Thursday, December 30, 2010

Khodorkovsky Verdict May Impact Russia's WTO Bid

According to an unnamed, senior Obama administration official, the recent verdict against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former head of oil-giant YUKOS, will complicate Russia's on-going bid to gain membership in the WTO.  "The WTO is a rules based, rule of law organization," said the Obama administration official.  "Most countries around the world do not look at this verdict as a demonstration of the deepening of the rule of law in Russia.  It will definitely have an affect on Russia's reputation," the official added.

Russian Patent Office Announces Coordinated Approval Process with Finland

The Russian Patent Office ("ROSPATENT") announced a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Patent & Registration Office of Finland, aimed at accelerating patent approval and prosecution proceedings through the creation of a Patent Prosecution Highway ("PPH").  Dozens of PPHs exist around the world, including one between ROSPATENT and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which allow participating patent offices to share information concerning examination and approval of patents, ultimately streamlining the patent prosecution process, coordinating approval efforts, and reducing duplication of labor and resources.  The Russian-Finnish PPH will begin coordinated operations in March of 2011.

Khodorkovsky, Lebedev Sentenced to 13 1/2 Years Each

Judge Viktor Danilkin sentenced Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev each to 13 1/2  years of imprisonment on the charges of stealing some 200 million tons of oil from the YUKOS oil company that they managed. The sentence is partially added to the prison terms they received in the "first trial”, to give each of them 14 years in total starting from the date of their arrests in 2003, which means that they should be released in 2017.

Russian Dissidents Poisoned in Germany

German prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into whether two Russian dissidents living in Berlin were poisoned by Russian agents. Viktor Kalashnikov, 58, a former colonel in the Soviet KGB, and his historian wife Marina Kalashnikov, were found by doctors to have dangerously high levels of mercury. The couple have worked as freelance journalists since the late 1990s, publishing articles that criticized current Russian authorities.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Russian President Orders Probe into Meltdown of Moscow Airports

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the country's top prosecutor to investigate what experts are calling the worst meltdown in Russian air travel in 15 years, after a Moscow ice storm all but paralyzed the country's two biggest airports. Thousands of passengers were stuck in the airports for days, many of them without food, water, or hotel rooms. Passengers shouted slogans against air companies, and several airline employees, including women, were beaten by angry passengers. (video)

Former Belarus President Suggests That Russia Should Occupy Belarus

Former Belarus President Stanislav Shushkevich refused to recognize the victory of current President Alexander Lukashenko in recent presidential elections. Shushkevich stated that Russia, as a member of the Union State with Belarus, could intervene to protect the human rights of Belarus citizens. “Perhaps it would be better, instead of deploying [Russian] troops in other countries who declared their independence [apparently meaning South Ossetia and Abkhazia], to bring troops to Belarus to protect human lives and human health,” stated Shushkevich. Shushkevich is known as one of the three Presidents (along with the Presidents of Russia and Ukraine) who declared the USSR dissolved in 1991.

Russian Businessman Accuses Putin of Corruption

Russian entrepreneur Sergey Kolesnikov published an open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev accusing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of corruption. According to the letter, “[A] palace is being built on the Black Sea for the personal use of the Prime Minister of Russia,” which costs at least $1 billion. Allegedly, the construction is being financed by donations from Russian entrepreneurs, and partially from state funds as well. According to Kolesnikov, he personally participated in the construction project for a certain period, and got acquainted with relevant documentation. In response to a request from the Vedomosti newspaper, Putin’s Press Secretary stated that Putin has no relation to the palace.

Former Russian Senator Convicted of Fourteen Murders

The Moscow City Court sentenced former entrepreneur and Senator Igor Izmestyev to life imprisonment on charges of heading a gang that committed numerous murders and attempted murders.  Twelve other defendants were sentenced to a range of four to 23 years of imprisonment. According to the prosecution, the gang murdered 14 people between 1992 and 2004, including those who were Izmestyev’s business competitors, and the gang also attempted to assassinate several others, including the son of the Bashkir President. Originally Izmestyev was supposed to be tried by a jury, but in May 2010 (because of changes in legislation) the jury was dismissed, and the case was passed to a professional judge. Izmestyev, who was a Council of Federation member from 2001 to 2006, denies wrongdoing and alleges that his prosecution is motivated by political reasons.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Khodorkovsky, Lebedev Convicted

