Friday, January 29, 2010

Jury Role in Hate Cases Scrutinized

The Moscow city authorities are developing a proposal to amend federal legislation so that prosecution of ethnic hate crimes would be removed from the list of cases that can be decided by jury. The list now includes cases involving terrorism, espionage, treason, and organizing mass disorders. The sponsors of the legislation contend that many jurors are xenophobic and thus return subjective verdicts. The chairman of the Duma's Security Committee stated that any changes to the jury system, in particular adding to the list of cases that cannot be tried to a jury, must be approached with caution.

Strasbourg Court's Domestic Impact to be Decided

The Constitutional Court started hearings in a case that presents the issue of whether a decision of the European Court of Human Rights concerning a case decided Russia's courts of general jurisdiction can be a basis for mandatory reopening of the case. A lawyer representing the Presidential administration argued to the Court that giving ECHR decisions such effect would be "interference in the national legal system," while Russia's representative to the ECHR wrote to the Court that it would facilitate Russia's fulfillment of its international obligations.

Share Issuers' Liability for Register Fraud Upheld

The Constitutional Court rejected a challenge by several of Russia's largest corporations to legislation providing that although registers of open joint stock companies with over 50 shareholders must be maintained by independent registrars, the issuer remains liable for theft of shares through register fraud. The Court stated that corporations "must exercise adequate care in choosing a registrar." The challenge arose from a 717 million ruble (~$25 m.) claim against Gazprom to compensate for the theft of 50 million shares that belonged to shareholder Rosgasifikatsia. Critics of the decision argue that a corporation may not own more than 20% of the registar's shares and thus do not control it, while supporters contend that registrars of major corporations often lack real independence or assets to satisfy fraud claims.

Journalists Accuse Official of Flying Luxury Jet

A Novaya Gazeta article reported that Airfix, a Finnish aviation company that operates luxury business jets owned by Russian state-run companies or their offshore subsidiaries, is co-managed by Gennady Timchenko, co-owner of Gunvor group, which controls a third of Russian oil exports. According to plane-spotting data, one of the jets (Bombardier Global Express XRS) is regularly used by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin. Airfix representatives and government spokesmen refused to discuss the issue with the Novaya Gazeta journalists. Days after publication, Novaya Gazeta's web site was crashed by a massive DDoS attack and is not currently available, but a copy of the article may be found on other sites. (see photo)

Update of 3 Feb. 2009: Novaya Gazeta site restored.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Yukos Customer Punished

A Krasnoyarsk electric utility that bought oil products from a Yukos subsidiary in 2003-2004 was found in violation of tax law for deducting the purchases from its taxable income. Yukos sold oil products through its subsidiaries established in low-tax Russian regions, a scheme that was ruled illegal in the Yukos prosecutions. Now courts on three levels have held that because the subsidiaries did not own the products, they were not legally sold to the Krasnoyarsk utility, and its expenses were therefore not deductible. The Supreme Arbitrazh Court denied review.

UK Grants Asylum to Russian Businessman

A UK court granted political asylum to Nikolay Glushkov, formerly deputy CEO of Russian airline Aeroflot, convicted in Russia for embezzlement. The UK court found that the prosecution of Glushkov was politically motivated and intended to put pressure on Glushkov’s business partner Boris Berezovsky, another fugitive Russian businessman residing in London.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Chechen President Accuses Fugitive Oligarch of Estemirova Murder

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov accused fugitive Russian oligarch Boris Beresovsky, residing in London since 2003, of the 2009 murder of Chechen rights activist Natalia Estemirova. “Estemirova's murder was provoked by those who murdered Politkovskaya and Litvinenko. I am pretty sure that is Berezovsky’s doing,” said Kadyrov. Earlier Estemirova’s colleague Oleg Orlov accused Kadyrov of being responsible for her murder. Kadyrov sued Orlov for libel in a Russian court and won.

