Monday, February 28, 2011

Oppositionists’ Names Held Generic

The court in Moscow that recently dismissed the libel claim of Russian liberal opposition leaders against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who had accused them of “stealing billions,” has published the rationale for the decision. According to the court's opinion, the claim was dismissed because the oppositionists’ names have become generic. The claim was based on a television interview where Putin, when asked, "What do Nemtsov, Ryzhkov, Milov and so on really want?," replied, "Money and power, what else do they want? In their day they wrought havoc, (and) in the 90s, they stole quite a few billions along with the Berezovskys and others who are now in prison. They've been deprived of the hand that feeds them, they've gone broke, and now they want to come back and fill their pockets. But I think if we let them do that, they won't stop at a few billion, and they'll sell out all of Russia." In dismissing the libel claim brought by Nemtsov, Ryzhkov, and Milov, Judge Tatiana Adamova wrote, "The court concludes that the names of Nemtsov, Ryzhkov, and Milov have been used not as proper names, but only in their generic meaning, denoting a certain class of politicians having a similar set of methods of carrying on political discussions.” The oppositionists intend to appeal and possibly sue the Russian authorities in the European Court of Human Rights. (opinion)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Judge Danilkin: I Bear Responsibility for That Sentence until my Dying Day

Judge Viktor Danilkin, the Chairman of the Khamovnicheski Court in Moscow, categorically denied the recent allegations made by his judicial assistant, Natalia Vasilieva, that the sentencing decision in the Khodorkovsky and Lebedev case was written by someone outside the court and imposed on Danilkin against his will. “The sentence was written by me, the sentence was written consciously,” Danilkin said in a TV interview. “I signed that sentence, I announced it, and I bear responsibility for that sentence until my dying day.” (video)

Medvedev Fires Seven Police Generals

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev dismissed seven police generals and one police colonel. The officials include the Inspector General of the Interior Ministry and the head of the Moscow criminal police. The reasons for the dismissal have not been announced.

Former Kremlin Official Admits $1 Mln Fraud

The police completed the criminal investigation of Andrey Voronin, formerly a high-ranking Russian Presidential Administration official, who has been charged with large-scale fraud. Voronin allegedly contacted executives of the Japanese company Toshiba after a scandal related to medical equipment-overpricing, informed them that the company was blacklisted from governmental contracts, and offered to remove the company from the list for $1 mln. Toshiba called the police, who arrested Voronin. Voronin confessed to the fraud charges and made a plea bargain that will reduce his possible prison term.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Kyrgyzstan Names Peak after Putin

Kyrgyzstan has adopted a law naming a peak in the Tien Shan mountain system after Russian Prime Minister Putin. The bill was submitted to the legislature just before the start of negotiations on Russian natural gas export duties, and adopted just after Russia granted Kyrgyzstan an exemption from export duties. Putin Peak is 4,400meters high. (video)

Belarus Continues Pressure on Private Attorneys

The Ministry of Justice for Belarus recently issued a decision removing the Chairman of the Minsk Regional Bar Association, Alexander Palchanka, from the influential governmental Committee on Attorney Activities. Analysts report that the decision is the result of Palchanka's support of Belarusian attorneys who were recently disbarred, apparently for representing political opponents of President Lukashenko.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Moscow Police Raid Offices of Ex-Mayor’s Wife

Armed with machine guns, Moscow police raided the offices of Inteko, a company owned by Yelena Baturina, Russia’s richest woman and the wife of Yury Luzhkov, the recently ousted Moscow mayor. Investigators say some $400 million obtained fraudulently from the Moscow government and from the Bank of Moscow has turned up in Yelena Baturina’s personal bank account. Baturina, who is believed to be in Austria, denies any wrongdoing. “This is just an ordered attack to pressure us,” Baturina said.

Friday, February 18, 2011

European Parliament Questions Rule of Law in Russia

The European Parliament adopted a resolution "On the Rule of Law in Russia," which expressed concern about the current situation in the Russian judicial system. The European Parliament specifically voiced dismay about an array of high-profile trials in Russia, including that of ex-oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was recently sentenced to 14 years behind bars. The resolution also cites the situation surrounding the arrest of Hermitage Capital employee Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a detention center.

FSB: Police and Prosecutors Covered Illegal Casinos

According to a statement from the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the Moscow Regional prosecutor's office and the police department have been involved in a multi-million dollar illegal gambling business.  A number of suspects were arrested, including the gambling business owners, policemen and prosecutors. The FSB said, in particular, that the organizers of the gambling business paid for vacations abroad for the prosecutor's office staff and police. The FSB added that illegal gambling areas were located in 15 cities in the Moscow Region and that some 1,200 slot machines were seized during its recent search. Since 2009, gambling has been illegal in Russia except in four specially designated areas.


