Thursday, December 30, 2010

Khodorkovsky Verdict May Impact Russia's WTO Bid

According to an unnamed, senior Obama administration official, the recent verdict against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former head of oil-giant YUKOS, will complicate Russia's on-going bid to gain membership in the WTO.  "The WTO is a rules based, rule of law organization," said the Obama administration official.  "Most countries around the world do not look at this verdict as a demonstration of the deepening of the rule of law in Russia.  It will definitely have an affect on Russia's reputation," the official added.

Russian Patent Office Announces Coordinated Approval Process with Finland

The Russian Patent Office ("ROSPATENT") announced a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Patent & Registration Office of Finland, aimed at accelerating patent approval and prosecution proceedings through the creation of a Patent Prosecution Highway ("PPH").  Dozens of PPHs exist around the world, including one between ROSPATENT and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which allow participating patent offices to share information concerning examination and approval of patents, ultimately streamlining the patent prosecution process, coordinating approval efforts, and reducing duplication of labor and resources.  The Russian-Finnish PPH will begin coordinated operations in March of 2011.

Khodorkovsky, Lebedev Sentenced to 13 1/2 Years Each

Judge Viktor Danilkin sentenced Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev each to 13 1/2  years of imprisonment on the charges of stealing some 200 million tons of oil from the YUKOS oil company that they managed. The sentence is partially added to the prison terms they received in the "first trial”, to give each of them 14 years in total starting from the date of their arrests in 2003, which means that they should be released in 2017.

Russian Dissidents Poisoned in Germany

German prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into whether two Russian dissidents living in Berlin were poisoned by Russian agents. Viktor Kalashnikov, 58, a former colonel in the Soviet KGB, and his historian wife Marina Kalashnikov, were found by doctors to have dangerously high levels of mercury. The couple have worked as freelance journalists since the late 1990s, publishing articles that criticized current Russian authorities.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Russian President Orders Probe into Meltdown of Moscow Airports

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the country's top prosecutor to investigate what experts are calling the worst meltdown in Russian air travel in 15 years, after a Moscow ice storm all but paralyzed the country's two biggest airports. Thousands of passengers were stuck in the airports for days, many of them without food, water, or hotel rooms. Passengers shouted slogans against air companies, and several airline employees, including women, were beaten by angry passengers. (video)

Former Belarus President Suggests That Russia Should Occupy Belarus

Former Belarus President Stanislav Shushkevich refused to recognize the victory of current President Alexander Lukashenko in recent presidential elections. Shushkevich stated that Russia, as a member of the Union State with Belarus, could intervene to protect the human rights of Belarus citizens. “Perhaps it would be better, instead of deploying [Russian] troops in other countries who declared their independence [apparently meaning South Ossetia and Abkhazia], to bring troops to Belarus to protect human lives and human health,” stated Shushkevich. Shushkevich is known as one of the three Presidents (along with the Presidents of Russia and Ukraine) who declared the USSR dissolved in 1991.

Russian Businessman Accuses Putin of Corruption

Russian entrepreneur Sergey Kolesnikov published an open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev accusing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of corruption. According to the letter, “[A] palace is being built on the Black Sea for the personal use of the Prime Minister of Russia,” which costs at least $1 billion. Allegedly, the construction is being financed by donations from Russian entrepreneurs, and partially from state funds as well. According to Kolesnikov, he personally participated in the construction project for a certain period, and got acquainted with relevant documentation. In response to a request from the Vedomosti newspaper, Putin’s Press Secretary stated that Putin has no relation to the palace.

Former Russian Senator Convicted of Fourteen Murders

The Moscow City Court sentenced former entrepreneur and Senator Igor Izmestyev to life imprisonment on charges of heading a gang that committed numerous murders and attempted murders.  Twelve other defendants were sentenced to a range of four to 23 years of imprisonment. According to the prosecution, the gang murdered 14 people between 1992 and 2004, including those who were Izmestyev’s business competitors, and the gang also attempted to assassinate several others, including the son of the Bashkir President. Originally Izmestyev was supposed to be tried by a jury, but in May 2010 (because of changes in legislation) the jury was dismissed, and the case was passed to a professional judge. Izmestyev, who was a Council of Federation member from 2001 to 2006, denies wrongdoing and alleges that his prosecution is motivated by political reasons.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Khodorkovsky, Lebedev Convicted

Judge Viktor Danilkin found Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, former top managers of defunct Russian oil giant YUKOS, guilty of stealing some 200 million tons of crude oil and laundering the proceeds. The sentence is still to be announced. The defense calls the charges absurd and politically grounded, and intends to appeal. The police arrested the most active of the demonstrators who gathered around the Khamovnichesky Court in Moscow to support the defendants. (photo) (video)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Prosecution Drops Charges against Angry Russian Blogger

The prosecutor's office in Syktyvkar annulled an earlier decision to bring criminal charges against a blogger who called Prime Minister Vladimir Putin a “pederast.” Journalist Pavel Safronov further suggested in a blog post that access to certain web sites in Syktyvkar (e.g., was blocked because of Putin's visit to the city during which angry remarks were made against him.  In response to the blog post, criminal proceedings against Safronov were instituted on charges of “insulting a representative of the state power".  His office was also searched, and his computers were seized.  Safronov filed a complaint with the prosecutor's office explaining that he "believed in good faith" that Putin had engaged in homosexual relations. After the case became high-profile on the Russian web, the prosecutor's office cancelled the criminal proceedings and sent the materials for further linguistic examination.

Russian Investigators: Transneft Searches Unrelated to Navalny’s Publications

The Russian police conducted searches in a Moscow bank, and in the home of the bank's former owner, in connection with a criminal investigation into alleged embezzlement at the Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft. The police deny any relation between their investigative actions and the recent publications of well-known lawyer and blogger, Alexey Navalny, who exposed in his blog the alleged multi-billion dollar Transneft embezzlement. (video)

Russian Oppositionists Sue Putin for Libel

Russian liberal opposition leaders Boris Nemtsov, Vladimir Ryzhkov and Vladimir Milov filed a 1 million ruble ($30,000) libel claim against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. In a TV interview, Putin alleged that Nemtsov, Ryzhkov, and Milov (all former governmental officials) stole billions of rubles while in office in the 1990s, and further alleged that they plan to steal even more in the event they come to power. The oppositionists also seek retraction from the TV channel.

Retired Russian Intelligence Colonel Charged with Armed Revolt

Russia’s Federal State Security Service (FSB) arrested retired intelligence Colonel Vladimir Kvachkov on suspicion of organizing an armed revolt. Kvachkov was arrested one day after the Supreme Court ultimately affirmed an acquittal verdict in a case where Kvachkov had been charged with an attempt to assassinate former high-ranking federal official Anatoly Chubays.   (Kvachkov obtained acquittal verdicts in two consecutive jury trials).  Legislation has since changed, and the new case against Kvachkov will be heard by a judge rather than a jury.

