for her to enter Russia. Morar insists that ungrounded entry bans are unconstitutional. However, the Court pointed out that according to internationally recognized legal standards Russia was free to deny entry to any non-citizen.

Constitutional Court Refuses to Support Deputy Minister

The Russian Constitutional Court denied consideration on the merits of the complaint of Deputy Finance Minister Sergey Storchak, indicted of an attempt to steal $43 mln from the state budget. Investigators maintain that Storchak initiated the adoption of a federal statute allowing him to fraudulently obtain the budget money. The statute indeed had been adopted, but Storchak insists that the statute was completely legitimate and could not serve a theft tool. The general-jurisdiction court case is pending. In his complaint Storchak asked the Constitutional Court to check whether the questionable statute was constitutional and whether it had been adopted properly. However, the Constitutional Court refused to do it, pointing out that the statute “does not determine the legal situation of the applicant . . . and, therefore, does not violate his constitutional rights.”

Monday, August 3, 2009

South Ossetia Raises Territorial Claims to Georgia

South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity brought forward territorial claims to Georgia. "We have serious territorial issues which have to be raised. And we will raise them. This is about the Truso Gorge, currently a part of Georgia's Mtskheta-Mtianeti region - this is an indigenously Ossetian land that for some unclear reason was transferred during Soviet times to the administrative control of the Georgian Soviet Republic," Kokoity told RIA Novosti. "Today we must raise the issue of returning these lands to Ossetia," Kokoity declared.

Invisible Characters Prohibited in Beer Ads

The Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) disallowed “invisible personages” in TV beer commercials. Since a statute prohibits using “images of humans and animals” in beer ads, beer companies have widely used offscreen dialogues and similar techniques to circumvent the prohibition. The FAS reacted by an informal demand to withdrew such ads under penalty of a fine. Beer companies have declared compliance.