Oppositionist Imprisoned for 4 Years in Belarus

Belarus opposition activist, Vasily Parfenkov, was found guilty of participation in mass disorders in the wake of recent presidential elections, and sentenced to four years of imprisonment. According to the prosecution, Parfenkov “stroke at least 60 blows on wooden fences”, which proves his active role in the disorders. Parfenkov admitted participating in protests, but denied inflicting any damage or resisting arrest. More than 40 similar cases are pending, including those against five former presidential candidates and two Russian citizens. (video)

Kazakh President Passes Language Exam

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev successfully passed a Kazakh language exam which is required for participation in the upcoming presidential elections.  Meanwhile, one of the alternative candidates failed the exam and two others failed to appear.   So far the only alternative candidate who has passed the exam is pro-president politician Musagali Duambekov. The exam includes reading, writing, and speaking tests.,1,1,199140-duambekov-uspeshno-sdal-jekzamen-po.html

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Oppositionists Lose Libel Suit against Putin

A Moscow court dismissed the libel suit filed against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin by Russian liberal opposition leaders Boris Nemtsov, Vladimir Ryzhkov and Vladimir Milov.  In a TV interview, Putin alleged that Nemtsov, Ryzhkov, and Milov (all former sate officials) had stolen billions of rubles while in office in the 1990s, and went on to add that they planned to steal even more in the event they come to power.  In arguing for dismissal, Putin’s representative suggested that his comment was an opinion and not a statement of facts. She also presented evidence of possible crimes committed by the oppositionists, reflected in printouts from various web sites (such as Wikipedia, etc.), which the court accepted.  While the court dismissed the libel suit, the full-text of the court's written opinion will not be made available until a later date.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Court Press Secretary: Judge Danilkin Did Not Author Khodorkovsky Sentence

Natalia Vasilieva, a judicial assistant and the Press Secretary for the Khamovnichesky Court, gave an interview to online news service, stating that Judge Danilkin, the Khamovnichesky Court Chairman, was not the author of the sentence for Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev which Danilkin announced in December 2010. According to Vasilieva, the sentence was written by judges of the upper Moscow City Court, and imposed on Danilkin against his will. Vasilieva stated that days before the sentence was announced, Danilkin was called to the Moscow City Court to meet with some high-ranking official (higher than the Moscow City Court Chairperson), and he returned from the meeting in a distressed state of mind. Vasilieva says that Danilkin began to write his own sentence, but his superiors sent him a replacement after apparently finding Danilkin’s version unsatisfactory. Allegedly, the last portion of the sentence containing the prison terms (both defendants were sentenced to 13.5 years) was delivered to Danilkin after he had already begun to announce the sentence.  Vasilieva said the reason for her revelations was her disappointment in the Russian judicial system, and she further told the interviewer that she was prepared to be fired from the Khamovnichesky Court as a result. (video)

UPDATE: Danilkin: Vasilieva's satatement is criminal defamation

Russia Expels British Journalist, Then Allows Him to Return

Luke Harding, a Moscow correspondent for the British newspaper, The Guardian, was denied entry in a Moscow airport when he returned to Russia after two-month absence. Harding was sent back to the UK on the first available plane, with his visa annulled and his passport only returned to him after he took his seat on the plane.  Harding was given no specific reason for the decision, although a state security officer told him: "For you Russia is closed." Harding is known for his recent coverage of WikiLeaks publications. In particular, he published an article reporting that, in the opinion of Washington's top diplomat in Europe, Vladimir Putin was likely to have known about the planned assassination of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko.  Several days after Harding's deportation, after a scandal arose with the UK's Foreign Office, the Russian Foreign Ministry allowed Harding to return, and explained the incident by saying that Harding had previously failed to collect his acreditation card.

Friday, February 11, 2011

UN Recommends ADR for the Ukrainian Financial Services Sector

The UNDP Blue Ribbon Analytical and Advisory Center and the law firm of Dovgan & Partners have drafted a law that would establish a Financial Ombudsman Services (FOS) in the Ukraine.  The FOS would serve consumers as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism in the financial services sector.  The law suggests that the FOS should have both state and private funding, and that its services should be free for consumers.  The Ombudsman would be elected for 6 years and would be vested with power to conduct discovery.  The purpose of the FOS is to simplify and decrease the cost of dispute resolution, as well as to encourage consumers’ trust in the insurance companies and financial institutions.

Ukraine–EU Free Trade Zone Agreement Negotiations Continue

The 15th round of negotiations on the Free Trade Zone Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union has been held in Kiev. While the parties anticipate that the negotiations may be completed by the end of the year, an Agreement will not come into force before 2013. The parties have yet to reach an agreement on a number of issues, including geographical names, the auto transportation services sector, energy supply, and grain trade. Two additional rounds of negotiations will be held in April and June of 2011.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Russia Abolishes Seasonal Clock Shifts

Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev announced the abolishment of the daylight-saving time system (also known as DST or “summer time” in Russia). Russia has been shifting to DST for the last 30 years. To be exact, what will actually be abolished is “winter time,” because the last clock shift is supposed to be made this spring. Medevedev stated that the DST clock shift causes psychological stress and disease. Medvedev went on to add that cows and other animals also “do not understand the clock shift and do not understand why dairymaids come to them at a wrong time.” (video)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Japan: Medvedev's Island Visit “Unforgivable Outrage”

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan criticized Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit last November to one of four Russian-held islands as an “unforgivable outrage".   The Soviet Union seized the islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group shortly after Japan’s surrender in World War II in 1945, but Japan continues to claim the islands as well.  Prime Minister Kan vowed to seek a settlement of the territorial dispute which has prevented the two countries from signing a postwar peace treaty. The islands are known in Japan as the Northern Territories, and in Russia as the Southern Kurils.