Judge Viktor Danilkin found Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, former top managers of defunct Russian oil giant YUKOS, guilty of stealing some 200 million tons of crude oil and laundering the proceeds. The sentence is still to be announced. The defense calls the charges absurd and politically grounded, and intends to appeal. The police arrested the most active of the demonstrators who gathered around the Khamovnichesky Court in Moscow to support the defendants. (photo) (video)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Prosecution Drops Charges against Angry Russian Blogger

The prosecutor's office in Syktyvkar annulled an earlier decision to bring criminal charges against a blogger who called Prime Minister Vladimir Putin a “pederast.” Journalist Pavel Safronov further suggested in a blog post that access to certain web sites in Syktyvkar (e.g., was blocked because of Putin's visit to the city during which angry remarks were made against him.  In response to the blog post, criminal proceedings against Safronov were instituted on charges of “insulting a representative of the state power".  His office was also searched, and his computers were seized.  Safronov filed a complaint with the prosecutor's office explaining that he "believed in good faith" that Putin had engaged in homosexual relations. After the case became high-profile on the Russian web, the prosecutor's office cancelled the criminal proceedings and sent the materials for further linguistic examination.

Russian Investigators: Transneft Searches Unrelated to Navalny’s Publications

The Russian police conducted searches in a Moscow bank, and in the home of the bank's former owner, in connection with a criminal investigation into alleged embezzlement at the Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft. The police deny any relation between their investigative actions and the recent publications of well-known lawyer and blogger, Alexey Navalny, who exposed in his blog the alleged multi-billion dollar Transneft embezzlement. (video)

Russian Oppositionists Sue Putin for Libel

Russian liberal opposition leaders Boris Nemtsov, Vladimir Ryzhkov and Vladimir Milov filed a 1 million ruble ($30,000) libel claim against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. In a TV interview, Putin alleged that Nemtsov, Ryzhkov, and Milov (all former governmental officials) stole billions of rubles while in office in the 1990s, and further alleged that they plan to steal even more in the event they come to power. The oppositionists also seek retraction from the TV channel.

Retired Russian Intelligence Colonel Charged with Armed Revolt

Russia’s Federal State Security Service (FSB) arrested retired intelligence Colonel Vladimir Kvachkov on suspicion of organizing an armed revolt. Kvachkov was arrested one day after the Supreme Court ultimately affirmed an acquittal verdict in a case where Kvachkov had been charged with an attempt to assassinate former high-ranking federal official Anatoly Chubays.   (Kvachkov obtained acquittal verdicts in two consecutive jury trials).  Legislation has since changed, and the new case against Kvachkov will be heard by a judge rather than a jury.

Russia Loses YUKOS Case in Stockholm

The Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce awarded $3.5 million against Russia in a suit filed by a UK minority shareholder of YUKOS under a UK-Russia investment protection treaty. The shareholder, RosinvestCo UK Ltd (apparently associated with a large US-based investment fund), alleged that Russia “nationalized” YUKOS without proper compensation to UK investors in breach of the treaty. Russia appealed to a Stockholm state court challenging the arbitration award on procedural grounds, and that appeal remains pending. The case may become de facto precedent for further minority shareholder claims.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

U.S. Ratifies START Agreement with Russia

The U.S. Senate ratified a nuclear arms reduction pact with Russia by a strong bipartisan vote of 71 to 26. The treaty was signed by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April 2010 to replace an older nuclear treaty that expired in 2009. The treaty must still be ratified by the Russian parliament, but no problem with its ratification is expected.

Russia Demands That Belarus Release Russian Detainees

Russia’s Foreign Ministry published a statement requesting that Belarus release Russian citizens detained in Minsk.  More than 600 demonstrators were arrested during clashes between the police and those demonstrating against the recent presidential election results. Most of them, including eight Russian nationals, were sentenced to short-term imprisonment (up to 15 days). Opposition leaders, including several former presidential candidates, have been criminally charged with “organizing mass disorders.”  The Justice Minister for Belarus stated that the liquidation (i.e., prohibition) of opposition parties is being considered.

