Thursday, July 28, 2011

Khodorkovsky’s Partner Lebedev Denied Parole

An Arkhangelsk Region court on Wednesday turned down ex-Yukos executive Platon Lebedev’s parole petition. The judge said “the aims of the two sentences handed down by Moscow courts had not yet been achieved.” The decision is formally grounded on the statements of prison staff, who accused Lebedev of being uncooperative, unwilling to accept his guilt and of losing a pair of prison trousers. A lawyer for Lebedev said his client would appeal. Moscow Helsinki Group head Lyudmila Alexeyeva said the Lebedev ruling was predictable and that Khodorkovsky’s petition for parole would also be rejected. “Khodorkovsky’s request will be turned down as well, because such decisions are not made in court but at a much higher level,” she said. Judge Nikolai Raspolov denies any outside pressure. "It was absolutely my own decision," he said. Lebedev and his business partner Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, were sentenced to stay in jail until 2016 in a second trial in December. They have both denied all the charges against them, claiming that the Yukos case was revenge by Russia's powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for Khodorkovsky's sponsorship of opposition groups in the early 2000s. The Russian authorities have categorically denied the claim. (video) (video)

Russia to Strike Back over US Visa Sanctions

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has instructed the Foreign Ministry to prepare a response to U.S. visa sanctions imposed against a number of Russian officials over the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. Slapping the sanctions prior to the completion of the investigation into the case is an utterly irrelevant move that arouses dismay, Medvedev’s spokesperson Natalia Timakova said. Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer with the UK-based Hermitage Capital hedge fund, died in a pre-trial detention center in Moscow in 2009, allegedly from lack of medical aid, while awaiting trial on charges of tax evasion and fraud.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Georgia Releases Photojournalists in Spy Case

Three photojournalists accused of spying for Russia were ordered released by a Georgian court. Each received a suspended sentence after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors; each of the three also confessed to involvement in espionage.

The result of their release, though, is that the full evidence behind the arrests will not now be exposed. Human rights groups are critical of Georgia's plea bargaining process and claim that it permits authorities to forge deals out of the public view, which they claim allows the government to force admissions of guilt by threating imprisonment.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Government Offices May Move to Russia's Silicon Valley

During the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, President Medvedev promoted the idea of moving government offices out of the center of Moscow. Among the eight sites currently being considered for new government offices is Skolkovo, Russia's version of Silicon Valley and the brainchild of Medvedev. The Skolkovo hub is host to scientific and production centers specializing in energy, IT, telecommunications, biomedicine and nuclear tecnology, and a wide range of international companies have been granted resident status in Skolkovo. According to experts working on the relocation project, Skolkovo is now a favorite for the relocation, along with Domodedovo.

Russian Online Store Announces Plans for July IPO

As sales surge for, a Russian online shopping store established in 2004, the company has announced plans for an IPO. General director of Utinet, Mikhail Ukolov, explains that the decision for the IPO comes as internet sales in Russia expand and services become more available and affordable. Utinet's first half sales in 2011 jumped 345% compared to the first half of 2010, with laptop sales comprising over 75% of total goods sold. With the planned IPO, would be the first Russian shopping company to be listed on MICEX.

Prosecution Termination over Death Found Unconstitutional

The Russian Constitutional Court has found unconstitutional the Criminal Procedure Code provisions that allow the termination of a criminal case upon the death of a suspect without the consent of his or her close relatives who insist that the suspect was innocent. This ruling means that the decision to terminate the high-profile criminal case related to an incident on Leninsky Avenue in Moscow involving the car of a LUKOIL top manager should be revised since the relatives of the dead suspect insist on her innocence. The court based its ruling on the right to a legal defence and the presumption of innocence. (video)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Georgia Adopts Economic Liberty Act

The Parliament of Georgia adopted the Economic Liberty Act, which provides long-term upper limits (though the Government retains certain tactical short-term flexibility) for: (1) budget expenditure, which is capped at 30% of GDP; (2) the budget deficit, which is capped at 3% of GDP; and (3) public debt, which is capped at 60% of GDP. The Economic Liberty Act will enter into force in 2014. The new law complements the constitutional amendment adopted in December 2010 requiring a referendum in case the government decides to increase taxes (except excise and local taxes). “The Economic Liberty Act seeks to limit the discretion of the executive branch of government and ensures that the government remains small and limited and taxes remain (other than through the sovereign will of the people) low and flat,” commented Nika Gilauri, Prime Minister of Georgia. (video)

