Saturday, February 27, 2010

Customs Union Adopts Customs Code

The Customs Union Commission adopted a Customs Code for Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia, which should enter into force on July 1. This is a framework document referring to national customs codes that will also remain in force. The Union's new code does not resolve controversial issues regarding oil export duties.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Constitutional Court Directs Judges to Obey Strasbourg

Russia’s Constitutional Court held that Russian courts must reconsider their decisions found by the European Court of Human Rights to violate human rights. Courts have refused such reconsideration on the ground that it is not envisaged by the Civil Procedure Code. The Constitutional Court directed the legislature to amend the Code appropriately.

Russia Demands to Suppress UN Secret Prisons Report

UN’s Human Rights Council published a draft report on secret prisons worldwide. In particular, the report includes interviews with unnamed witnesses alleging they were held and tortured in secret prisons in the Russian North Caucasus (in Chechnya and Dagestan). A Russian representative called the report “confrontational” and urged that it be removed from the UN’s web site.

Skinheads Convicted of Murders

A court in Moscow sentenced 12 members of a neo-Nazi group headed by Aleksey Dzhavakhishvili to various imprisonment terms (6.5 to 12 years). The defendants were found guilty by a jury of murdering six non-Russians (five more murders remained unproved). The defendants were detected because they filmed the murders and published the recordings on the Internet.

Minister Murder Solved

The Russian General Prosecutor's Office announced the arrest of current and former military and police officers and a former bailiff suspected of the sniper assassination of the Interior Minister of Dagestan (a North Caucasus Russian constituency). It is still unknown who ordered the murder.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Kidnapper Cops Captured

Three Moscow criminal police officers (a lieutenant colonel and two majors) were arrested on charges of kidnapping a Belarus businessman and extorting $70,000 by threatening to institute criminal proceedings against him. The suspects were caught while receiving part of the ransom. (see photo)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Killer Cop Gets Life

Former Moscow police precinct chief Denis Yevsyukov was found guilty of killing two and attempting to murder 22 more people in a shooting rampage at a supermarket. Yevsyukov says he does not remember anything because he was drunk. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Prosecutors Shut Down

Upon a request of the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office, an internet service provider turned off the popular file exchange resource for alleged copyright infringement. The site reopened under an “org.” domain.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Codex Sinaiticus Transfer Deed Declassified

Russian authorities for the first time granted a researcher access to a 1869 document signed by Callistratus, the Archbishop of Sinai, and Count Ignatiev, a Russian official, which transferred ownership of the Codex Sinaiticus, the earliest known text of the Bible (350 A.D.), from St. Catherine Monastery in Sinai to the Czar for a 9,000 ruble donation. In 1933 Stalin sold the Codex to the British Library for £100,000, upon which the Monastery claimed ownership of the Codex. The newly published document strengthens the British Library’s ownership case.

President Fires 15 Police Generals

President Dmitry Medvedev dismissed a number of high-ranking Interior Ministry officials, including 15 police generals. The move followed a wave of high-profile scandals over crimes committed by police officers, including murder, torture, smuggling, etc.

Russia and Abkhazia Sign Military Treaty

Russia and Abkhazia signed ten international treaties, including an agreement on creation of a Russian military base in Abkhazia, and an agreement on military cooperation. Abkhazia is a breakaway Georgian province recognized by Russia as an independent state in the wake of the 2008 Russian-Georgian war.

Crimea Challenges Bandera Glorification

The Supreme Court of Crimea, a Ukrainian region with a majority Russian population, petitioned Ukraine’s Constitutional Court to find unconstitutional a recent Presidential decree awarding the Hero of Ukraine honor to Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist leader who was accused of collaboration with Nazi Germany and was assassinated by the KGB in West Germany in 1959.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Magistrate Enters 1,500 Judgments per Day

Two Samara magistrates resigned after being reprimanded by a local judicial disciplinary body for “diminishing the authority of the judicial branch” by deciding cases outside of their jurisdiction. The magistrates had upheld numerous claims of Alfa Bank for overdue debts when neither the bank nor the borrowers were located in the Samara Region. Each of the magistrates entered more than 3,000 such judgments in two days in 2009.

Ukraine to Join Customs Union

President-elect Viktor Yanukovych intends to seek Ukrainian membership in the Customs Union currently comprising Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia. The membership may have limited application since Ukraine, unlike the other Union members, is a World Trade Organization member. Customs Union membership may reduce Ukraine’s price for Russian natural gas by 20-30%.