Russia Loses YUKOS Case in Stockholm

The Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce awarded $3.5 million against Russia in a suit filed by a UK minority shareholder of YUKOS under a UK-Russia investment protection treaty. The shareholder, RosinvestCo UK Ltd (apparently associated with a large US-based investment fund), alleged that Russia “nationalized” YUKOS without proper compensation to UK investors in breach of the treaty. Russia appealed to a Stockholm state court challenging the arbitration award on procedural grounds, and that appeal remains pending. The case may become de facto precedent for further minority shareholder claims.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

U.S. Ratifies START Agreement with Russia

The U.S. Senate ratified a nuclear arms reduction pact with Russia by a strong bipartisan vote of 71 to 26. The treaty was signed by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April 2010 to replace an older nuclear treaty that expired in 2009. The treaty must still be ratified by the Russian parliament, but no problem with its ratification is expected.

Russia Demands That Belarus Release Russian Detainees

Russia’s Foreign Ministry published a statement requesting that Belarus release Russian citizens detained in Minsk.  More than 600 demonstrators were arrested during clashes between the police and those demonstrating against the recent presidential election results. Most of them, including eight Russian nationals, were sentenced to short-term imprisonment (up to 15 days). Opposition leaders, including several former presidential candidates, have been criminally charged with “organizing mass disorders.”  The Justice Minister for Belarus stated that the liquidation (i.e., prohibition) of opposition parties is being considered.

В Минске прошла акция в поддержку арестованных оппозиционеров

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chechen Presidential Groom to be Released from Dubai Jail

A court of appeals in Dubai overturned life sentences for Iranians, Mahdi Lorniya and Tajik Makhsudzhon Ismatov, both of whom had been convicted of complicity in the murder of Chechen military commander Sulim Yamadayev. The life sentences were changed to a 27 month prison term for each which means they will be released in six months. Yamadayev, a former battalion commander, a holder of the Hero of Russia medal, and a member of a prominent family which opposed Chechnya’s pro-Kremlin leader Ramzan Kadyrov, was assassinated in the United Arab Emirates in 2009. The Dubai police seem to believe that Yamadayev was shot from a gold-plated gun passed to the murderer by Russia’s State Duma deputy Adam Delimkhanov via Kadyrov’s horse groom Lorniya. Lorniya was arrested and convicted, and Delimkhanov remains wanted. Kadyrov and Delimkhanov deny involvement. Yamadayev's brother, Ruslan, was shot dead as his car stood at traffic lights in central Moscow in 2008.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Belarus: Oppositionists Dispersed, Presidential Candidates Arrested

The Belarus police dispersed thousands of opposition demonstrators, who were gathering in Central Minsk to protest the results of the presidential elections. The oppositionists believe that the results were falsified in favor of current President Alexander Lukashenko, who is reported to have won with some 80% of the vote. According to police reports, 30 policemen have been injured. According to media reports, dozens of oppositionists, including several presidential candidates, have been injured. Hundreds of oppositionists, including five presidential candidates, have also reportedly been arrested. (photo) (photo) (video)

Update: 7 of 10 Presidential Candidates Arrested, Most of Them Injured

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Turmoil in Minsk: Opposition Claims Election Fraud, Storms Belarusian Government Building

Thousands of opposition supporters protested tonight in Belarus, where presidential elections are taking place. According to exit-polls, which are largely controlled by incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko's team, President Lukashenko is being re-elected by a large margin. However, opposition candidates claim that the results are fixed and demand new elections. Thousands of opposition supporters stormed the government building in the center of Minsk. Several opposition candidates have been reported to be injured.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Presidential Elections in Belarus: Lukashenko Is Expected to Win; Opposition Anticipates Mass Election Fraud

On Sunday, December 19, 2010, Presidential Elections will take place in Belarus. Experts say that the current President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashanko, is going to win the elections. Other presidential candidates are confident that Lukashenko and his team are going to falsify the election results; one of the methods that they claim Lukashenko will use to fix the election results is to force voters to cast their votes before the actual election date. The candidates running against Lukashenko are planning to bring a large crowd of protesters to a central square of Minsk on the Election Day.

Friday, December 17, 2010

15 Russian Lawyers Accuse Investigators of Falsifications

A group of 15 St. Petersburg attorneys told reporters that they have asked President Dmitry Medvedev to intervene and stop alleged abuses of power by the investigative arm of the General Prosecutor's Office. The attorneys represent several persons, including former police officers, accused of “corporate raids” (which in Russia means a criminal takeover of a business). The attorneys allege that the investigators systematically use falsification and intimidation as the primary means for solving crimes.

EU Approves Sanctions over Magnitsky Case

The European Parliament approved a resolution recommending that EU members introduce sanctions against Russian officials suspected of involvement in the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. The parliament voted 318-163 with 95 abstentions for a measure that "encourages EU law enforcement agencies to cooperate in freezing bank accounts and other assets" in Europe of Russian officials involved in the case. The measure also urges EU members "to consider imposing an EU entry ban for Russian officials involved in this case." The measure doesn't name the targeted Russians and is not binding on member states. Sergey Magnitsky, a lawyer for London-based Hermitage Capital, died in jail in 2009 after being held for more than a year without trial or proper medical treatment.

Mass Fight in Ukrainian Parliament

A mass fight in Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (parliament) took place between deputies of the ruling Party of Regions and the opposition BYuT party, who protested against the prosecution of their leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Reportedly, three opposition deputies were injured.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day in Moscow: None Killed, 1200 Arrested

The Moscow police took unprecedented security measures to prevent inter-ethnic clashes and to curb the escalation of the violence that began on 11 December. Thousands of police personnel patrolled the streets. Despite numerous fights between Russian nationalist groups and groups of Caucasians (such as Chechens, Ingush, etc.), no killings were reported. Some 30 people were injured, and the police detained some 1,200 people (most of them were later released). Seven stun-guns, two hundred knives, and numerous baseball bats, iron rods, and pepper spray canisters, etc., were confiscated. (photo) (photo)

Criminal Proceedings Instituted Against Former Ukrainian Prime Minister

Ukraine’s General Prosecutor's Office instituted criminal proceedings against former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Although no formal charges have yet been brought, Tymoshenko said the prosecution is alleging that she embezzled money that Ukraine received from the sale of greenhouse gas emission quota credits and used the funds to pay retirement benefits for elderly persons. Tymoshenko denies wrongdoing and calls the prosecutors’ actions “terror against the opposition.”