Journalist Punished for Anti-Soviet Article

WWII veteran Viktor Semenov won a libel suit against journalist Alexander Podrabinek for criticizing veterans who had requested that municipal authorities close the “Anti-Sovietskaya” kebab house (a pun based on its location across the street from the “Sovietskaya” hotel). The kebab house changed its name, but Podrabinek, a former dissident who served exile and prison terms for anti-Soviet propaganda, addressed the veterans in an article stating, “Your fatherland is not Russia; it is the Soviet Union. Thank God, your country has not been in existence for 18 years.” The Kremlin-backed “Nashi” youth movement organized a campaign against Podrabinek, including picketing his apartment, and reportedly instigated the lawsuit by Semenov, who was not one of the veterans who had complained about the kebab house. The court ordered Podrabinek to retract the statement above and awarded Semenov 1,000 rubles (~$30).

Comparative Advertising Held Illegal

A court in Komi, a Russian constituent region, upheld a $1,300 fine imposed by the local department of the Federal Anti-monopoly Service (FAS) on drinking water producer NordLink for comparing its water with competitors’ water. NordLink published a newspaper ad saying that its water is oxygen-rich and has similar properties to Aqua Minerale and BonAqua, which the FAS found untrue.

Top Officials’ Names Stop-listed

The Coordination Center for TLD RU (Russian top-level internet domain) informed journalists that the names of about ten highest-ranking Russian officials were included in a special stop list, and may not be part of domain names registered in the normal course in the newly opened Cyrillic domain .рф. According to the Center spokesman, the issue was considered by the Presidential Administration and the Ministry of Communications.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Recent Legal Actions against Extremism

Russian law enforcement authorities have invoked legislation against political and religious extremism in a number of recent cases:

The head of Russia's Council of Muftis was warned that inviting a member of a Turkish religious movement that has been declared extremist in Russia to a conference in Moscow was illegal.

A newspaper in the Far East, Arsenevskie Vesti, was warned that its publication of Nazi symbols to illustrate that municipal authorities that overcharge residents for utilities act like military occupiers was illegal.

Prosecutors in Samara Region withdrew a case against the feature film "Russia 88," which portrays the lives of a group of skinheads, but federal prosecutors are reviewing the film and considering whether to take legal action against it.

Russian Circuses to be Demonopolized

Russia’s Minister of Culture Alexander Avdeev declared that the system of Russian circuses needs reorganization. According to Avdeev, now the system is monopolized, which does not conform to law. Currently all except the four largest Russian circuses are owned by state-run company that is controlled by the Ministry of Culture. Avdeed said the ownership in circuses should be transferred to regional authorities.

Armenian Oppositionist Sentenced

A court in Yerevan sentenced journalist and opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan to seven years of imprisonment for organizing mass unrest in the wake of 2008 presidential elections, when former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan refused to acknowledge defeat. Protests by thousands of his supporters, headed by Pashinyan and others, turned violent, with ten people killed and some 200 wounded. The court found Pashinyan guilty of organizing “mass riots” but cleared him of assaulting a police officer in 2007. The opposition calls the conviction illegal and politically motivated.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ballot-Printing Plant Seized

About 300 unidentified people stormed the printing plant “Ukraine,” which is responsible for printing ballots for the upcoming Ukrainian presidential runoff election. A group of plant defenders, including parliament members, was besieged in the director’s office. Reportedly, the attackers, armed with clubs and crow bars, were headed by governmental official Volodymyr Rudyk. Earlier the “Party of Regions,” headed by presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych, accused rival candidate Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko of planning to install a new plant director who would print 1.5 mln falsified ballots. After intervention of President Yushchenko the army was commissionned to guard the plant. Criminal proceedings were instituted. (see photo)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Moscow Court Attempts to Seize New York Apartment

A court in Moscow ordered that proceedings be instituted to seize a New York apartment of Boris Berezovsky, a fugitive Russian “oligarch,” now residing in London. The seizure was ordered in connection with new criminal charges against Berezovsky. In 2003, before obtaining political asylum in the UK, Berezovsky informed the UK police that Russian secret agents had arrived in London to murder him, which Russian investigators allege was a “knowingly false denunciation.” Berezovsky’s attorneys assert they were not notified of the hearings, and Berezovsky denies owning a New York apartment.

Court Disallows Homosexual Marriage

The Moscow City Court found legitimate the refusal of a registry office to register the marriage of Irina Fedotova and Irina Shipitko. The refusal was grounded on a provision of the Family Code saying that a marriage requires consent of “the man and the woman,” whereas both plaintiffs are female. Fedotova and Shipitko intend to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Constitutional Court Authorizes Precedential System

Russia’s Constitutional Court (CC) adopted a decision effectively authorizing the emerging system of binding precedent in the Russian civil-law legal system. Specifically, the CC agreed that the Supreme Arbitrazh Court (VAS) in its decisions on specific cases may make legal rulings that are binding for future cases. Moreover, the CC agreed that such rulings may be a ground for reconsideration of earlier cases, albeit only in limited circumstances. The CC requested the legislature to adopt relevant amendments to procedural law.

