Monday, May 31, 2010

Freedom of Assembly Demonstration Dispersed

On May 31, Moscow opposition 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.

Customs Union to Start without Belarus

Russia and Kazakhstan agreed to launch the Customs Union on July 1, leaving Belarus out of the process for the time being. Earlier it was announced that the plan to form a three-country union failed because Belarus and Russia could not agree on customs duties on oil exported from Russia to Belarus.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Poet Claims $2 Mln from Pasta Producer

Maral Ospanova, a Kazakhstan retiree, sued a local pasta manufacturer for placing her poem “My Country” on pasta packs. While Ospanova admits she has given a “preliminary agreement” for using her works in advertising, she denies entering into a valid license agreement. Ospanova claims copyright infringement and demands statutory damages in the amount of $2 mln.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Court Hearings to be Broadcasted Online

Starting in June, Russia’s Supreme Arbitrazh [Economic] Court will broadcast its hearings on the internet and place the video records on its web site. The video of Constitutional Court hearings will similarly be broadcasted. In contrast, Russia’s Supreme Court does not intend to broadcast its hearings because of possible detriment to the interests of parties. It is also notable that from July 1, 2010, courts of all instances must publish on their web sites the texts of their judgments. Currently, the judgments of general-jurisdiction courts are mostly unavailable to the public.

Investigator Takes $1.5 Mln Bribe

Grigory Dymovets, a Russian Prosecution Investigation Committee senior official, was detained while receiving a $500,000 bribe. Allegedly, Dymovets had earlier received a $1 mln bribe for releasing a shipment of meat imported from the U.S. that was seized as evidence of smuggling, but failed to release the shipment and demanded $500,000 more.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

No Unemployment Benefits for LLC Members

Russia’s Constitutional Court upheld the constitutionality of legislation that excludes owners of limited liability companies from unemployment benefits. Under current employment legislation, members of “organizations” (apparently including both LLCs and joint-stock companies) are deemed “employed.” Nikolay Gushchin lost his job and applied for unemployment compensation, but his application was denied on the grounds he was an LLC member (Gushchin’s investment was $20, and his annual dividend was $30). The Constitutional Court held that LLC members voluntarily assume “the burden of care for own welfare.”

Newspaper's Libel Claim against Duma Speaker Dismissed

A court in Moscow dismissed a libel claim by Vedomosti newspaper against State Duma (Russia’s parliament) Chairman Boris Gryzlov. After a Vedomosti article criticized Russian authorities' in connection with the recent terrorist attack in the Moscow subway, Gryzlov said: “I suspect that such publications and terrorist actions are connected to each other.” The court has not yet issued its explanation of the dismissal.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Ukraine Claims USSR Assets

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich stated in an interview that the foreign assets of the USSR should be divided among all former Soviet republics. When the USSR was dissolved, Russia assumed all its foreign assets and debts. Ukraine, unlike the other post-USSR countries, has not ratified the assets-for-debts treaty.

Ex-Premier Testifies in Favor of Khodorkovsky

Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, now an opposition activist, testified in the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, former managers of oil giant Yukos. Kasyanov stated that the defendants could not possibly steal 350 million tons of oil (of which they are accused), because the oil industry was under thorough governmental control. Kasyanov opined that Yukos business practices were identical to those of other major oil companies.

Customs Union Stalled

Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan failed to reach an agreement on key issues that need to be resolved in order to finalize the formation of their Customs Union. The main controversy is related to customs duties charged by Russia on oil and oil products exported to Belarus. As a result, the Customs Union will not operate from 1 July 2010 as earlier announced. The free movement of goods has been postponed sine die.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Germany Alleges Smuggling of Nuclear Equipment

German authorities arrested several businessmen charged with attempting to export equipment ordered by Russia for the nuclear power plant it is building in Iran. The equipment was seized in customs. Russia has protested on the grounds that the equipment is not subject to UN sanctions. The German authorities countered that nuclear equipment supplies to Iran are prohibited by EU rules.

State Duma Accuses Strasbourg Court of Revising Nuremberg Judgments

The State Duma (Russia’s parliament) unanimously condemned the European Court of Human Rights for upholding Latvia's conviction of Soviet partisan Vassili Kononov for war crimes. The Duma's resolution accused the ECHR of "changing the legal approaches to evaluating the events of World War II" and of "attempting to initiate a revision of the Nuremberg Tribunal decisions."

Armenian Cognac Renamed

Armenia’s government approved a new trade name for local brandy. It has been known as “Armenian cognac” since the 19th century, but France objects to Armenia's use of the term. Now the drink will be called “arbun” (derived from the Armenian verb "to get drunk") rather than “cognac” or “brandy.” Only Armenian brandy made of Armenian-produced grape alcohol may be called “arbun.” All Armenian brandy trademarks, like “Ararat,” are to be retained.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Judge Refuses to Call Putin as Witness

In the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, top officers of former oil giant Yukos, Judge Danilkin rejected a defense request to call as witnesses a number of government officials, including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, and Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin. The judge agreed to call as witnesses Industry and Trade Minister Viktor Khristenko and former Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref (currently Sberbank’s CEO). The defense maintains that Yukos was closely monitored by the government, and that Khodorkovsky regularly discussed the company's activities with the government officials.