Update of 27 Feb. 2010: Ukraine refuses to join Customs Union

Ukrainian Presidential Election Results Challenged

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko petitioned the Supreme Administrative Court to invalidate the results of the recent presidential elections for numerous alleged violations. According to official results Tymoshenko lost the run-off election to Viktor Yanukovych by 3.5%. As a preliminary measure, the Court suspended the decision of the Central Election Committee on the results of the elections.

Update of 20 Feb. 2010: Tymoshenko withdraws the suit

Monday, February 15, 2010

IKEA Fires Executives for Bribes

International home products retailer IKEA dismissed two senior Russia executives on suspicion that they allowed a contractor to pay bribes for connecting a store in St. Petersburg to electric power lines. “We will suspend our expansion in Russia until the unpredictable bureaucratic system shows clear signs of improvement,” vowed IKEA’s CEO Anders Dahlvig in 2009.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Court Enforces Production Sharing Agreement

Russia’s Supreme Arbitrazh (Economic) Court held that a foreign investor must pay tax at the rate set by its 1994 production-sharing agreement with the Russian government (32%), rather than at the currently prevailing rate (24% or 20%). On the other hand, contrary to the tax authorities’ position, the court held the investor may use deductions that were allowed at the relevant time but have since been eliminated.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Photographer Convicted of Defaming Uzbeks

A court in Uzbekistan found photographer Umida Akhmedova guilty of “defaming” and “insulting” the Uzbek people in a series of her photographs and a documentary film. Akhmedova defended her work as reflecting the unique identity of the Uzbek people. Akhmedova was exempted from punishment under an amnesty. (see photos)

Belarus Translates Military Regulations

The Belarus Linguistic Institute has translated Belarus military regulations from Russian to the Belarus language, as ordered by the Ministry of Defense. Both Russian and Belarus are official languages. The only army unit using Belarus is the Guard of Honor.

Kyrgyz Court Approves Constitutional Amendments

Kyrgyzstan’s Constitutional Court found constitutional amendments to the Kyrgyz Constitution initiated by President Kurmanbek Bakiev, including an amendment allowing for an “Acting President” to be elected by the State Council (an ad hoc unelected body) rather than by popular vote.

Mother Forbids Chechen President to Sue Rights Activists

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov withdrew his libel suits and criminal prosecution requests against human rights activists Lyudmila Alexeyeva and Oleg Orlov and against Novaya Gazeta newspaper, who had accused Kadyrov of human rights violations, including involvement in murders. The Chechen government web site explains that his mother admonished him that “Chechen traditions forbid disputes with elders.” (Kadyrov is 33, Orlov is 56, Alexeyeva is 82.) Kadyrov complied the same day.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fugitive Oligarch Sues Russian TV Channel

Boris Berezovsky, formerly an influential Russian businessman and political figure, now an émigré wanted in Russia on various charges, filed a libel suit against Russian TV company VGTRK with the High Court in London. In 2007 VGTRK broadcasted a program alleging that Berezovsky was responsible for the poisoning of dissident Alexander Litvinenko and forged documents to avoid extradition to Russia. The court demanded that VGTRK reveal its information sources. VGTRK refused, and the court banned it from taking part in the proceedings. VGTRK has stated that the case is "biased" and "politically tinted," and that the company will not recognize any court rulings on this case and will appeal them "up to the European Court."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Kazakh Bank Files U.S. Bankruptcy

BTA Bank, the second-largest bank in Kazakhstan, sought bankruptcy protection in the United States. It filed for protection under Chapter 15 of the U.S. bankruptcy code with the U.S. bankruptcy court in Manhattan. Non-U.S. companies use Chapter 15 to block creditors who want to file lawsuits or tie up assets in the United States. The bank is 75% state-owned and controls 18% of banking assets in Kazakhstan. The bank is also trying to restructure its $11.6 billion debt at home.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ukrainian Teachers May Constitutionally Speak Russian

Ukraine’s Constitutional Court found that the Cabinet of Ministers, headed by now-presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko, acted ultra vires when it issued an order obliging teachers to speak only Ukrainian in schools, even during breaks. Currently in several regions of Ukraine Russian, rather than Ukrainian, is the most commonly used language.