ICAAN Approves Cyrillic Domain Names

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICAAN) approved web addresses in Cyrillic and Arab characters. “This marks a pivotal moment in the history of Internet domain names," said ICANN President Rod Beckstrom. Other language scripts are expected to be approved later.

Moldova Demands Russian Army to Go

Acting Moldovan President Mihai Ghimpu demanded that Russian peacekeepers immediately leave Transnistria, a breakaway Moldovan province. This seems to be in conflict with the 2009 Russian-Moldovan-Transnistrian declaration signed by then Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, calling for “transformation” of the Russian peace-keeping operation only after a settlement of the Moldovan-Transnistrian dispute. Transnistrian authorities, in turn, asked Russia to increase the strength of the Russian forces there from 1,800 to 2,400.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Official Compensated for Baseless Prosecution

North Ossetian Vice Prime Minister Sergey Takoyev won a 2.8 mln ruble ($100,000) damages award against the state (Russia) for a baseless prosecution in relation to the 2004 Belsan terrorist attack. He had been accused of spending the funds assigned for security purposes for a local soccer club, which allegedly made it easy for terrorists to enter North Ossetia from nearby Ingushetia. In 2004 the terrorists seized a Beslan school with more than 1,000 civilians which ultimately resulted in the death of 331 hostages, half of them children. In 2009 Takoyev was acquitted and granted the right to sue for compensation.

Big-Screen Porn Show Investigated

A hard-core pornography film was demonstrated on a giant video screen installed on a highway in central Moscow, causing a midnight traffic jam. The owners of the screen explain the incident as a hacker attack. Criminal proceedings were instituted for “illegal access to computer information” and “illegal distribution of pornographic materials.”

Sberbank Defrauded for $1.2 bln

Sberbank announced that losses in a fraudulent loan scheme run by employees of three of its Moscow branches may reach 35.5 bln rubles (~ $1.2 bln). In 2006-2007 the three branches granted the loans based on false documents, and the loans have not been repaid. Criminal proceedings were instituted, but the suspects are not named.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Policeman Kills Journalist

Alexei Mitaev, a police officer in Tomsk, was charged with beating a local journalist to death. The journalist’s neighbors called the police to complain that he was drunk and listening to loud music. The police brought the journalist to a sobering-up station, where Mitaev allegedly beat and tortured him. The victim died in a hospital of rectum and bladder ruptures. Mitaev explains that he was acting under stress caused by family problems.

Moscow Police Clashes with Anti-Fascists

Moscow anti-fascists and human rights activists held a 1,000-strong demonstration in memory of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburina, who were murdered a year ago (two alleged neo-Nazis are being tried for the murders). The demonstration was banned by the authorities, and ended in a brawl between demonstrators and police, who were supported by pro-Kremlin youth organization members. Dozens of demonstrators were detained, but later released.

Prosecution Witness Testifies in Favor of Khodorkovsky

Former Yukos executive Alexey Golubovich, a prosecution witness in the Khodorkovsky-Lebedev trial, testified that share exchange transactions that the prosecution calls “embezzlement” were in fact fairly priced and beneficial to Yukos shareholders as well as the state. In 2003 Golubovich was charged with fraud together with other Yukos managers and fled Russia; the UK declined Russia’s request to extradite him. Recently Golubovich returned to Russia to testify with a promise of immunity from prosecution and placement in a witness protection program.

Update of 21 Jan. 2010: Golubovich Alters Testimony

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Proposed Privatization Amendments

Under proposed privatization law amendments submitted to by the Ministry of Economic Development to the government, the starting price in a privatization auction would be set according to an appraisal, and the government would be allowed to delegate to major private investment banks authority to run auctions and set auction procedures. Implementing the changes would require amendments to competition legislation that prohibit delegation of such government functions to private companies.