Ukraine-Russia Relations Reset under Bilateral Agreements

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's first official visit to Ukraine took place as ties markedly improve under Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, after turning sour with his pro-Western predecessor. Medvedev and Yanukovich signed agreements on border demarcation, European security, cooperation between their respective intelligence services and on moves toward the frozen conflict in the Moldovan rebel region of Transdniestria, which has a border with Ukraine.

Microsoft Publishes Russian Software Piracy Map

Microsoft published the results of its monitoring of software piracy on the Russian computer retail market, including a map of the levels of piracy in various Russian regions. According to the research, 22% of Russian computer stores offer their customers pirated software.
(see map)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Khodorkovsky Declares Hunger Strike

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed former CEO of the defunct oil giant Yukos, declared a hunger strike to protest the recent extension of his arrest for his second trial, which is currently underway in Moscow. Khodorkovsky points out that the recent amendments to the procedural law generally disallow arresting defendants charged of economic crimes. The defense also formally appealed from the arrest decision. (Since Khodorkovsky was sentenced to prison in his first trial, the lifting of the arrest would not mean his release, but could lead to milder conditions of confinement.)

Khodorkovsky Ends Hunger Strike

Monday, May 17, 2010

Soviet Partisan Loses Case in Strasbourg

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found in Latvia’s favor on its appeal in Kononov v. Latvia. Vassili Konovov, a WWII guerrilla fighter, was sentenced in 2004 in Latvia to 20 months of imprisonment for war crimes related to a 1944 incident during which he allegedly ordered the killing of nine peaceful civilians (Kononov claims they were “Nazi collaborators”). In 2008, the ECHR in a split 4-3 decision found that Latvia had breached Article 7 (“No punishment without law”) of the European Convention of Human Rights and awarded Kononov €30,000. The ECHR Grand Chamber, acting as a court of last instance, reversed the ECHR’s earlier decision and held that Latvia had not violated the Convention. Russia officially backed Kononov granting him Russian citizenship in the middle of his prosecution in Latvia (2000).

U.S. Lawyers to Investigate Former Ukrainian Premier’s Activities

The Ukrainian government hired U.S. law firm Trout Cacheris, PLLC to investigate the activities of the previous government, headed by Yulia Tymoshenko, which is alleged to have illegally spent $12.4 bln of state funds, in part on financing for Tymoshenko’s electoral campaign. Although the U.S. firm apparently has little auditing experience , one of the firm’s partners, Plato Cacheris, is known for representing Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen, and Monica Lewinsky.

Afro-Russian Actor Murdered

Soviet film actor, Tito Romalio, was found unconscious near his home in St. Petersburg as a result of a craniocerebral injury, from which he later died. The police detained a suspect who allegedly attacked the black actor out of racial hatred.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

American Spy Convicted

Russian citizen Gennady Sipachev was convicted of espionage and sentenced to four years of imprisonment for passing secret maps of the Russian General Staff to U.S. intelligence officials. According to the prosecutors, the U.S. military intended to use the maps for “enhancing cruise missile guidance systems.” Sipachev pleaded guilty and entered into a pre-trial agreement with the prosecution, which resulted in a relatively short prison sentence.

Ukrainian Former Prime Minister Prosecuted

Ukraine’s General Prosecutor’s Office reopened criminal proceedings (closed five years ago) against former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, on charges of offering bribes of $125,000 to several Ukrainian Supreme Court judges for the release of relatives from jail. The proceedings were originally instituted in 2004 under President Leonid Kuchma and were closed in 2005 following the “Orange Revolution.” Tymoshenko denies any wrongdoing and calls reopening the case “political repression.”

Pirates Accuse Russian Navy of Murder

An individual claiming to be a spokesman for the Somali pirates who were recently apprehended on board the tanker Moscow University told the Somali media that the Russian Navy executed the pirates. The Navy had reported that they put the pirates into an inflatable boat and left them in the open sea. The Somalis claim that the Navy killed the detainees before putting them in the boat.

Sailors Deny Execution of Pirates

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Spanish Judge Questions Russian Oligarch in Moscow

Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska voluntarily met in the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office with Spanish judge Fernando Andreu to answer questions related to a criminal case where Deripaska appeared as a witness. The main suspect in the case is Mikhail Chernoi, an Israeli citizen, whom the Spanish prosecutors accuse of money laundering. Deripaska denies any wrongdoing.

Deripaska admits having paid criminals for protection.

Minority Shareholder Demands Disclosure of Sberbank CEO’s Compensation

Alexey Navalny, a minority shareholder of Sbernbank, filed a claim with a Moscow court demanding that the bank disclose the compensation of its CEO and Board Chairman German Gref. Sberbank is the biggest bank in Russia, 60%-owned by the Central Bank of Russia. While the bank publishes aggregate figures of the compensation paid to its top managers, individual amounts remain unknown.