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Charges Brought Against Former Interior Minister of Ukraine

The Ukrainian Prosecutor General's office completed its investigation related to, and brought charges against, Yuriy Lutsenko, who in 2005-2010 was the Interior Minister of Ukraine. The ex-Minister is charged with “large-scale embezzlement of state property through the abuse of office.” Reportedly, the charges are based on the alleged assignment of an extra pension payment of UAH 40,000 ($5,000) to the Minister’s driver. Lutsenko said that he believed that the criminal case was opened against him as "a result of his political and police activities."

Khodorkovsky-Lebedev Sentence Postponed

The Kamovnichesky Court in Moscow postponed from December 15 to December 27, 2010, the announcement of the verdict and the sentence in the “second trial” of former Yukos top managers Milhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev. The defendants are accused of stealing essentially all of the oil extracted by Yukos and laundering the proceeds; the prosecution is demanding 14 years of imprisonment for each defendant. The adjournment notice was effected when a paper note was placed on the door of the court the morning of December 15. According to the court press service, Judge Viktor Danilkin, who may not leave his deliberation room, sent a fax indicating the delay. No explanation as to the cause of the delay has been provided. A small crowd gathering to support the defendants was dispersed.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Violence Erupts in Moscow

Thousands of young people, some ardent football fans and others from nationalistic organizations, gathered at Manezh Square next to the Kremlin to honor a deceased Spartak football fan, Yegor Sviridov, who was killed, allegedly by persons from the North Caucasus, in a massive brawl several days ago. The demonstrators lit flares and chanted nationalist slogans such as “Russia for Russians!” and the like. The crowd subsequently attempted to break through police cordons and hurled sundry items at the police, including the decorations of a Christmas tree placed on the square. The mob also assaulted a number of non-Russians, seriously injuring several of them. When the police ousted the rioters from the square, the disorderly conduct continued on the subway. Some 65 people were detained in the rioting and some 29 people, including policemen, were injured. (video)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Alleged Russian Spy Challenges Deportation from UK

Lawyers for Yekaterina Zatuliveter, who has been arrested in the United Kingdom on suspicion of espionage, are challenging her deportation to Russia. Zatuliveter, 25, is an aide to Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock. Some media reports allege that Hancock gave Zatuliveter access to official defense policy documents. Zatuliveter denies any wrongdoing, claiming she was an innocent victim of a bungled secret service operation. (video)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ukraine-Armenia WTO Dispute Has Been Resolved

Ukraine has recently complained to the WTO regarding Armenia’s allegedly discriminatory taxes and custom duties on imported tobacco and alcohol products (see post of 9/20/10). A compromise resolution has been reached through amendments to Armenian laws. Armenia agreed to apply its domestic excise tax rate to alcohol imported from Ukraine. It appears, however, that the tax rates on imported tobacco products remained unchanged. Ukraine is expected to withdraw its complaint from the WTO in the near future.

Russia to Extradite Fugitive Kazakhstan Banker

The Moscow City Court approved the decision of the General Prosecutor's Office to extradite to Kazakhstan Veronika Yefimova, formerly a top manager of BTA Bank who Kazakh authorities accuse of a $3.3 bln embezzlement. The defense calls the charges baseless and politically motivated. In June 2010, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordered Russia to stay the extradition of Efimova pending ECHR’s ruling on Efimova's petition on the merits.

Russia Vetoes UN Security Council Resolution on Côte d’Ivoire

Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution on the recent controversial presidential elections in Côte d’Ivoire. The proposed Security Council resolution would have recognized Alassane Ouattara as the winner over incumbent Laurent Gbagbo. The Ivorian Electoral Commission declared that Ouattara won with 54% of the vote, but the Constitutional Council, dominated by Gbagbo supporters, partially cancelled the election results and declared that Gbagbo won with 51% of the vote. Of 15 Security Council members, 14 voted for the resolution, but Russia exercised its veto power, arguing that UN should not decide who should be the president of a country.

Georgia Accuses Russian Military of Terrorism

Georgia’s Interior Ministry announced that its investigation of six recent terrorist bombing attacks revealed that the blasts were organized by Russian military intelligence. Allegedly, the organizer was Yevgeny Borisov, a Russian military intelligence officer in Abkhazia. Six Georgian citizens, allegedly recruited by Borisov to commit terrorist attacks, were arrested; authorities subsequently broadcasted one of their confessions on TV. Russia’s Defense Ministry denied involvement and called the Georgian investigative findings “badly planned provocation.”

Russian CEO Prosecuted for Selling Trademark Abroad

Russia’s Investigation Committee brought the final version of charges against Maxim Larin, CEO of Afanasy-Pivo, a large brewery in Tver. Larin is accused of selling “Afanasy” trademarks in 1997-1999 at a nominal price to Eastern Union Holding AG, a Swiss company he allegedly controls. Since that time, some $17 mln has been paid to the Swiss company in royalties by Tver-Pivo, a Russian licensee, whose CEO, Yevgeny Kharitonkin, is also being prosecuted. Both Larin and Kharitonkin are charged with fraud and money laundering. Their defense attorneys insist that the trademark transfer was perfectly lawful and that the criminal prosecution was initiated by corporate raiders attempting to take over the company. The proceedings were originally instituted in 2002 upon the application of Aton, an investment company, which in 2002 acquired 42% of Afanasy-Pivo on behalf of Millhouse Capital, a company led by Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Investigator from Kushchevskaya Appeals to Russian President

Ekaterina Rogoza, an investigator from Kushchevsky District of the Krasnodar Region of Russia, made an internet video appeal to President Dmitry Medvedev. Kushchevskaya village was the site of a massacre of twelve people (including four children) in November, apparently by a local criminal gang. After the massacre, an investigation of local law enforcement bodies was launched. Rogoza alleges that in 2009, on instructions from the district prosecutor, she refrained from instituting extortion charges against a gang member who is wanted in connection with the massacre, Vladimir Alexeyev, and that senior local officials pressured her to conceal the district prosecutor's role in the Alexeyev case. (video)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Microsoft Causes Dismissal of Russian NGO Piracy Prosecution

After confiscating the computers of NGO Baikal Environmental Wave in January, the Irkutsk police dropped software piracy charges as a result of Microsoft's announcement that it would not support the case. Microsoft promised to provide free software licenses to 500,000 advocacy groups around the world in order to deprive authorities of a pretext for politically motivated piracy prosecutions.

