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.