Kyrgyzstan to Become Parliamentary Republic

According to the draft of its new Constitution, Kyrgyzstan should become a parliamentary republic, leaving only limited representation functions to the president, a government spokesman announced. The referendum on adoption of the new Constitution is to be held in June 2010.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Terrorist Attack Victim Sues State

A suit against the state in the amount of 5 mln rubles ($200,000) was filed in a Moscow court on behalf of a boy who lost his parents in a recent terrorist attack in the Moscow subway. Meanwhile, plaintiff’s attorney Igor Trunov acknowledged that under current law the proper defendant is not the state but the terrorists. “I am practically sure the suit will be dismissed, upon which we will sue in the European Court [of Human Rights],” Trunov said to the media.

Fugitive Ex-Mayor Detained in Panama

Former Mayor of Vladivostok Vladimir Nikolayev was detained in Panama upon the request of Russian law-enforcement authorities. In 2007 Nikolayev was sentenced by a Russian court to a suspended prison term of 4.5 years for “abuse of official powers” (spending municipal funds for personal bodyguards). After that, Nikolayev fled abroad, and the suspended term was changed to an actual term. The extradition may be complicated by the fact that the 2009 Russian-Panamanian legal assistance treaty has not yet entered into force.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Pirate of the Baltic Convicted

Andrey Lunev, one of the eight suspects charged with capturing bulker Arctic Sea in 2009, pleaded guilty and was convicted by the Moscow City Court in simplified “special procedure” hearings and sentenced to five years of imprisonment. The Maltese-flagged, Finnish-owned, Russian-crewed bulker was captured in the Baltic Sea and freed by the Russian Navy near Cape Verde; all alleged pirates (among whom were Estonians, Russians, and stateless persons) were detained and brought to Russia.

Russian Navy Releases Somali Pirates

The Russian Navy released all ten suspects it apprehended on the oil tanker Moscow University, which was hijacked by pirates 350 miles off of the African coast. A Navy spokesman explained that the decision to release the suspected pirates was due to “imperfections” in international law. One problem was that the detainees declared that they were only hostages taken by the real pirates, who supposedly forced them to participate in the attack on the tanker and then escaped when the Russian Navy arrived. The suspects were disarmed and their navigation equipment removed, after which they were put into an inflatable boat and left in the open sea.

UPDATE of 11 May 2010
Defense Ministry Source: Pirates Probably Died

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Minority Shareholder Challenges Transneft Donations

Alexey Navalny, a minority shareholder of state-run Transneft, obtained a court decision on May 4, which held that the failure of the police to investigate Transneft’s charitable donations upon Navalny’s request was illegal. Transneft, 78 percent owned by the state, transports 93% of all oil extracted in Russia. In 2005-2008, Transneft spent $500 mln on “charitable donations” but refused to disclose the beneficiaries. Reportedly among the beneficiaries was the “Kremlin-9” foundation, which supports officers and veterans of the Federal Protective Service (FSO) (presidential bodyguards). Since 2008, the police repeatedly refused to institute criminal proceedings (on the grounds that Transneft does not answer their requests) and ultimately lost all of the documents related to the case. It now appears that the police will finally have to process Navalny’s request.

Russian Navy Seizes Somali Pirates

Russian special forces from the anti-submarine destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov stormed the disabled oil tanker Moscow University, which was hijacked by Somali pirates 350 miles off of Africa’s coast, freeing 23 Russian sailors and detaining 10 pirates. One pirate was killed during the raid. The crew members, who had locked themselves in a secure room for 20 hours, remained safe. Russia’s General Prosecutor’s Office instituted criminal proceedings on piracy charges. The maximum penalty for piracy is 15 years of imprisonment.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Belarus Internet Cafés to Collect Users’ Personal Data

The Belarus government issued a decree requiring internet cafés to check customers' identification documents and to keep records of their identification details and the internet sites they visit. Human rights activists suggest the goal of the move is to control access to opposition sites.

Businesswoman Dies in Jail

Vera Trifonova, 53, a businesswoman died of heart failure in a Moscow pre-trial detention facility. Despite severe diabetes, the authorities refused to release her on bail for medical treatment. Trifonova was accused of involvement in a fraud attempt: a regional legislative assembly member allegedly promised a Moscow banker to arrange to have the banker appointed a senator (member of Federation Council) for $1.5 mln.

Kyrgyzstan to Seek Extradition of Ex-President

Kyrgyzstan’s new government issued a decree depriving former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev of presidential immunity and requesting the General Prosecutor's Office to take measures to have Bakiyev extradited and prosecuted. Bakiyev is accused of ordering to shoot at peaceful protesters during the recent revolution. After the revolution he resigned and fled to Belarus. Although no formal extradition request has been issued, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko stated Belarus would not extradite Bakiyev.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Delay of Justice Becomes Actionable

Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev signed into force a new law allowing individuals to sue for compensation from the state for unreasonable delay in entering or enforcing a judgment in a case related to the individual. The statute was adopted in response to a demand of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which is overloaded with cases against Russia, including those based on the delay of justice.