В Минске прошла акция в поддержку арестованных оппозиционеров

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chechen Presidential Groom to be Released from Dubai Jail

A court of appeals in Dubai overturned life sentences for Iranians, Mahdi Lorniya and Tajik Makhsudzhon Ismatov, both of whom had been convicted of complicity in the murder of Chechen military commander Sulim Yamadayev. The life sentences were changed to a 27 month prison term for each which means they will be released in six months. Yamadayev, a former battalion commander, a holder of the Hero of Russia medal, and a member of a prominent family which opposed Chechnya’s pro-Kremlin leader Ramzan Kadyrov, was assassinated in the United Arab Emirates in 2009. The Dubai police seem to believe that Yamadayev was shot from a gold-plated gun passed to the murderer by Russia’s State Duma deputy Adam Delimkhanov via Kadyrov’s horse groom Lorniya. Lorniya was arrested and convicted, and Delimkhanov remains wanted. Kadyrov and Delimkhanov deny involvement. Yamadayev's brother, Ruslan, was shot dead as his car stood at traffic lights in central Moscow in 2008.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Belarus: Oppositionists Dispersed, Presidential Candidates Arrested

The Belarus police dispersed thousands of opposition demonstrators, who were gathering in Central Minsk to protest the results of the presidential elections. The oppositionists believe that the results were falsified in favor of current President Alexander Lukashenko, who is reported to have won with some 80% of the vote. According to police reports, 30 policemen have been injured. According to media reports, dozens of oppositionists, including several presidential candidates, have been injured. Hundreds of oppositionists, including five presidential candidates, have also reportedly been arrested. (photo) (photo) (video)

Update: 7 of 10 Presidential Candidates Arrested, Most of Them Injured

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Turmoil in Minsk: Opposition Claims Election Fraud, Storms Belarusian Government Building

Thousands of opposition supporters protested tonight in Belarus, where presidential elections are taking place. According to exit-polls, which are largely controlled by incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko's team, President Lukashenko is being re-elected by a large margin. However, opposition candidates claim that the results are fixed and demand new elections. Thousands of opposition supporters stormed the government building in the center of Minsk. Several opposition candidates have been reported to be injured.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Presidential Elections in Belarus: Lukashenko Is Expected to Win; Opposition Anticipates Mass Election Fraud

On Sunday, December 19, 2010, Presidential Elections will take place in Belarus. Experts say that the current President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashanko, is going to win the elections. Other presidential candidates are confident that Lukashenko and his team are going to falsify the election results; one of the methods that they claim Lukashenko will use to fix the election results is to force voters to cast their votes before the actual election date. The candidates running against Lukashenko are planning to bring a large crowd of protesters to a central square of Minsk on the Election Day.

Friday, December 17, 2010

15 Russian Lawyers Accuse Investigators of Falsifications

A group of 15 St. Petersburg attorneys told reporters that they have asked President Dmitry Medvedev to intervene and stop alleged abuses of power by the investigative arm of the General Prosecutor's Office. The attorneys represent several persons, including former police officers, accused of “corporate raids” (which in Russia means a criminal takeover of a business). The attorneys allege that the investigators systematically use falsification and intimidation as the primary means for solving crimes.

EU Approves Sanctions over Magnitsky Case

The European Parliament approved a resolution recommending that EU members introduce sanctions against Russian officials suspected of involvement in the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. The parliament voted 318-163 with 95 abstentions for a measure that "encourages EU law enforcement agencies to cooperate in freezing bank accounts and other assets" in Europe of Russian officials involved in the case. The measure also urges EU members "to consider imposing an EU entry ban for Russian officials involved in this case." The measure doesn't name the targeted Russians and is not binding on member states. Sergey Magnitsky, a lawyer for London-based Hermitage Capital, died in jail in 2009 after being held for more than a year without trial or proper medical treatment.

Mass Fight in Ukrainian Parliament

A mass fight in Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (parliament) took place between deputies of the ruling Party of Regions and the opposition BYuT party, who protested against the prosecution of their leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Reportedly, three opposition deputies were injured.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day in Moscow: None Killed, 1200 Arrested

The Moscow police took unprecedented security measures to prevent inter-ethnic clashes and to curb the escalation of the violence that began on 11 December. Thousands of police personnel patrolled the streets. Despite numerous fights between Russian nationalist groups and groups of Caucasians (such as Chechens, Ingush, etc.), no killings were reported. Some 30 people were injured, and the police detained some 1,200 people (most of them were later released). Seven stun-guns, two hundred knives, and numerous baseball bats, iron rods, and pepper spray canisters, etc., were confiscated. (photo) (photo)

Criminal Proceedings Instituted Against Former Ukrainian Prime Minister

Ukraine’s General Prosecutor's Office instituted criminal proceedings against former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Although no formal charges have yet been brought, Tymoshenko said the prosecution is alleging that she embezzled money that Ukraine received from the sale of greenhouse gas emission quota credits and used the funds to pay retirement benefits for elderly persons. Tymoshenko denies wrongdoing and calls the prosecutors’ actions “terror against the opposition.”