Monday, February 7, 2011

START Treaty Enters into Force

The new Russian-U.S. Treaty on Measures for Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START) came into effect after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton exchanged the ratification instruments in Munich, Germany. Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama signed the treaty (intended to replace an older treaty that expired) in Prague, the Czech Republic, in April 2010. The U.S. Congress ratified the treaty in December 2010, and Russia's Federal Assembly did the same in January 2011. Both ratification instruments contain a number of reservations that sceptics say may sink the treaty because of the current U.S.-Russian controversy over the NATO missile defense system in Europe. (video)

Moscow Policeman Admits Falsification of Oppositionist Arrest Report

Artem Charukhin, the Moscow police officer who signed the report that served as a basis for the opposition leader Ilya Yashin's five-day imprisonment, testified in court that the report had been false. Yashin was detained by the police on 31 December 2010 during the opposition demonstration in support of Article 31 of the Russian Constitution (freedom of assembly). Yashin was charged with resisting arrest and was sentenced to five days of “administrative arrest” (short-term imprisonment). After serving the five-day term, Yashin challenged his detention in court contending that he did not resist. Charukhin was called as a witness. When Yashin pointed out that Charukhin’s written report was inconsistent with Charukhin’s own oral testimony and with the video record of the detention, the policeman confessed that he wrote the report based on the dictation of his superior, Senior Lieutenant Burtsev. In answering the judge’s questions, Charukhin said that it was the first time that he had been forced to falsify a report. Two other opposition leaders, Boris Nemtsov and Eduard Limonov, were also detained the same day and were each sentenced to 15-day prison terms.
Грани-ТВ: 31 декабря на Триумфальной площади (video)

UPDATE: Upper court affirms Yashin's sentence despite police officer's controversial testimony

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Finnish Businessman Wins Libel Suit against Russian Oppositionists

A court in Moscow awarded 200,000 rubles ($7,000) to businessman Gennady Timchenko, currently a Finnish citizen residing in Switzerland, in a libel suit against Russian opposition leaders Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov. Timchenko was unhappy with several statements from the oppositionists’ report entitled “Putin. The Results. 2010,” which alleges that Timchenko’s business achievements are due to his friendship with Vladimir Putin. In particular, the report stated, “Old friends of Putin who had been nobodies before he came to power - Gennady Timchenko, Yuri Kovalchuk, the Rotenberg brothers - became dollar billionaires.” The report also asserted, “There are reasons to believe that all those Timchenkos are merely nominal owners of the large assets, the beneficiary of which is Putin himself.” The court also directed the oppositionists to retract the statements.

Ireland Expels Russian Diplomat over Spy Passports

Ireland ordered a Russian diplomat expelled after an investigation found that the Russian intelligence service had used six stolen Irish identities as cover for spies operating in the United States. Reportedly, one spy, Anna Chapman, used passport details stolen from the managing director of a Dublin charity for orphans called "To Russia With Love."

London Court Blocks Rosneft-BP Share Swap

A court in London blocked a $8 bln share swap between major Russian and British oil companies, Rosneft and BP, who intended to create a strategic partnership to extract oil and natural gas in Russia. Russian shareholders in another of BP’s joint ventures in Russia, TNK-BP, won a preliminary injunction after arguing that the Rosneft-BP deal breaches the TNK-BP shareholders’ agreement, which prohibits BP from entering into joint ventures in Russia without TNK-BP participation. The shareholders' dispute should be resolved by an arbitration tribunal in Stockholm later this month.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Opposition Demonstration Allowed, Oppositionists Arrested

The Moscow authorities allowed the opposition to demonstrate on Triumfalnaya Square in support of Article 31 of the Russian Constitution (freedom of assembly). The demonstration took place peacefully, the 500 to 700 participants being watched by 1400 police officers. About 20 oppositionists who intended to demonstrate on the part of the square next to the subway station were arrested. Opposition leader Eduard Limonov was arrested before he could join the demonstrators and was released after the demonstration ended. (video)

Грани-ТВ: 31 января. За рамками

EU, US Introduce Sanctions Against Belarus

The European Union imposed asset freezes and visa bans against Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko and 157 other Belarus officials as punishment for the crackdown on the opposition during the recent elections. The US joined the move the same day. The Belarus Foreign Ministry asserted that the EU sanctions constituted “encouragement of unlawful actions and extremism from abroad” and vowed to take “proportional and adequate” countermeasures.

Anna Chapman Registered as Trademark

Anna Chapman, known as one of the Russian spies captured by U.S. authorities in 2010 and later deported as a part of a prisoner swap, registered her name as a trademark with Rospatent (the Russian patent and trademark registration agency). The trademark is registered in classes 14 (precious metals, jewellery), 25 (clothing, footwear), 32 (beer, soft drinks), 33 (alcoholic beverages), and 41 (education; providing of training; entertainment; sporting and cultural activities). (video)