Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Belarus Deprives Journalist of Citizenship

Belarus authorities stripped Pavel Sheremet, a well-known opposition journalist living in Russia, of his Belarus citizenship on the ground that he also has Russian citizenship. Sheremet calls the move "revenge" for his professional activities.

Magazine Accused of Disclosing Russia’s Rocket Secrets

Roskomnadzor, the Russian agency for mass media supervision, issued a reprimand to Vlast magazine, published by Kommersant, for disclosing in an article allegedly secret information on the Russian strategic rocket forces (a list of military units, rocket performance characteristics, etc.). Two such reprimands can be grounds for shutting down a publication. Vlast intends to challenge the reprimand in court, arguing that the information was taken from open sources, such as the Defense Ministry web site and military newspapers.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

U.S. Court Fines Ukrainian Hacker

A federal court in New York ordered Olexandr Dorozhko, a Ukrainian citizen, to pay $580,000 in disgorgement, prejudgment interest, and a civil penalty, for trading in the securities of a U.S. corporation based on information he obtained through computer hacking. In 2007 Dorozhko hacked into an investor relations firm’s computer and accessed information on the corporation’s negative earnings to be published after the market closed. Dorozhko invested $40,000 in put options and made a $290,000 profit the next day. The court found him liable under SEC Rule 10b-5 for using a “device, scheme, or artifice to defraud” in connection with securities trading.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Terrorist Attack Hits Moscow

Two bombs exploded in the Moscow subway during morning rush hours, leaving at least 35 dead and dozens wounded. Criminal proceedings were instituted on “terrorism” charges. (see photos)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Government Refuses to Strike “God” from Russian Anthem

Boris Kashin, a State Duma Communist Party faction member, proposed changing the words “our land protected by God” in Russia's national anthem to “our land protected by us” on the ground that Russia is a secular state under its Constitution. The government disagreed, arguing that the rewording is not supported by “relevant statistical data” and no calculation of related expenses is provided. In practice the negative governmental opinion means that the bill is dead.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

U.S. DoJ: Daimler Bribed Russian Officials

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against German carmaker Daimler accusing it of bribing officials in 22 countries, including Russia, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, to secure government contracts. According to the suit, filed under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, in 2000-2005 Daimler paid $4 mln in bribes to Russian officials.

Belarus Sues Russia over Oil Duties

Belarus filed a suit against Russia with the Commonwealth of Independent States Economic Court, alleging that Russia illegally charges duties on oil and oil products exported to Belarus, and that it is the only Customs Union country subjected to such Russian duties. The Customs Union, in existence from 2010, comprises Belarus, Russia, and Kazakhstan.

Fraudulent TV Quiz Investigated

The Moscow police instituted criminal proceedings on fraud charges in relation to a TV quiz. Allegedly, viewers attempting to call to the studio have never been connected although paid substantial money in special phone call charges. A police spokesman promised that other TV quizzes will also be checked for legality (similar suspicious quizzes are broadcasted on various TV channels for years).

Opposition Challenges Demonstration Law

Russia’s Constitutional Court agreed to consider the complaint of opposition leader Konstantin Kosyakin challenging the constitutionality of the statute regulating public meetings and demonstrations. Kosyakin argues that local authorities often apply the statute unconstitutionally by banning demonstrations on arbitrary pretexts, and the statute is unconstitutional because it allows authorities to take such actions.

Kyrgyz President Proposes Constitutional Reform

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev proposed a new model of state governing for Kyrgyzstan, which he calls “consultative democracy.” According to Bakiyev, western-type democracy is unsuitable for Kyrgyzstan, because elections turn out to be “moneybags’ marathons.” The opposition characterizes Bakiyev’s model as a “monarchical republic” designed to provide a smooth power transition to Bakiyev’s son Maxim.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Journalists Protest against "Political Provocation"

Editors of leading Russian media published a letter in support of Russian Newsweek Editor-in-Chief Mikhail Fishman. The pro-Kremlin movement “Nashi” activists posted on the internet a video, apparently recorded by a police hidden camera, arguably evidencing that Fishman offered a bribe to a traffic police officer. The journalists’ letter calls the posting a “well-organized political provocation,” and its authors “anonymous blackmailers with connections in law-enforcement bodies and political structures.” Fishman stated that the recording was edited in a misleading way and that he would file a complaint to the prosecutor’s office.