Russian Lawyer Launches Anti-Corruption Campaign

Well-known Russian blogger and minority shareholder rights lawyer Alexey Navalny launched a web site to report government contract bid invitations that look suspicious in terms of corruption. Currently the most recent entry is the $1 mln contract from the Agricultural Ministry to "develop an integrated system of long-term storage of the data of the system of remote monitoring of agricultural land and create methods of evaluating crops, crop capacity, and total yield.” The Ministry requires completion within nine days after signing the contract, which does not seem to be realistic.

Russian Banks Report 60% of Turnover as Suspicious

In the first three quarters of 2010, Russian banks reported to Rosfinmonitoring, the Russian anti-money laundering agency, suspicious transactions in the amount of 120 trillion rubles ($4 trillion). This is about 60% of the total amount of banking transactions related to economic activity and three times as much as Russian GDP.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Strasbourg Court Awards Record €1.7 Mln Against Russia in Chechen Killings

The European Court of Human Rights awarded damages against Russia in a record amount of 1.72 million Euros (about $2.3 mln) for killing at least 24 civilian villagers in a military operation against Chechen insurgents. The case of Abuyeva and Others v. Russia involved 29 applicants and concerned the attack by Russian military forces in 2000 on the village of Katyr-Yurt following its capture by a large group of Chechen militants. The assault, during which the Russian forces used "heavy free-falling aviation bombs, missiles and other arsenal," resulted in the deaths of 24 villagers and injuries to 10 other villagers.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Promises Reforms in Construction Sector

A working group chaired by Vice Prime Minister Sergey Tigipko introduced to the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) draft legislation “On Regulation of Urban Development.” The law is designed to simplify procedures for obtaining construction permits, increase the volume of new construction, attract new investments and curb corruption in the construction sector. Mr. Tigipko anticipates that the legislation will increase competition and result in lower housing prices.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Putin Accuses US Diplomats of Slander

In an interview with CNN’s Larry King, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin threatened to build up Russia's nuclear forces if the United States fails to ratify the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that was signed this year. He said it would take “a very dumb nature” for the United States to ignore its own interests -- but if it does, “then we'll have to react somehow.” Putin further disclaimed the statement of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates who was quoted by WikiLeaks as saying that “Russian democracy has disappeared and the government was an oligarchy run by the security services.” “We are not interfering [in U.S. affairs],” Putin said. “I would also like to advise you, don’t interfere in the sovereign choice of the Russian people.” Finally, Putin stated that the suggestions he remains the true power in Russia -- Batman to President Medvedev's Robin, as one of the diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks put it --were “aimed to slander one of us.”

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ukrainian President Vetoes Tax Code

Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich vetoed the new Tax Code recently approved by the parliament. Ukrainian entrepreneurs had protested en masse against the Code's proposed restricted application of simplified taxation methods that apply lower tax rates.


Update: Yanukovich signes Tax Code with corrections

Monday, November 29, 2010

High-Ranking Russian Official Suspected of Links with Organized Crime

Leading Russian business newspaper Vedomosti published an article alleging that Vasily Yakimenko, the head of Rosmolodezh (Federal Youth Agency of the Russian Federation), was among the members of a company named Akbars established in 1994 in Moscow. All five members of the company, except Yakimenko, were convicted in 2006 on charges of participation in an organized criminal group, racketeering, and numerous murders. The leader of the gang, Yuri Eremenko, also a member of Akbars, was sentenced to life imprisonment, and the other 31 gang members were sentenced to a total of over 400 years in prison. According to Yakimenko’s spokesperson, Yakimenko was included in the member list without his knowledge. Vedomosti notes that Yakimenko initiated the creation of controversial pro-Kremlin youth movements (such as “Nashi”) that have cost taxpayers about $15 mln. Yakimenko is also known for his conflict with journalist Oleg Kashin, who was recently seriously beaten by assailants who have not been identified.

Georgia Promises Not To Attack Russian “Occupants”

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili announced that Georgia will never use force to restore control over its breakaway provinces Abkhazia and South Ossetia, whose independence was recognized by Russia after the 2008 Russia-Georgia war over South Ossetia. In his address to the European Parliament, Saakashvili said Georgia was ready for “unilateral initiative to declare that Georgia will never use force to roll back the Russian occupation and restore control over the occupied areas.” Russia’s Foreign Ministry responded that the pledge can be “perceived seriously” only if it “is put on paper” and when “it becomes legally binding.”

Friday, November 26, 2010

Visa Restrictions Proposed Against Russian Officials

The European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee voted to recommend denying visas to 60 Russian officials believed to have been involved in the investigation of tax advisor Sergei Magnitsky, who died in pretrial detention for lack of proper medical care in 2009. The recommendation, which would take effect only if adopted by member states, are based on a similar recommendation by US Senator Benjamin Cardin to the State Department. Russia responded to the European proposal with a threat to "very harshly retaliate" if the restrictions are adopted.

Moscow Court Disregards Plea Bargain in Bribery Case

Moscow City Court sentenced Grigory Domovets, a former senior investigator in the Investigation Committee of the Prosecutor's Office Grigory Domovets, to three years in prison on bribery charges. Judge Valery Novikov disregarded a deal with the prosecution under which Domovets pleaded guilty and testified to expose his corrupt superiors and the prosecution withdrew some of the charges and requested a suspended sentence. After the sentencing, the prosecution reversed its position and announced that the sentence is well-grounded and lawful. The defense intends to appeal.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Arbitral Award Worth $3.6 b. against Naftogaz Ukraine Upheld

Ukraine's Supreme Court upheld a Stockholm arbitral award requiring Naftogaz Ukraine to make an in-kind payment of 12.1 billion cubic meters of gas (worth US $3.6 b. in today's European prices) to Swiss trading company Rosukrenergo, which is 50% owned by Russia's Gasprom. The dispute arise in 2009, when Naftogaz bought the trader's $1.7 b. debt to Gasprom, took 11 billion cubic meters from the trader's underground storage facility to satisfy the debt, and made a direct supply agreement with Gasprom. The arbitral award, providing for a return of the gas together with a penalty, could force Ukraine to decide between rescuing the company or letting it go bankrupt.

For an English translation of the decision, see

President Discovers “Stagnation” in Russia

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stated in his video blog that the country is showing symptoms of political stagnation similar to that experienced in the Soviet era, which Medvedev believes is “equally damaging” to both the ruling party and the opposition. “If the opposition has no chance at all of winning fair elections, it deteriorates and becomes marginalized. If the ruling party never loses a single election, it just ‘bronzes over.’ Ultimately, it too deteriorates like any living organism that remains static,” Medvedev said.

