Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Belarus Presidential Election Campaign to Start in November

Belarusian Central Elections Committee Chair Lidia Yermoshina announced that the campaign period for the 2011 presidential election will start by November 6, 2010, and the election will take place no later than February 6, 2011. According to Ms. Yermoshina, the law requires presidential candidates to collect at least 100,000 voter signatures.


Belarus Postpones Car Import Duties Increase

The State Customs Committee of Belarus announced that a substantial increase in customs duties on foreign cars, planned for July 1, 2010, has been postponed. The imports are mostly from Western Europe and the United States. The increase would have primarily affected individual buyers.


“Russian Spies” Arrested in US

Ten people accused of spying for Russia were arrested in the U.S.; one alleged spy remains at large. According to the DoJ, the spies’ main mission was to “search and develop ties in policymaking circles.” All ten are charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the U.S. Attorney General. All but two are also accused of money laundering. While the conspiracy charge carries a maximum of five years in prison, the money laundering charge may result in a 20-year sentence. Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that DoJ’s actions “are groundless and pursue improper objects.”

http://news.yahoo.com/nphotos/Alleged-Russian-Spy-Anna-Chapman/ss/events/wl/062910annachapman#photoViewer=/100629/481/urn_publicid_ap_org_ee76500b0d524485891a2e02d60d9ae2 (photo)

Russian spies' meeting point in Rome: Via Illiria 14.

View Larger Map
Password: “Excuse me, could we have met in Malta in 1999?”
Reply: “Yes indeed, I was in La Valetta, but in 2000.”

Ex-Cop Convicted of Fraud

Former police special investigator Lieutenant Colonel Sergey Chernenko was sentenced in Moscow City Court to 6 years of imprisonment after being convicted by a jury for a 200 mln rouble ($7 mln) fraud. In 2005 Chernenko seized a shipment of mobile phones as evidence in a smuggling case, then sold the phones and kept the money together with unidentified accomplices. Chernenko insisted he only seized the phones and was not aware of their sale.


Anti-Mayor Demonstration Dispersed

The Moscow police dispersed an opposition demonstration in front of the Mayor’s Office calling for the resignation of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. About 35 demonstrators were detained.

http://www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1400260&NodesID=7 (photo, video)
http://www.echo.msk.ru/blog/varlamov_i/691377-echo/ (photo)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Referendum on Kyrgyzstan Constitution

According to preliminary results, about 90% of voters in a referendum on the new Kyrgyzstan Constitution approved it. Under the new Constitution Kyrgystan is to be transformed from a presidential to parliamentary republic. Interim President Roza Otunbayeva is to hold office through 31 December 2011. Meanwhile, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stated he is skeptical about the workability of the parliamentary republic model for Kyrgyzstan.


Moldova Introduces Soviet Occupation Day

Acting Moldovan President Mihai Ghimpu issued a decree establishing Soviet Occupation Day, commemorated on June 28. On that day in 1940 the USSR annexed Bessarabia, formerly part of Romania, to establish the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic within the USSR. Moldovan Communists believe the presidential decree has been issued ultra vires. The Russian Foreign Ministry called the decree “sacrilege.” The Moldovan ruling parliamentary coalition requested that Ghimpu annul his decree, but he refused. The issue may be considered by the Moldovan Constitutuional Court.


Strasbourg Court Stops Russian Extradition of Kazakhstan Banker

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordered Russia to stay the extradition to Kazakhstan of former Kazakh BTA Bank manager Veronika Efimova to face large-scale fraud charges with other managers of the bank. Efimova and the other defendants maintain that the charges are baseless and are intended to enable the government to take over the bank. The stay will remain in effect pending ECHR’s ruling on Efimova's petition on the merits. Unlike Russia, Kazakhstan is not a signatory of the European Convention for Human Rights.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Bribetaker Scatters 10 Mln

An official of Russia's State Fisheries Committee was detained after allegedly receiving a 10 mln rouble ($300,000) bribe for granting rental rights to fish ponds. While being chased by police, the official threw bundles of cash from his car window, had a traffic accident, and was captured. The police blocked Varshavskoe Highway for several hours to gather the money.

http://kp.ru/daily/24512.4/662868/ (photo, video)

Alexanyan Case Closed

A Moscow court granted a defense petition and dropped the criminal prosecution of Vasily Alexanyan, former Vice-President of defunct oil giant YUKOS, because the statute of limitation on his charges has expired. Alexanyan, who is gravely ill, came to court in order to confirm his agreement to end the trial with no judgment on the merits. Alexanyan was accused of corporate theft, money laundering, and tax evasion. Meanwhile, a trial on similar charges against other YUKOS managers, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, continues in another court.