Ukrainian Businessman Sues U.S. Newspaper in Germany

Boris Fuksman, a Ukrainian entrepreneur, won an important German Supreme Court decision in his libel suit against The New York Times over a 2001 article depicting him as a fraudster. His jurisdictional claim was that he has business interests in Germany and that the Times web site is accessible there. Originally German courts declined to consider the suit, but the Supreme Court decided that German courts have jurisdiction over the case, pointing out that the web site has 15,000 registered German users.

Ingush Judges Accuse Ingush President of Putting Pressure on Courts

The Council of Judges of Ingushetia (a Russian constituency in North Caucasus) petitioned Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to protect Ingush courts from pressure exerted by Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov. The petition alleges that Yevkurov interferes in courts' work, directing them what judgments to enter and driving disobedient judges out of courts. President Yevkurov requested Russia’s Supreme Court Chairman Vyacheslav Lebedev to "sanitize" Ingushetia’s judicial bodies. According to Yevkurov, some judges "boycott the work on eradication of corruption and crime" by making baseless acquittals.

Moscow Deputy Mayor Prosecuted for Corruption

The Investigation Committee of the General Prosecutor's Office charged Moscow Deputy Mayor Alexander Ryabinin, responsible for city investment programs, with demanding a 200 sq. m. property for his daughter from a Moscow entrepreneur. Ryabinin is reputed to be close with Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and his wife, billionaire entrepreneur Elena Baturina.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Religion to be Taught in Schools

A new discipline, “Religious Culture Basics,” was introduced in Russian schools in 2010 (starting from April 1). At the option of the parents, a pupil may chose a course in one of the four “traditional” religions (Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism), or an overview course in world religions, or, alternatively, a “Secular Ethics” course. The courses will be taught by secular teachers, but the official textbooks for religious courses were written by representatives of the religious communities. Academic experts have criticized the textbooks for being “too missionary” and unsuitable for a secular state.

Libel Award against Fired Police Officer

A court in Novorossiysk held ex-police Major Alexey Dymovsky responsible for civil libel of his superiors. In November 2009 Dymovsky published on the internet a video message to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin alleging corruption in the Novorossiysk police. Dymovsky was fired, charged with criminal defamation and fraud, and sued civilly for libel, resulting in a 100,000 roubles ($3,000) damages award against him. The criminal proceedings are still underway.

Moscow Chief Judge Criticizes Police

Moscow City Court Chief Judge Olga Yegorova sharply criticized the Moscow police for its conduct during opposition demonstrations. In 2009 more than 160 demonstrations banned by city authorities took place in Moscow. About 1,800 participants were briefly detained by the police and most of them administratively prosecuted, which created a heavy workload for judges. Yegorova complained that the police “seize everybody” (instead of the organizers) and then “in court nobody can explain anything.” As a result, most cases are returned by the courts to the police "for further examination" and ultimately abandoned. “And this circus show is continuing for years,” the judge pointed out.

Tajiks Accuse Comedy Show of “Moral Genocide”

Karomat Sharipov, the leader of Russia-based movement “Tajik Labor Migrants,” accused popular comedy show Our Russia of the “moral genocide of the Tajik nation” and demanded an apology from the producers to the people of Tajikistan. The show depicts construction guest workers Rovshan and Jimshud, presumably Tajiks, as comic characters. The movement asked the General Prosecutor's Office and the mass media supervision agency to ban the show. The producers responded that Rovshan and Jimshud are nationals of a fictitious country.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Newspaper Shut Down for Ridiculing Ruling Party

A local newspaper in Zarechny, Sverdlovsk Region, was closed for publishing a satirical article about the ruling United Russia party just before regional elections. The article ridiculed 2002 electoral promises by United Russia, all of which remained unfulfilled.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Police General Charged with Hooliganism

General Evgueni Novikov, Deputy Head of the Interior Ministry's Public Order Maintenance Department, has been charged with criminal hooliganism for firing his handgun while drunk in a public place in Moscow.