OCSE Condemns Arrest of “Russia Today” Journalists in US

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) condemned the detention and arrest of several journalists covering demonstrations outside the Fort Benning military base in the U.S. A television crew from Russia Today was found guilty of violating city ordinances. Each journalist paid a $290 fine. OSCE's Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “The fact that local police officers would detain, handcuff and arrest members of the press as they engaged in their duty to report on a public event is disturbing.” (video)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Smartphone Scanner Will Allow for In-Store Price Comparison

Internet marketers in Russia will now be able to compete with traditional retailers in their territories through a new service called "Yandex".  Yandex will allow a smartphone user to scan the bar code of a product in the store, and to compare the in-store price with the product's price on the Internet.  Similar services in the U.S. and Europe, including PriceGrabber, RedLaser, ShopSavvy, and Pic2shop, have been operating for several years.  According to Sergei Savin, analyst for Johnson & Partners, smartphones account for just 10% of the total phones used in Russia, with the percentage of people using all of the smartphones' capabilities even lower.  At least initially, the Yandex service is thus not expected to have a major impact on bottom-line Internet sales in Russia.

Russia to Privatize Ownership of Three Major Banks by 2015

As part of a privatization campaign aimed at raising up to $59 billion in the next five years, Russia is expected to cut its stakes in three major state banks, Sberbank, VTB, and Rosselkhozbank, by 2015.  A document published Monday on Russia’s domestic bank association Web site (available at: suggests that “ . . . the state stake could be cut to less than 50 percent plus one voting share in the coming two to three years."  According to the same document, Russia plans to sell its stakes to strategic investors and through initial or secondary share offers.  The Duma, Russia's lower chamber of parliament, is expected to discuss the strategy at a committee meeting on December 1st.

Supreme Arbitrazh Court to Review Minority Shareholders' Right to Information

On December 9, the Presidium of Russia's Supreme Arbitrazh (Economic) Court will consider draft guidelines for resolving disputes over shareholder requests for company information. The draft guidelines (in the form of an “information letter” that would not be formally binding but would have persuasive authority with lower courts) provide that an open joint stock company must provide information unless the request is irrelevant to the company’s economic performance or is legally irrelevant (including for reasons of expiration of a statute of limitations). The draft guidelines also provide that the shareholder is not required to state a motivation for the request. The impetus for the Court’s consideration of the issue is a case pending before the Court between Rosneft and minority shareholder Alexei Navalny over his request for minutes of meetings of the board of directors in 2009. (See Nov. 18 post on Navalny's dispute with Transneft.)

Constitutional Court Chairman: Russia May Withdraw from European Convention on Human Rights

Russia’s Constitutional Court Chairman, Valery Zorkin, publicly warned that “Russia, if it wishes, may withdraw from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights.” The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is a judicial body established by the European Convention on Human Rights to provide legal recourse of last resort for those who feel that their human rights have been violated by a country participating in the Convention. The Russian Constitutional Court resolves Russian constitutional law issues. Zorkin made his statement in the context of a dispute over which Court’s decision would prevail in case of a conflict. A recent example of that kind of conflict is the Markin v. Russia case, wherein it was determined that a military serviceman was not entitled to the same parental leave as a military servicewoman would have had in his place. Zorkin's Constitutional Court okayed this practice, but the Strasbourg Court found it discriminatory.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Russian Blogger Exposes $4 bln “Theft”

Alexey Navalny, a Russian minority shareholder rights lawyer and well-known blogger, accused the former management of Russia’s pipeline monopoly, Transneft, of embezzling at least $4 billion during the construction of the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline. Navalny published in his blog copies of the documents allegedly presented in 2008 to Russia’s Audit Chamber by the new management of Transneft (its former CEO Semen Vainshok was removed in 2007 and now lives abroad). The documents appear to explicitly confirm large-scale overpricing and other financial violations. Audit Chamber’s head, Sergey Stepashin, later denied the existence of the $4 bln theft, but confirmed that the Audit Chamber had inspected Transneft in 2008. “We sent the materials to the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s Office,” the official said.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Nokia to Open Skolkovo Research Center

Finnish communications company, Nokia, committed on Wednesday to open a research facility at the Skolkovo high-tech innovation center being set up outside of Moscow.   Victor Saeijs, CEO of Nokia Eurasia, said Russia will now join Europe, India and China as key sites of Nokia intellectual activity, and Russia will be the eighth country where the company has such a center.  The Nokia Center at Skolkovo will work in cooperation with leading Russian universities, and will employ about 25 technical specialists who will conduct research in fields such as mobile computing, nanotechnology, and quantum technology.  Although Nokia representatives declined to specify the exact amount of Nokia's investment in the Skolkovo center, total investment is expected to be in the range of "double-digit millions of dollars."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

NY Times Spotlight on Russian Juries

Continuing its series of occasional articles on corruption and abuse of power in post-Communist Russia, the New York Times has published an extensive report of official pressure on jurors to return guilty verdicts or to excuse themselves in cases where it seemed that acquittal was likely. The article focused in particular on the murder trial of former senator Igor Izmestiev, who was linked to the deposed ruling family of oil-rich Bashkortostan. Several jurors from the Izmestiev trial who were interviewed by the New York Times had previously told their stories to Russian media.

Kazakhstan Unblocks LiveJournal

After a two-year ban, Kazakhstan has restored access to the most popular Russian-language bloghosting service, LiveJournal, which is operated from Russia. The Kazakhstan government has never explained or officially admitted the existence of the ban on LiveJournal, nor has it explained why it was lifted. One theory is that the “secret ban” was related to the now-suspended blog of Rakhat Aliyev, formerly a Kazakh media tycoon, state official, and son-in-law of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev.  After a 2007 conflict with his father-in-law, Aliyev sharply criticized President Nazarbayev in his blog, and is now a divorced fugitive wanted in Kazakhstan on various criminal charges. On November 9, 2010 the LiveJournal administration permanently suspended Aliyev’s blog on the grounds that its entries “invade the privacy and libel another person.”  On November 13th, access to LiveJournal in Kazakhstan was restored.