Russia, US Sign Adoption Agreement

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed a bilateral agreement on child adoptions. Lavrov said the agreement is a true bilateral agreement and states several important points, including psychological testing of the adoptive parents. It also obliges adoptive parents to utilize only accredited adoption agencies. The agreement also stipulates that all adopted Russian children will maintain dual citizenship until they become legal adults, after which they may choose their citizenship. The move followed a stream of incidents involving the mistreatment of adopted Russian children in the United States that have incensed the Russian public. The agreement must be ratified by Russian lawmakers but does not need to be ratified by the U.S. Congress. Russia is one of the largest sources of foreign adoptions for U.S. families, accounting for about 10 percent of foreign adoptions. (video)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

France Slams Russia for Blocking Syria Resolution

France slammed as "indecent" Russia and China's "blocking" of a proposed United Nations resolution condemning Syria's deadly crackdown on anti-regime protests. "It is indecent because (Syrian leader) Bashar Al-Assad has mobilised incredible resources to neutralise his opposition," said Defence Minister Gerard Longuet. "Countries... like China... and Russia must accept common rules: one does not deal with one's opposition with cannon fire," the minister went on to add.

Russian Foreign Minister: Gaddafi Must Go

For the first time Russia publicly expressed agreement with the position that the current leader of Libya Muammar Gaddafi must step down. “We agree, as I said, that he must go. He has no place in the new Libya, and the rest is subject to discussion,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview. However, Lavrov has criticized the scope of international intervention in Libya. “The current [UN no-fly zone] resolution is being interpreted by NATO, which volunteered to implement it in the way which is absolutely without any limits. You mentioned the supply of arms; before that there were instructors from Europe sent to the ground and people even talk about a ground operation. The air strikes themselves go well beyond military targets; some residential quarters were hit ,and it is a cause of concern because the main goal of the resolution is not to hit the targets with the risk for civilian population. [The goal] is exactly the protection of the civilians, who suffer both from Gaddafi forces and forces of the coalition. So I think the recognition that this is not what we all want is gaining ground and just a couple of days ago discussions were renewed on the need for political process,” Lavrov stated. (video)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Russian Court Holds that McDonald Is a “Food Store”

A court in Moscow found that McDonald’s is not a restaurant but rather a food store, at least for the purposes of the VAT taxation. Restaurant services are taxable at 18%, while the sale of food stuffs is taxable at 10% VAT. Accordingly, the tax authorities insisted that the company provides restaurant services, while the company insisted it only sells food. The tax authorities demanded some $20 mln of underpaid taxes for the years 2006-2007 but courts in three instances held in McDonald’s favor.

Neo-Nazi Gang Convicted in Moscow

A Moscow military court entered a sentence in the case of the so-called “National Socialist Society ‘North.’” Its 13 members were charged with 27 murders. They primarily murdered guest workers (on the grounds of ethnic hatred) and anti-fascists. They also murdered their former accomplice whom they suspected of cooperation with law-enforcement officials. The Nazis video recorded that murder and the dismemberment of the body and posted the video on the web, after which they were detected and arrested. Five defendants received life imprisonment, one, who confessed, – a suspended sentence, and the rest – 10 to 23 years of imprisonment. “We will be back!” shouted the convicts after the sentence was announced.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Twitter Suspends Fake Medvedev Account

At the Kremlin's request, Twitter administrators have suspended the account blog_medvedev which, until recently, has been re-posting information from President Dmitry Medvedev's official micro-blog. The false micro-blog looked very similar to Medvedev's real account. The blog had over 42,000 followers who apparently believed they were reading Medvedev's tweets. The last straw seemingly came with a mock account entry in which the author surveyed public opinion regarding the potential prime ministerial candidacy of the new head of the Right Cause party. The post immediately received a lot of responses as even Russian news agencies took the bait, reporting on the move. "We did complain to the administrators of Twitter. Any person can do that if one thinks that someone’s blog infringes on their interests and violates the security policy adopted by twitter," a Kremlin spokesman explained.