Russia Sends Ambassador to Ukraine

President Dmitry Medvedev instructed Russia’s Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov to go to Kyiv and assume his duties. Zurabov was appointed last August, but his departure to Ukraine was postponed amidst increasing tension between the two countries. Medvedev made clear that the new move was related to the imminent replacement of the Ukrainian President.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Brewers Sue Health Official

The Union of Russian Brewers sued Evgeni Bryun, the Chief Narcologist of the Ministry of Health and Social Development, for libel. In an interview Bryun stated that brewing technology rules were systematically breached in Russia, and that brewers added ethyl alcohol to beer to increase its strength. “Much beer is produced in Russia, but you can not drink it,” said the official. The brewers accuse Bryun of “demonizing beer” and demand that he retract his statements.

Senior Investigator Charged with Bribery

Andrey Grivtsov, an Investigator on Especially Important Cases of the Main Investigation Department of the Prosecutor Office Investigation Committee (GSU SKP), was arrested on bribery charges. He is charged with extortion of $15 mln, the record bribe in the SKP history, from a businessman for non-institution of criminal proceedings on fraud charges against the businessman.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Russia Okays Strasbourg Court Reform

After a five-year delay the Russian State Duma ratified the 14th Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Protocol provides for a significant simplification of procedures in the European Court of Human Rights, currently overloaded with cases (with Russia being the most sued country). Russia is the last Council of Europe member to ratify the Protocol, removing the last impediment for implementation of the reforms.

Armenian Constitutional Court Okays Treaty with Turkey

Armenia’s Constitutional Court found constitutional the Armenian-Turkey agreement, recently signed but not yet ratified. The agreement is intended to normalize bilateral relations, open the border, and boost trade. Many Armenians protested against the decision, believing the treaty implies surrender in disputes over the Nagorny Karabakh region and the 1915 genocide.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lieutenant Colonel Shoots Plow Driver

Police Lieutenant Colonel Anatoly Maurin was charged with killing a snow-removing vehicle driver who accidentally damaged Maurin’s car. On 26 December a snow plow collided with a Nissan, damaging its bumper and rear view mirror. The Nissan driver, suspected to be Maurin, shot at the plow driver from a traumatic action pistol and drove away. The bullet damaged a leg artery, and the plow driver died. Maurin has been charged with “inflicting serious harm to health causing death by negligence,” which carries a possible possible term of up to 15 years.

Stalin Found Guilty of Ukrainian Genocide

The Kyiv Court of Appeals found seven former Soviet Leaders, including Joseph Stalin and Vyacheslav Molotov, guilty of genocide in causing the 1932-1933 famine, or Holodomor, which killed about 4 mln Ukrainians. The court closed the case without entering a sentence because of the death of all defendants. The hearings took two days.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Yukos Manager Convicted

A Moscow court found former Yukos senior executive Alexey Kurtsin guilty of money laundering and embezzlement of company assets worth some $1.5 million. His total prison sentence for this and two other conviction is 15 years. The defense intends to appeal.

Struggle for Seal in Ukrainian Court

Olexandr Pasenyuk and Mykola Syrosh, top officials of the Supreme Administrative Court of Ukraine (SACU), are at odds over leadership of the court. Pasenyuk's term as the SACU Head expired on 22 December 2009. His First Deputy Syrosh issued an order appointing himself as the Acting SACU Head. Pasenyuk cancelled the order and declared that he is the Acting Head. The SACU Presidium and the Ministry of Justice recognize Pasenyuk as the Acting Head, while the Council of Judges found Syrosh’s actions legitimate. Syrosh stated that the official seal of SACU had been lost, but Pasenyuk displayed the seal and told journalists that it is kept in a safe place. The SACU is responsible for resolving disputes related to the upcoming presidential elections.

Video Surveillance Fraud Disclosed

The Moscow police have charged the company providing video surveillance services to the city with a large-scale fraud. It was discovered that about a half of Moscow street surveillance cameras are defunct, and images from them were replaced with pre-recorded pictures. The company has received about $1 million for maintenance of the broken cameras. Dmitry Kudryavtsev, allegedly the shadow director of the company, was arrested.