Thailand Extradites Russian Citizen to US

Following a recent extradition decision, Thailand handed over suspected Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, to the U.S.  Bout, dubbed by U.S. media as the "Merchant of Death", was flown on a charter flight from Thailand to the U.S., where he will face terrorism charges. The U.S. says Bout, a former Soviet air force officer, ran an air cargo network that shipped weapons to conflict zones such as Afghanistan and Rwanda. Bout denies wrongdoing, saying he was framed by U.S. undercover agents who posed as Colombian rebels during his arrest in Bangkok two years ago. The Russian Foreign Ministry stood up for Bout, stating, in particular: “No doubt the illegal extradition of V.A. Bout is a consequence of the unprecedented political pressure put by the U.S. on the government and judicial authorities of Thailand.” (video)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Changes Proposed in Russian Company Formation and Governance

Proposed Civil Code amendments, mostly concerning charter capital and formation of companies, will be submitted to President Dmitri Medvedev for review by the end of the year. The draft amendments include increased charter capital requirements: 500,000 rubles (~$20,000) for limited liability companies, five-million rubles for “private corporations” (a new name to replace closed joint stock companies), and 100 million rubles for “public joint stock companies” (replacing open joint stock companies). Capital will have to be paid in money (instead of the current practice of allowing contribution of rights and other property), and three-quarters will have to be paid upon registration of the company. Registration will be handled by the Justice Ministry and its local divisions, rather than by the tax authorities, and registration can be denied when foundation documents do not conform to the law. Management rights will be closely tied to partners’ shares in a company, which will reduce the flexibility of shareholders’ agreements. The stricter requirements for creating companies are designed to combat fraud and illegal hostile takeovers, but some observers argue that sophisticated fraud will not be prevented, and that honest small businesses will suffer from the amendments.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Corruption Alleged in Moscow's Savelovski Court

An inspection of Savelovski District Court in Moscow, initiated by Moscow City Court Chief Judge Olga Egorova following an anonymous complaint of corruption, has led to the resignation of two judges and disciplinary hearings that were scheduled for November 18 against four other judges. The complainant asserted that after he filed a lawsuit, a judge recommended that he hire a particular advocate's office, which instructed him to pay 50,000 rubles (~$2,000) that would go to another judge who would ensure expedited consideration of the case. The advocate's office further advised that a payment of an additional 50,000 rubles would go to yet another judge, who would ensure a favorable result in the case. According to Judge Egorova, the inspection found “gross and systematic” violations of judicial ethics in the Savelovski court. The City Court’s announcement did not specify the roles of the four judges who are the subject of the hearings; the disciplinary measure requested against them is a warning.

Disabled Russian Journalist Convicted of Slander

A Russian court convicted journalist, Mikhail Beketov, of slander but relieved him of punishment because of an expired statute of limitations.  Beketov, editor of the Khimkinskaya Pravda weekly, is confined to a wheelchair as a result of a brutal attack against him in November 2008.  Following the attack, Beketov sustained brain damage, lost a leg and fingers, and also lost his ability to speak.  Beketov was on trial for slander after accusing Khimki's mayor, Vladimir Strelchenko, of being involved in blowing up Beketov’s car. The journalist made the allegations against Strelchenko, a former Afgan war veteran, in September 2007 during a television interview.  Beketov had been following controversial plans to build a highway through the Khimki forest. Whether or not by coincidence, numerous other journalists and political activists who have criticized Khimki authorities have also ended up brutally beaten. The most recent victims are ecologist Konstantin Fetisov (beaten on November 4th) and journalist Oleg Kashin (beaten on November 6th), both of whom are still in a coma. (list of victims) (video)

Kushchevskaya Massacre Solved

Police in the south Russian region of Krasnodar have arrested four men for the murder of a wealthy farmer and 11 others at the farmer's home in the Kushchevskaya village. Eight adults and two children were found stabbed to death inside the farmhouse, along with the bodies of two other children. After the murders, the farmhouse was set on fire. Apparently, the crime was a result of a conflict between the farmer and a gang operating in the region. One of the arrested has already confessed and exposed his alleged accomplices.

Unnamed Kremlin Source: Hitman Sent after Fugitive Intelligence Colonel

Leading Russian political newspaper Kommersant published an article, based on unnamed official sources, alleging that a Colonel Shcherbakov (no first name given) betrayed Anna Chapman and the nine other  Russian spies who were then captured in the U.S. According to the article, Colonel Shcherbakov, a senior Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) officer, fled to the U.S. days before the arrests and later participated in the interrogations conducted by U.S. authorities. “Don’t you doubt - a Mercader has already been sent after him,” an unnamed high-ranking Russian Presidential Administration official told the paper. The mention of "a Mercader" refers to Soviet agent, Ramón Mercader, who, in 1940, murdered exiled bolshevik Leon Trotsky with an ice axe in Mexico.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Armenia, Azerbaijan Exchange Dead Bodies

Armenia handed over to Azerbaijan the bodies of two Azerbaijani soldiers killed in recent military clashes on the border. In exchange, Azerbaijan transferred to Armenia a body of an Armenian found in a river. The exchange was agreed upon during the recent meeting of the Presidents of the two respective countries, Armenia’s Serzh Sargsyan and Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev.

Fifteen “Russian Spies” Captured in Georgia

Georgian authorities arrested fifteen people, citizens of both Russia and Georgia, and charged them with spying for Russia. Georgian TV broadcasted the confessions of some of the suspects. Russian authorities deny any links with the alleged spies.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Azerbaijan Holds Parlimentary Elections

Voting concluded in Azerbaijan's general election, with the ruling party expected to retain power. Opposition leaders said that many candidates were prevented from registering and that the results had been pre-determined. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) sent more than 400 monitors to the elections. The OSCE reported having received credible reports of voter intimidation; opposition candidates, it said, had, in some cases, been disqualified for no reason.

Journalist Attacked in Moscow

Oleg Kashin, a prominent Russian journalist writing for the Kommersant newspaper, was attacked and brutally beaten by two unknown men in central Moscow outside his apartment. Kashin had a fractured jaw, broken shins and injuries to his fingers and skull. The police have begun an investigation and are treating this as a case of attempted murder. Kashin’s colleagues believe the attack was retribution for articles he wrote. Kashin is now in a hospital in an induced coma. (video) (video)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Khodorkovsky: I Wish You Courage, Your Honor

Mikhail Khodorkovsky made his final statement in his and his colleague Platon Lebedev’s “second trial,” which took place in Moscow. Khodorkovsky said the outcome of the trial will be crucial for all of Russia because it will be indicative of whether the law is able to protect persons and their property. “Nobody believes that an acquittal verdict is possible in a Moscow court in a Yukos case,” Khodorkovsky stated. “I understand you are uneasy and perhaps scared. I wish you courage,” Khodorkovsky went on to tell Judge Viktor Danilkin, who will return a verdict, as well as a sentence, if applicable. The verdict and any applicable sentence should be announced on 15 December 2010.

