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.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
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.
http://russian-law.livejournal.com/52900.html (see video)
http://russian-law.livejournal.com/52900.html (see video)
Monday, December 28, 2009
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.
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
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’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 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
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
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.
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
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 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.
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 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
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
The Russian government launched a unified web portal of government services www.gosuslugi.ru. 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!
Update of 16 Dec. 2009: It works now!
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
Update of 16 Dec. 2009: Diplomatic relations with Nauru established
Saturday, December 12, 2009
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”