Markelov Memorial Demonstration Banned

The Moscow authorities prohibited human rights activists from holding a demonstration in memory of Stanislav Markelov, a prominent rights lawyer who was assassinated on 19 January 2009 together with journalist Anastasia Baburina. Two suspects, allegedly neo-Nazi activists, are being prosecuted for that crime.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Presidential Website Breaches the Law

30% of Russian federal governmental sites do not comply with a new law (effective from 1 January) on access to information. According to the law, each governmental body must have an official website announcing its activities, and must own the domain name. However, many governmental site domains are owned by different entities or even private persons. For example, the Russian President's website domain,, is registered in the name of the Special Communications and Information Service of the Federal Security Service, rather than in the name of the President or Presidential Administration.

More Mandatory Insurance Sought

The government seeks to broaden the range of activities requiring mandatory insurance with the aim of replacing state licensing as a means to protect consumers and reduce corruption in licensing. The activities for which mandatory insurance will be required have not been identified, but will apparently include cargo transport and postal services. Insurance industry observers warn that in order for mandatory insurance to work, regulation of insurance companies must improve, and service providers must be held liable for failure to carry insurance, which is not always provided for under existing mandatory insurance legislation.

Belarus Refuses to Extradite Former Soviet Officers to Lithuania

The General Prosecutor's Office of Belarus declined a request by Lithuanian authorities to extradite former high-ranking Soviet military officers charged with organizing a 1991 attack by Soviet forces on the Vilnius TV center in which 13 Lithuanian civilians were killed. The attack took place against the background of the Soviet government's rejection of Lithuania's declaration of independence. Belarus contends that the suspected organizers of the attack were acting under Soviet law to defend the USSR's constitutional integrity.

Moscow Police Disperse New Year Opposition Demonstration

On December 31 the Moscow liberal opposition held its traditional demonstration in support of Article 31 of the Russian Constitution (on freedom of assembly), while the police reenacted its tradition of dispersing the demonstration. Dozens of demonstrators were detained, including 82-year-old human rights leader Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who was dressed for the New Year as the Snow Maiden (Snegurochka). (see photo)

Russia Bans U.S. Poultry

Russia introduced new sanitary standards, severely restricting chlorine as an anti-microbial treatment in poultry production. As a result, the import of poultry from the U.S., which commonly uses chlorine, was banned effective January 1. In 2009 the U.S. was the source of 79% of Russia's poultry imports.

Georgian Mutineers Sentenced

A Georgian court sentenced several military officers to prison for a May 2009 mutiny at a military base near Tbilisi in which the rebels declared they did not recognize the government, but later surrendered. The three leaders of the revolt received terms of 19 to 29 years.

Former Kyrgyz Defense Minister Convicted of Corruption

A military court in Bishkek sentenced Ismail Isakov to eight years of imprisonment for “abuse of official powers.” Isakov, formerly Kyrgyz Defense Minister, currently an opposition leader, was charged with illegally transferring a two-room apartment owned by the Ministry of Defense to his son.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Amendments to Support Courts' Independence

President Dmitri Medvedev has submitted legislative amendments concerning the court system, including a prohibition on any action or inaction by the executive branch infringing on judicial independence (broadening the existing prohibition on issuance of regulations infringing on judicial independence), providing for an additional layer of appeal in the courts of general jurisdiction, and giving courts' chief judges increased authority in appointment of judges.

Russia-Belarus Oil War Unleashed

Russia and Belarus failed to settle their dispute about Russian customs duties on oil exported from Russia to Belarus. Belarus demands more oil to be exported duty-free than Russia is ready to agree. Russia threatens to cease duty-free oil export altogether; Belarus, in response, vows to leave the newly formed Customs Union of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

Fugitive Russian Oligarch Claims Legacy of Georgian Businessman

Boris Berezovsky, formerly an influential Russian entrepreneur and political figure, now an émigré wanted in Russia on various charges, obtained a London court order to seize a part of the estate of late Georgian businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili. Berezovsky says he was a business partner of Patarkatsishvili and has a right to half of his assets. The other Patarkatsishvili heirs disagree.

Belarus Oppositionist Prosecuted for Flying Old Flag

Criminal proceedings were instituted against Sergey Kovalenko, a Belarus opposition member, for unfurling the old Belarus flag on the top of the city Christmas tree in Vitebsk. The white-red-white flag was an official Belarus insignia in 1918-1919 and in early 1990s; now it is a symbol of the Belarus opposition. Kovalenko has been charged with “hooliganism”; the possible punishment is up to six years of imprisonment.