Ukraine Changes Election Law During Elections

The Supreme Rada (Ukrainian parliament) adopted changes to election law days before the run-off presidential election. The change relates to the quorum on district election commission sessions: the requirement that two thirds of members be present was withdrawn. The change was initiated by the “Party of Regions” headed by presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych, who is concerned that rival “BYuT” headed by Yulia Tymoshenko may block the work of the commissions in case of Yanukovych’s victory. The amendment was adopted over the obstruction of the BYuT parliamentary faction, including fist-fighting. Tymoshenko declared that she would consider the results of the elections under the amended law as “falsified” and called upon President Viktor Yushchenko to veto the amendments. Yushchenko, however, signed the law into force. (see photo)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Senate Speaker May be Dismissed for Disagreeing with Putin

Sergey Mironov, Chairman of the Federation Council (Russian parliament’s upper chamber) and leader of the “Fair Russia” party, stated in a TV interview that he disagreed with certain measures taken by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, including the government's budget and anti-crisis plan. Leaders of the ruling “United Russia” party (headed by Putin) responded that Mironov's statements are "dishonorable and inconsistent," and suggested that he be dismissed. High-ranking “United Russia” functionary Andrey Isayev compared Moronov with “a rat trying to leave the ship.” Mironov countered that under current law he cannot be dismissed for expressing disagreement with the Prime Minister.,100022

Belarus Regulates Internet

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko issued a decree regulating the national segment of the internet. All internet providers will be accountable to a special-purpose governmental authority controlled by the Presidential Administration. Belarus legal entities may use only domains in the national “.BY” zone. If an internet user breaches law, the authorities may require the provider to switch the user off from the internet. All internet café customers must be identified and reported to authorities on demand.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Alleged Russian Spies Captured in Ukraine

State Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) detained five officers of Russia’s Federal State Security Service (FSB) for allegedly buying military secrets from a Ukrainian citizen for $2,000. According to the SBU, the Russians entered Ukraine from the breakaway Moldovan region Transnistria, where Russian troops are deployed. The senior officer was arrested and charged with espionage, the other four were deported.

Bank of Cyprus Must Change Name

The Russian subsidiary of the Bank of Cyprus, named “Bank Kipra” (which means “Bank of Cyprus”), changed its name to Lidbank. The bank explains the move by a provision of the Russian Civil Code prohibiting use of names of foreign countries in commercial companies’ names. In fact, that provision is not strictly enforced, and experts explain the change as connected to the bank’s intention to sell the subsidiary.

Monday, February 1, 2010

American Rights Activist in Tax Dispute

Peter Vins, a US citizen and former Soviet dissident who returned to Russia to start a shipping company, is wanted in Russia in connection with charges of evading 3 million rubles (~$100,000) in taxes. The Moscow Helsinki Group stated that it will ask US President Obama to take up the case with the Russian government, and contends that the charges are a pretext for the authorities' displeasure with Vins's human rights work, including creation of a journalism award in memory of Andrei Sakharov.

Banks Prohibited from Unilateral Interest Rate Change

Russia’s State Duma adopted a bill prohibiting banks to unilaterally change interest rate under loan agreements with individuals, as well as other material terms of such agreements. Under a literal reading of the current law, banks may make such changes if permitted by agreement (although some courts have held that the law does not allow this). The new legislation will apply only to new agreements concluded after the legislation has entered into force. A similar provision is already in place for deposit agreements with individuals.

Lithuania Refuses to Change Georgia’s Name

Lithuania’s state commission for the Lithuanian language declined the request of Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to change the name of Georgia in Lithuanian. Currently the Lithuanian name of Georgia is “Gruzija,” which is similar to the Russian version, whereas Georgia wants to be called “Georgija,” in line with English pronunciation. In Georgian the country is called “Sakartvelo.”

Anti-Monopoly Proceedings Instituted against Traffic Police

Russia’s Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) instituted administrative proceedings against the Ministry of Interior for violation of antitrust legislation. According to the FAS, the Traffic Police (controlled by the Ministry) illegally restricted competition among companies who could print vehicle inspection certificates, a $15 mln market. The requirements for the certificates are so severe that only one company can comply: the state currency printer Goznak.

Freedom of Assembly Demonstration Dispersed

On January 31, Moscow human rights activists held their traditional demonstration in support of Article 31 of the Russian Constitution (freedom of assembly). As usual, the demonstration was banned by the authorities and dispersed by the police. More than 100 demonstrators were detained.