Ходорковский и Лебедев в Хамовническом суде

Opposition Demonstration in Moscow Half-Allowed

On October 31, the Moscow opposition held its traditional demonstration on the Triumfalnaya Square in support of Article 31 of the Russian Constitution (freedom of assembly). For the first time, authorities did not ban the demonstration outright but rather insisted that it be held in a remote part of the square and that the number of demonstrators not exceed 800. As a result, two demonstrations were held simultaneously in different parts of the square, one allowed and the other banned. The police dispersed the disallowed demonstration, after which the oppositionists attempted to march on a nearby government building. Several dozen demonstrators were detained by the police. (photo) (video)

European Commission to Sue Poland over Contract with Russia

The European Commission may challenge in court a recent Russian-Polish agreement under which Russia’s Gazprom is to increase its supply of natural gas to Poland. European officials believe the agreement violates the European anti-monopoly rules.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Antitrust Agency Launches Probe into Moscow Cemeteries

Russia’s Federal Anti-Monopoly Service instituted administrative proceedings related to the leasing of all Moscow cemeteries to a single state-run enterprise “Ritual.” Ritual argues that it is not a monopolist because it does not own the cemetery land but rather rents it from the Moscow government. The annual revenue from funeral services in Moscow is estimated at $200 mln.

Council of Europe Recommends that Russia Reintroduce Governors’ Elections

The Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, held in Strasbourg, adopted a resolution recommending that Russia reintroduce direct elections for regional governors, revoke the recent law concerning the dismissal of mayors, and improve legal safeguards to ensure that local authorities are not subject to excessive supervision by higher-level officials. Russia abolished the direct election of governors in 2004, and in 2009, President Dmitry Medvedev was quoted as stating that the abolishment is not likely to be reversed, “neither now, nor in 100 years.”

Neo-Nazi Murderers Convicted in Moscow

The Moscow City Court sentenced Vasily Krivets and Dmitry Ufimtsev, activists of the so-called National Socialist Society, to life imprisonment and 22 years of imprisonment, respectively. A jury found the defendants guilty of involvement in numerous ethnically motivated murders. The defendants had been charged with murdering nationals of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Russia. The defendants also murdered a member of their organization, whom they suspected of collaborating with the police, and published a video record of the killing on the Internet.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Russia Authorizes Organization to Collect Copyright Duties

Rosokhrankultura, the Russian agency responsible for accrediting IP rights management organizations, authorized the Russian Union of Rights Holders (RSP), an organization headed by prominent film director Nikita Mikhalkov, to collect a special levy on manufacturers and importers of recording equipment and blank recordable media. The levy will apparently apply to CD and DVD recorders, computers, and most mobile phones and cameras, as well as recordable disks, hard disks, flash cards, etc. The levy is expected to be about 1% of the value of applicable goods and will likely generate revenue of about $100 mln. The revenue is supposed to be distributed among writers, performers, and producers of music and film, however the law does not specify exactly to whom the proceeds should be distributed and in what proportions. The distribution may be inconsequential, though, as critics say that the bulk of the funds will likely be consumed by the RSP itself. Indeed, the RSP has suggested that it would only distribute 15% of the collected funds to the IP owners with the rest to be accumulated or spent by the RSP.

Criminal Case Initiated in Moscow against “World’s Largest Spammer”

The Moscow police instituted criminal proceedings against entrepreneur Igor Gusev, who is believed by some to be the world’s most prolific spammer. He allegedly sold counterfeit pharmaceuticals, such as India-made generic Viagra, in the U.S., Canada, and other countries, using email spamming as a major marketing tool. The revenue generated by Mr. Gusev's business during the last 3.5 years is believed to be $120 mln. The criminal proceedings were instituted on “illegal entrepreneurship” charges. Gusev escaped and is wanted by the police.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Russia's Transparency Rating Drops

Transparency International's new corruption index ranks Russia number 154 out of 178 countries, a fall from the previous rank of 146. Russia is the world's lowest-ranked major economy, with a rating of 2.2 (down from 2.1) on a scale of 1 to 10. TI reports that Russia has created the necessary laws and legal institutions, but has not taken serious steps to implement anti-corruption measures in everyday life. Elsewhere in the former USSR, the Baltic countries ranked the highest (Estonia 26th, Lithuania 46th, Latvia 59th), Georgia ranked 68th, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan were ranked below Russia, and the other countries ranked higher than Russia, but not in the top 100.

Moscow Increases Proposal for Opposition Demonstration

The Moscow authorities have offered opposition activists a permit for 800 people to demonstrate on October 31 in recognition of the Constitution's Article 31 (freedom of assembly), an increase over the previous offer of 200, which the oppositionists rejected (see below, October 21). This is the twelfth such application to demonstrate on the 31st day of a month; all previous applications were denied. The applicants had requested permission for 1500 to demonstrate and are split on whether to accept the authorities' compromise, with "Other Russia" (Liudmila Alekseeva) and "Solidarity" in favor and "Left Front" (Eduard Limonov) opposed. The city government's new tolerance on the issue has been attributed to the appointment of mayor Sergei Sobianin to replace Yuri Luzhkov.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Resources Ministry Considers Opening Shelf to Foreigners

Russia's Natural Resources Ministry has proposed amendments to the Subsurface Law that would, in undefined "special circumstances," allow foreign investors to acquire more than the 10% currently available to them in extraction projects for strategic resources such as nickel, cobalt, uranium, diamonds and to participate in continental shelf projects, which are currently open to Russian companies only. Under the amendments, the foreign investor could apply for a license before completion of geological surveys or before discovery of deposits. The proposed liberalization has been explained as a way to attract investments that are beyond the capacities of Russian state companies.

Prosecution Requests 14 Years for Khodorkovsky

The prosecution requested the court to sentence former Yukos managers Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev to 14 years of imrisonment each. They are accused of stealing essentially all the oil Yukos that extracted and laundering the proceeds. The defense says the charges are absurd and politically grounded.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fly-By-Night Companies Dominate Russian Foreign Trade

The Russian Customs Service estimates that 70% of Russian foreign trade is conducted by "fly-by-night" companies that disappear after a single transaction or within a year after being created. Such companies typically submit false customs declarations for purposes such as grey-market imports or illegal capital export (for example, by declaring non-existent imports or by inflating the value of the imports). The Customs Service believes that grey-market imports increased from 8.6% in 2008 to 12.7% in 2009 because of the financial crisis. Customs lawyer Elena Belozerova contends that fly-by-nights account for only 30% of Russian foreign trade and that simplifying customs regulations will make it more difficult for fly-by-nights to thrive.

Putin's Former Chief of Staff Appointed Mayor of Moscow

Sergei Sobyanin, Prime Minister Putin’s former chief of staff, was named the new mayor of Moscow. 52-year-old Sobyanin was born and raised in Western Siberia, and rose through the political ranks to become governor of the Tyumen region before becoming Putin’s chief of staff in 2005. Russian media reports describe Sobyanin as very tough and energetic, but publicity-shy and unemotional. After the city legislature’s nearly unanimous vote of approval, Sobyanin expressed his loyalty to Putin, telling him that “even though I’m no longer a member of the Cabinet, I will remain a member of your team.” Before the vote, Sobyanin criticized the city's former administration for inefficiency and corruption and promised to cut red tape, create a better investment climate, improve road conditions, and promote education and health care.