Former Ukrainian Customs Head Arrested

A court in Kyiv ordered to arrest former State Customs Service head Anatoii Makarenko on “criminal negligence” charges. Makarenko is accused of illegal customs-clearance of 11 bln cubic meters of natural gas that was seized from Swiss trader RosUkrEnergo and passed to Ukrainian state-run Naftagas; as a result, a Stockholm arbitration tribunal gave RosUkrEnergo a damages award against Naftagas for that amount of gas. Investigators believe Makarenko acted upon a governmental order. Then-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko denies any wrongdoing and says the criminal prosecution is “political repression” initiated by now-President Viktor Yanukovich, who is allegedly associated with RosUkrEnergo owners.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Writer Loses Suit to Animation Studio

Eduard Uspensky, a well-known author of children’s books, lost a copyright infringement suit to animation studio Soyuzmultfilm. The studio sold, without Uspensky’s authorization, licenses to manufacture toys featuring the characters of animated movies based on Uspensky’s books and scripts, such as Cheburashka. Uspensky sued the studio, but the court found that the studio, not the writer, owns the exclusive rights to the use of the characters.


Russia-Belarus Gas War Unleashed

Russia began the reduction of the amount of natural gas supplied to Belarus. This happened after the parties failed to reach a settlement in relation to Berlarus’ debt for the gas supplied earlier in 2010. Belarus insists on reducing the price; Russia has thus far refused.


Sberbank Head Testifies in Favor of Khodorkovsky

German Gref, a former Minister of Economy and now the head of Sberbank, testified in the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, former managers of the defunct oil giant YUKOS. Gref said that there was nothing inappropriate about YUKOS buying oil from its subsidiary companies at prices below those in the European market. Gref also expressed doubt that 20% of all oil extracted in Russia could possibly be stolen (of which Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are accused). “If it had been so, I would have known,” the ex-minister said.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Police Seize Anti-Putin Books

The St. Petersburg police seized 100,000 copies of the book “Putin. The Results. 10 Years on”, authored by opposition politicians Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov; the police claimed that the shipping documents were "faulty." As a result of the seizure, the book, which is highly critical of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s activities, is unlikely to be handed out at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum as originally intended.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mass Media Law Interpreted

Russia’s Supreme Court, Plenum, adopted (after a second reading) legally binding rules that instruct lower courts on how to interpret current mass media legislation. In particular, the much disputed issue of whether a mass media company is responsible for readers’ comments posted on its website was resolved. The Court ruled that a “mass medium” (newspaper, etc.) is obliged to delete or edit a questionable comment only after receiving a request to do so from the pertinent state supervision agency, Roskomnadzor. (Roskomnadzor insisted that the medium must edit readers’ comments by itself or face liability.)


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ethnic Clashes in Kyrgyzstan

In South Kyrgyzstan ethnic clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks left at least 170 dead and hundreds injured. Thousands of Uzbeks fled to neighboring Uzbekistan. The Kyrgyz interim government declared a state of emergency and requested that Russia send troops to Kyrgyzstan; Russia declined the request.


Estimates: 1,900 dead, 400,000 refugees

Lawyer Steals $17 Mln in Cash

Novosibirsk attorney Yevgeny Skoblikov was sentenced to 3.5 years of imprisonment for defrauding his clients. Hired by heirs of a wealthy businessman to complete inheritance formalities in Moscow, Skoblikov withdrew $17 mln in cash from the testator’s bank account, buried the money in a forest, and reported that unknown thieves had stolen two suitcases containing the money from his rented apartment. The police arrested Skoblikov, and, five months later, he confessed to fraud.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Jehovah’s Witnesses Win Suit against Russia

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg held that the 2004 decision of a Moscow court to dissolve the Moscow branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses was illegal. The Moscow court had found that the organization encourages its members to commit suicide and to neglect their civic duties. The Strasbourg Court found that the Moscow court’s judgment lacked a sufficient basis and awarded €70,000 to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

U.S. Extends Sanctions against Belarus

U.S. President Barack Obama extended sanctions against Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and other high-ranking Belarus officials on the grounds that their anti-democratic actions constitute an “extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” A Belarus Foreign Ministry spokesman responded to the sanctions by stating that the U.S. should “depart from stereotypes of confrontational thinking.”