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Charges Brought Against Former Interior Minister of Ukraine

The Ukrainian Prosecutor General's office completed its investigation related to, and brought charges against, Yuriy Lutsenko, who in 2005-2010 was the Interior Minister of Ukraine. The ex-Minister is charged with “large-scale embezzlement of state property through the abuse of office.” Reportedly, the charges are based on the alleged assignment of an extra pension payment of UAH 40,000 ($5,000) to the Minister’s driver. Lutsenko said that he believed that the criminal case was opened against him as "a result of his political and police activities."

Khodorkovsky-Lebedev Sentence Postponed

The Kamovnichesky Court in Moscow postponed from December 15 to December 27, 2010, the announcement of the verdict and the sentence in the “second trial” of former Yukos top managers Milhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev. The defendants are accused of stealing essentially all of the oil extracted by Yukos and laundering the proceeds; the prosecution is demanding 14 years of imprisonment for each defendant. The adjournment notice was effected when a paper note was placed on the door of the court the morning of December 15. According to the court press service, Judge Viktor Danilkin, who may not leave his deliberation room, sent a fax indicating the delay. No explanation as to the cause of the delay has been provided. A small crowd gathering to support the defendants was dispersed.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Violence Erupts in Moscow

Thousands of young people, some ardent football fans and others from nationalistic organizations, gathered at Manezh Square next to the Kremlin to honor a deceased Spartak football fan, Yegor Sviridov, who was killed, allegedly by persons from the North Caucasus, in a massive brawl several days ago. The demonstrators lit flares and chanted nationalist slogans such as “Russia for Russians!” and the like. The crowd subsequently attempted to break through police cordons and hurled sundry items at the police, including the decorations of a Christmas tree placed on the square. The mob also assaulted a number of non-Russians, seriously injuring several of them. When the police ousted the rioters from the square, the disorderly conduct continued on the subway. Some 65 people were detained in the rioting and some 29 people, including policemen, were injured. (video)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Alleged Russian Spy Challenges Deportation from UK

Lawyers for Yekaterina Zatuliveter, who has been arrested in the United Kingdom on suspicion of espionage, are challenging her deportation to Russia. Zatuliveter, 25, is an aide to Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock. Some media reports allege that Hancock gave Zatuliveter access to official defense policy documents. Zatuliveter denies any wrongdoing, claiming she was an innocent victim of a bungled secret service operation. (video)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ukraine-Armenia WTO Dispute Has Been Resolved

Ukraine has recently complained to the WTO regarding Armenia’s allegedly discriminatory taxes and custom duties on imported tobacco and alcohol products (see post of 9/20/10). A compromise resolution has been reached through amendments to Armenian laws. Armenia agreed to apply its domestic excise tax rate to alcohol imported from Ukraine. It appears, however, that the tax rates on imported tobacco products remained unchanged. Ukraine is expected to withdraw its complaint from the WTO in the near future.

Russia to Extradite Fugitive Kazakhstan Banker

The Moscow City Court approved the decision of the General Prosecutor's Office to extradite to Kazakhstan Veronika Yefimova, formerly a top manager of BTA Bank who Kazakh authorities accuse of a $3.3 bln embezzlement. The defense calls the charges baseless and politically motivated. In June 2010, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordered Russia to stay the extradition of Efimova pending ECHR’s ruling on Efimova's petition on the merits.

Russia Vetoes UN Security Council Resolution on Côte d’Ivoire

Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution on the recent controversial presidential elections in Côte d’Ivoire. The proposed Security Council resolution would have recognized Alassane Ouattara as the winner over incumbent Laurent Gbagbo. The Ivorian Electoral Commission declared that Ouattara won with 54% of the vote, but the Constitutional Council, dominated by Gbagbo supporters, partially cancelled the election results and declared that Gbagbo won with 51% of the vote. Of 15 Security Council members, 14 voted for the resolution, but Russia exercised its veto power, arguing that UN should not decide who should be the president of a country.

Georgia Accuses Russian Military of Terrorism

Georgia’s Interior Ministry announced that its investigation of six recent terrorist bombing attacks revealed that the blasts were organized by Russian military intelligence. Allegedly, the organizer was Yevgeny Borisov, a Russian military intelligence officer in Abkhazia. Six Georgian citizens, allegedly recruited by Borisov to commit terrorist attacks, were arrested; authorities subsequently broadcasted one of their confessions on TV. Russia’s Defense Ministry denied involvement and called the Georgian investigative findings “badly planned provocation.”