Russia Fined for Banning Gay Parades

Europe’s Court of Human Rights fined Russia for by banning gay parades in Moscow. Gay rights activist, Nikolai Alexeyev, lodged the case arguing that Russia had violated the European Convention by discriminating based on sexual orientation and by denying the right of assembly. The Strasbourg-based human rights court held that “[t]he mere risk of a demonstration creating a disturbance was not sufficient to justify [the parade] ban,” and ordered Russia to pay Alexeyev 29,510 € ($41,090) in damages and legal fees.

Opposition Meeting in Moscow Allowed, then Banned

For the first time in the last several years the Moscow authorities agreed to allow a demonstration of the opposition in support of Article 31 of the Russian Constitution (freedom of assembly), which was to place on October 31 on Triumfalnaya Square. The officials said they were ready to give permission on the condition there would be no more than 200 participants.

The oppositionists, however, refused to guarantee the low attendance, and the next day the authorities disallowed the meeting. Earlier all similar demonstrations have been invariably banned and dispersed by the police.

Terrorists Attack Chechen Parliament

A group of three armed militants attacked the building of the Chechen legislative assembly. One blew himself near the front entrance; the other two rushed into the parliament and opened fire. After a fight they also blew themselves. Besides the terrorists, three persons were killed and 17 wounded. The terrorists, equipped with machine guns, arrived at the parliament building by taxi, telling the driver they were bodyguards of a deputy.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Anti-Monopoly Official Discusses Proposed M&A Liberalization

Deputy Head of Russia's Federal Anti-Monopoly Service, Andrei Tsarikovsky, discussed recent and anticipated antitrust developments in at the Seventh Annual Conference on Mergers and Acquisitions. Tsarikovsky noted that the number of mergers and acquisitions barred by the FAS has decreased each year, due in part to government liberalization, but due also to the business's community's increased understanding of the law. Tsarikovsky noted that the FAS's proposed “third antimonopoly package” is aimed at enabling faster approval of mergers and acquisitions, but he cautioned that the new package, alone, would not create the economic conditions that might lead to an increase in Russia's merger activity. Tsarikovsky shared his proposed plan to abolish agency notification of the order of transactions, as well as to condition the extraterritorial application of the law on a party's trade volume inside Russia. The FAS anticipates that the third antimonopoly package will be adopted in the next year.

Hermitage Capital Loses Appeal to Return Companies

Hermitage Capital, formerly Russia's largest portfolio investor, lost its appeal in the state arbitrazh courts to recover control over three Russian companies through which it contends that 5.4 billion rubles was stolen from the state treasury in 2007 through fraudulent tax return requests made by the companies. Hermitage contended that by recovering control over the companies it could gain access to documents proving the fraud.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Chechen President Cracks Down on Bride Kidnapping

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov vowed to uproot the widespread practice of bride kidnapping in Chechnya. “This is the Russian Federation,” stated Kadyrov, “and the law considers bride kidnapping as a crime.” Kadyrov went on to add that the practice does not correspond to either Islam or Chechen traditions.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Georgia Adopts New Constitution

Georgia’s parliament adopted a new Constitution pursuant to which many powers are being transferred from the office of the President to that of the Prime Minister. The Constitution will enter into force in stages from 2010 to 2013. Critics say this is a trick by President Mikheil Saakashvili to allow him to stay in power as the Prime Minister after the expiration of his presidential term in 2013.

Magnitsky Supporters Prosecuted

The Moscow police instituted criminal proceedings on “defamation” charges at the request of Lieutenant Colonel Artem Kuznetsov, who alleges that Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky colleagues wrongly accuse Kuznetsov of Magnitsky’s death. Magnitsky died of health problems in November after spending 11 months in pretrial detention. His supporters say that he was denied sufficient medical help and that the charges were fabricated by corrupt police officials whom he had implicated in a $230 million fraud. According to Magnitsky’s colleagues, former investigator in the Magnitsky case, Artem Kuznetsov, has family assets and annual spendings in the millions of dollars, while his official annual salary is only in the thousands.

Investigator in Magnitsky Case Promoted

Oleg Silchenko, an investigator implicated in the death of Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, has been promoted by the Interior Ministry from Major to Lieutenant Colonel. Magnitsky died of health problems in November after spending 11 months in pretrial detention. His supporters say that he was denied sufficient medical help and that the charges were fabricated by corrupt police officials whom he had implicated for a $230 million fraud. Silchenko rejected a request by Magnitsky for medical treatment in September 2009.

Kyrgyz Attorneys Forced to Desert Uzbek Clients

Fifty Kyrgyzstan attorneys, representing ethnic Uzbeks who were charged with involvement in recent inter-ethnic clashes, declared that they have to refuse to participate in court hearings because security is not guaranteed for them and their families. Defendants and their attorneys have been repeatedly attacked and beaten by the relatives of Kyrgyz victims, mostly women, often right in courtrooms. During the last three days, six attorneys were beaten in courts; the judges and the police did not intervene.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

International Forum of the Global Innovative Partnerships Brings U.S. High-Technology Delegation to Russia

California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, led a group of U.S. investors and high-technology business representatives to Russia for the International Forum of the Global Innovative Partnerships.  The U.S. delegation met with President Medvedev and other government officials, including representatives from Russia’s Corporation on Nanotechnology (RUSNANO), and toured the Skolkovo Innovation Center, Russia’s Silicon-Valley project just outside Moscow.   During a speech at the Moscow event, Medvedev praised the Forum and stressed the need to cultivate a climate of trust and understanding in order to develop the international cooperation necessary to bring modernization and innovation to Russian business.  As a result of Global Innovation Partnerships, RUSNANO officials project a $375 million investment from U.S. companies in Russian projects in the areas of alternative energy, microelectronics, medicine and biotechnology.  

Gazprom May Route Pipeline Through Romania

Gazprom signed an agreement with Romania’s Transgaz to study the possibility of a South Stream gas pipeline through the country.  As Gazprom considers various routes into Europe, Alexei Miller, Gazprom chief executive, explained that an optimal route would extend under the Black Sea, and would have the capacity to deliver as much as 63 billion cubic meters of gas per year to Europe.  According Miller, however, no final, concrete route for the South Stream pipeline will be publicly disclosed until the next phase of study is completed.