SEC Freezes Russian Investment Company Assets

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) obtained a court order to freeze assets of Russian investment company BroCo and its president Valery Maltsev. The SEC alleges that BroCo manipulated stock prices through its clients' U.S. online brokerage accounts and reaped at least $255,000 in ill-gotten gains. Maltsev responded that the clients operated the accounts themselves and that the likely cause of the SEC attention was the traders' high earnings.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Russian Oil Exports Hit by Yukos Suit

Major Russian oil company Rosneft faces a possible export deadlock after bankrupt Yukos won U.S. and British court injunctions making payments to Rosneft virtually impossible. The injunctions were entered in proceedings to enforce a 2009 Dutch court award of $389 million and an underlying Russian arbitral award for Yukos Capital.

Update: Rosneft disclaims any payment problems

Monday, March 15, 2010

Russian Navy Hands Pirates Over to Somaliland

The Russian Navy handed seven pirates captured in the Gulf of Aden to the authorities of Somaliland, an unrecognized breakaway province of Somalia. A Somaliland spokesman promised that the suspects will be brought to trial.

Georgian TV Falsely Reports Russian Invasion

Georgian TV company Imedi broadcasted a 30-minute program reporting a Russian armed invasion to Georgia, the killing of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, and an attempt to take power by the Georgian opposition headed by Nino Burdzhanadze. Then an anchorwoman explained that this was a hypothetical scenario of possible future events. The show caused panic in Georgia: people rushed to buy food and gasoline; dozens were hospitalized for heart attacks. Burdzhanadze declared his intention to sue the TV company. A Russian spokesman called the show “a disgusting and abominable provocation.”

Thursday, March 11, 2010

U.S. Lifts Sanctions against Russian Space Firm

The U.S. government lifted sanctions against Russian space company Glavkosmos. The sanctions were imposed in 1998 in accordance with US non-proliferation legislation in response to the company’s collaboration with Iran on missiles. The lifting of the ban was explained as being occasioned by “interests of national security and foreign policy.”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Supreme Court Refuses to Reinstate Dismissed Judge

Russia’s Supreme Court refused to reinstate former Moscow City Court judge Olga Kudeshkina, although the European Court of Human Rights held that her dismissal violated her right to free speech. Kudeshkina was removed in 2004 for criticizing the Russian judicial system.

Fugitive Oligarch Wins Libel Suit

The High Court in London upheld the libel suit of Boris Berezovsky, formerly an influential Russian businessman and political figure, now an √©migr√© wanted in Russia on various charges, against Russian TV company VGTRK. 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 awarded £150,000 to Berezovsky. The TV company refuses to comply with the judgment and intends to “appeal up to the European Court of Human Rights.”

Bribe-Eater Cop Prosecuted

A traffic policeman in Kasli, Chelyabinsk Region, has been charged with soliciting a bribe from a driver who had committed a traffic violation. Caught while taking 2,000 rubles ($70), the officer swallowed the money (three banknotes).

Update: Evidence extracted from the suspect policeman's stomach and attached to the file (see video)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Chief Investigator Wants to Fingerprint All Caucasians

Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the Investigation Committee of the Russian General Prosecutor's Office, proposed to introduce obligatory fingerprinting and DNA registration for all residents of Russia's North Caucasus region in order to combat local crime. “The necessity of such registrations is obvious,” Bastrykin said, adding that the measures would be useful throughout Russia.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Unilateral Interest Rate Increase Found Illegal

Russia's Supreme Arbitrazh (Economic) Court found illegal the provisions of a loan agreement allowing a bank to unilaterally increase the interest rate on the loan. The decision applies to agreements concluded under previous legislation; recently the interest increase prohibition was enacted in legislation. More controversially, the Court also struck down loan agreements providing for dispute resolution in a court at the bank's location and setting penalties for payment delays.

Trademark Found Immoral

Russian mobile retailer Euroset filed a challenge to a decision by Rospatent, the Russian patent and trademark registration agency, denying Euroset's application to extend to several other classes its trademark “Khalyava” (a slang word denoting anything free of charge), which it uses for a payment card and had registered as a trademark under classes such as telecommunications products and advertising. Rospatent ruled that the trademark is “contrary to the public interest” and “immoral.”

Strasbourg Court Opens Yukos Hearings

The European Court of Human Rights opened hearings on the $100 bln claim brought by former executives of Russian oil giant Yukos on the company's behalf against Russia for abusing legal proceedings in order to destroy the company and expropriate its assets. Russia argues that the executives do not represent Yukos shareholders and that essentially the same claims of a major Yukos shareholder are already being heard in a Hague arbitration tribunal.