Russian CEO Prosecuted for Selling Trademark Abroad

Russia’s Investigation Committee brought the final version of charges against Maxim Larin, CEO of Afanasy-Pivo, a large brewery in Tver. Larin is accused of selling “Afanasy” trademarks in 1997-1999 at a nominal price to Eastern Union Holding AG, a Swiss company he allegedly controls. Since that time, some $17 mln has been paid to the Swiss company in royalties by Tver-Pivo, a Russian licensee, whose CEO, Yevgeny Kharitonkin, is also being prosecuted. Both Larin and Kharitonkin are charged with fraud and money laundering. Their defense attorneys insist that the trademark transfer was perfectly lawful and that the criminal prosecution was initiated by corporate raiders attempting to take over the company. The proceedings were originally instituted in 2002 upon the application of Aton, an investment company, which in 2002 acquired 42% of Afanasy-Pivo on behalf of Millhouse Capital, a company led by Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Investigator from Kushchevskaya Appeals to Russian President

Ekaterina Rogoza, an investigator from Kushchevsky District of the Krasnodar Region of Russia, made an internet video appeal to President Dmitry Medvedev. Kushchevskaya village was the site of a massacre of twelve people (including four children) in November, apparently by a local criminal gang. After the massacre, an investigation of local law enforcement bodies was launched. Rogoza alleges that in 2009, on instructions from the district prosecutor, she refrained from instituting extortion charges against a gang member who is wanted in connection with the massacre, Vladimir Alexeyev, and that senior local officials pressured her to conceal the district prosecutor's role in the Alexeyev case. (video)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Microsoft Causes Dismissal of Russian NGO Piracy Prosecution

After confiscating the computers of NGO Baikal Environmental Wave in January, the Irkutsk police dropped software piracy charges as a result of Microsoft's announcement that it would not support the case. Microsoft promised to provide free software licenses to 500,000 advocacy groups around the world in order to deprive authorities of a pretext for politically motivated piracy prosecutions.

Russian Lawyer Launches Anti-Corruption Campaign

Well-known Russian blogger and minority shareholder rights lawyer Alexey Navalny launched a web site to report government contract bid invitations that look suspicious in terms of corruption. Currently the most recent entry is the $1 mln contract from the Agricultural Ministry to "develop an integrated system of long-term storage of the data of the system of remote monitoring of agricultural land and create methods of evaluating crops, crop capacity, and total yield.” The Ministry requires completion within nine days after signing the contract, which does not seem to be realistic.

Russian Banks Report 60% of Turnover as Suspicious

In the first three quarters of 2010, Russian banks reported to Rosfinmonitoring, the Russian anti-money laundering agency, suspicious transactions in the amount of 120 trillion rubles ($4 trillion). This is about 60% of the total amount of banking transactions related to economic activity and three times as much as Russian GDP.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Strasbourg Court Awards Record €1.7 Mln Against Russia in Chechen Killings

The European Court of Human Rights awarded damages against Russia in a record amount of 1.72 million Euros (about $2.3 mln) for killing at least 24 civilian villagers in a military operation against Chechen insurgents. The case of Abuyeva and Others v. Russia involved 29 applicants and concerned the attack by Russian military forces in 2000 on the village of Katyr-Yurt following its capture by a large group of Chechen militants. The assault, during which the Russian forces used "heavy free-falling aviation bombs, missiles and other arsenal," resulted in the deaths of 24 villagers and injuries to 10 other villagers.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Promises Reforms in Construction Sector

A working group chaired by Vice Prime Minister Sergey Tigipko introduced to the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) draft legislation “On Regulation of Urban Development.” The law is designed to simplify procedures for obtaining construction permits, increase the volume of new construction, attract new investments and curb corruption in the construction sector. Mr. Tigipko anticipates that the legislation will increase competition and result in lower housing prices.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Putin Accuses US Diplomats of Slander

In an interview with CNN’s Larry King, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin threatened to build up Russia's nuclear forces if the United States fails to ratify the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that was signed this year. He said it would take “a very dumb nature” for the United States to ignore its own interests -- but if it does, “then we'll have to react somehow.” Putin further disclaimed the statement of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates who was quoted by WikiLeaks as saying that “Russian democracy has disappeared and the government was an oligarchy run by the security services.” “We are not interfering [in U.S. affairs],” Putin said. “I would also like to advise you, don’t interfere in the sovereign choice of the Russian people.” Finally, Putin stated that the suggestions he remains the true power in Russia -- Batman to President Medvedev's Robin, as one of the diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks put it --were “aimed to slander one of us.”