Gang of Prosecutors Convicted

The Moscow City Court, following a guilty jury verdict, sentenced a group of defendants, including high-ranking Moscow prosecutors and police officers, to various punishments (ranging from a suspended sentence to 13 years of imprisonment). The defendants were convicted of instituting criminal proceedings on smuggling charges, seizing goods as evidence, and subsequently selling them to commercial enterprises at a low price.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Passerby Convicted of Injuring Policeman

Sergey Makhnatkin, 56, who was detained by the police at an opposition meeting held on December 31, 2009, was sentenced to 2.5 years of imprisonment for allegedly breaking the nose of a policeman. The demonstration was held in support of Article 31 of the Russian Constitution (establishing the freedom of demonstrations) and was dispersed by the police. Makhnatkin, who is not a member of any political organization, says he simply passed by and made a remark to a police officer, who was dragging a 70 year-old woman (oppositionist Raisa Vavilova) into a police bus; in response to Makhnatkin’s comment, the policemen seized and beat him. The next day Makhnatkin was released, but five months later, he was re-arrested and charged with attacking a police officer.


Austria Investigates into Belarus President’s Holidays

Salzburg prosecutors launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the jaunt taken by Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, along with friends and members of his family, in 2002 to the Austrian Alps. Allegedly, the Austrian National Olympic Committee invited him to take this trip to avoid the EU entry ban that was in place for Lukashenko at the time. Lukashenko’s €200,000 bill was also allegedly paid by the commercial group “Casinos Austria.” According to Leo Wallner, then National Olympic Committee head and the owner of Casinos Austria, this was done “in the interests of Austrian business.” Indeed, following Lukashenko’s trip, a number of large Belarus enterprises were transferred to Austrian owners.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Supreme Court Allows Airlines to Change Planes

Russia’s Supreme Court dismissed the suit of a customer who sought damages from an airline for changing aircraft without notice. The customer bought a ticket for a Boeing flight, but because of “mechanical problems,” the airline changed the plane to a Yak-42 (a Russian mid-range passenger jet alleged to be less comfortable) at the last moment. The court held that the airline acted in compliance with applicable governmental regulations.


Judge Refuses to Hear American Expert

In the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, the defense called Kevin Dages, a U.S. specialist in economics and finance, as an expert witness. The defense sought to have Dages opine that certain transactions of YUKOS (dividend payouts and promissory note deals) did not constitute “embezzlement” as the prosecution insists. The judge, however, upheld the prosecutor’s request to exclude Dages on the grounds that he “is not a specialist in Russian law, is not acquainted with the economic and financial activities of YUKOS, was not invited to participate in the case by the court or by the investigators, and was not familiar with the case file.” The Russian court became the first court to call into question Dages’ professional competence following his participation in more than 80 cases in the U.S. and Europe.


Friday, June 4, 2010

New York Times Focuses on Yevloyev Killing

The New York Times published an extensive article about the investigation of the 2008 killing of Ingushetia oppositionist Magomed Yevloyev, which resulted in a prosecution for negligent homicide rather than murder. The article is the second in a series on abuse of power in law enforcement in Russia.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Policeman Lies in Ambush for 17 Years

A court in St. Petersburg dismissed the claim of a former policeman to ownership of an apartment based on the usucapion (adverse possession) statute. The court was apparently skeptical of the open character of the possession in light of the former policeman's assertion that he "lay in ambush" in the apartment for 17 years.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Professors Charged with Espionage

Svyatoslav Bobyshev and Evgeny Afanasyev, professors at the Baltic State Technical University (St. Petersburg), were arrested on espionage charges. They deny any wrongdoing. Although they gave lectures at a Chinese university, they say the content of the lectures was approved by three special commissions.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Former Central Bank Head Testifies in Favor of Khodorkovsky

In the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, the defense called Viktor Gerashchenko, formerly the Central Bank head, later Chairman of the Board of Directors of Yukos (appointed in 2004 after Khodorkovsky's arrest), as a witness. Gerashchenko stated that the charges brought against the defendants (stealing all oil extracted by Yukos) are “a load of rubbish” (chush sobachya). According to Gerashchenko, if the oil had been stolen, Yukos could not have been the biggest oil company in Russia.


U.S. Expert Testifies in Favor of Khodorkovsky

In the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev the defense called U.S energy specialist S. Wesley Haun as an expert witness. Haun opined that the charges (stealing all oil extracted by Yukos) are refuted by the company's achievements under the defendants' management. He also opined that Yukos's business practices were similar to those of other Russian and foreign oil companies. In spite of an impressive CV, the prosecution refuses to recognize Haun as an expert. "We don't care what a foreign citizen can tell us," Prosecutor Gyulchekhra Ibragimova stated.