Georgian President’s Personal Photographer Charged with Spying for Russia

Three Georgian photojournalists, including the personal photographer of President Mikheil Saakashvili, have been charged with spying for Russia. Officials say they passed confidential information to Russian intelligence. The Georgian interior ministry released a video in which the president's photographer, Irakli Gedenidze, said he had been blackmailed. Georgia has arrested dozens of suspected Russian spies since the two countries fought a brief war in 2008. Russian officials blame Georgian authorities of spy mania. President Saakashvili commented: "This is not about paranoia but it's about the rule of law and equality of everyone." (video)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Russian High Court Invalidates Arbitration Clause for Tribunal's Lack of Independence

Russia's High Arbitrazh (Economic) Court overturned the decisions of three lower courts and ordered a Moscow trial court to hear the merits of a dispute that was covered by an arbitration clause in the parties' agreement. Under the arbitration clause, disputes were to be heard by a tribunal chaired by the respondent's general counsel, who was to appoint the other arbitrators. Also, the agreement required the claimant to pay a filing fee of ten percent of the amount of the claim. The High Arbitrazh Court held that because of the tribunal's lack of independence, and because the filing fee requirement could prevent claims from being heard, the arbitration clause violated public policy and was invalid.

Russian Human Rights Panel Blames Officials in Lawyer's Death

The Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights, a group of prominent human rights activists that advises President Medvedev, published a highly critical report on Wednesday in the case of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.  The panel argued that highly placed prison officials and investigators (including lead investigator Oleg Silchenko) share responsibility for Mr. Magnitsky's death in state custody.  The panel's report concludes that Mr. Magnitsky's death in 2009 may have been caused by a beating at the hands of a team of orderlies at a clinic where Mr. Magnitsky had been sent following symptoms of abdominal pain.  Although government officials had previously attributed Mr. Magnitsky's death to undetected heart disease, the panel relied on forensic tests that confirmed Mr. Magnitsky's body showed the "impact of a blunt hard object (or objects) not long before death."  The panel also criticized Silchenko, saying that he used invalid legal arguments to secure Mr. Magnitsky's pretrial detention.  The inquiry, now 18 months old, has been met with strong resistance by prison officials, police and investigators, and the panel's report presents a challenge for Mr. Medvedev who has demanded that the guilty parties be prosecuted.  Russia's powerful Investigative Committee announced this week that there would be prosecutions, but that they would be limited to doctors who had denied Mr. Magnitsky medical care.

Chevron Quits Offshore Project with Rosneft - Total Wants In

Last summer, American-based Chevron signed a deal to join Russia's Rosneft in a $32-billion Black Sea oil exploration project (at the Val Shatskogo deposit).  Chevron has since pulled out of the project. According to Rosneft spokesman, Eduard Khudainatov, geologists for Chevron and Rosneft differed in their evaluations of the Val Shatskogo deposit.  The companies also clashed over the choice of project contractors, the domicile of the joint venture, and arbitration jurisdiction in the event of a dispute.  At an industry gathering on Friday, Khudainatov announced that French oil producer, Total, has offered to replace Chevron as Rosneft's partner in the project.  Khudainatov stated that Rosneft would evaluate Total's offer and would decide on its oil exploration partners by the end of the year.

Clothing Retailer Mango Targets Russia and CIS Countries for Expansion

Spanish clothing and accessories retailer, Mango, announced plans to double the number of stores it has in Russia over the next 3 years.  Mango representative, Aniko Kostyl, linked the expansion plan to Russia's very "fashion-oriented" consumer, as well as to the size and growth potential of the Russian market (second only to China in retail sales).  Kostyl added that Russia's growing middle class was a driving force in the retailer's expansion plans and would continue to shape demand in Russia's retail market over the next several years.  In addition to its plans for 200 stores in Russia, Mango also hopes to increase its retail presence in other CIS countries, including in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan -- the only CIS countries that are currently Mango-free.

New High-Tech Investment Fund Launched in Russia

Investment company Troika Dialog has created a fund that enables Russian retail investors to buy shares of domestic and foreign companies in the high technology and internet sectors.  The minimum first time buy in to the Troika fund is 30,000 rubles ($1,071), and Troika hopes to raise at least $10 million in the first year.  According to portfolio manager, Yury Karavan, Troika launched the fund in respond to high demand from local investors: "[t]he interest of local investors in international companies has increased after the Russian stock market slumped more than in other BRIC countries during the financial crisis."  The Troika fund joins a growing number of Russian investment funds aimed at tapping into the anticipated growth and Russia's increasing interest in the internet sector.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Travel Ban for Russian Oppositionist Lifted after EU Condemnation

Russia’s Federal Bailiff Service cancelled its decision to include liberal opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on the list of persons banned from exiting Russia.  In connection with a libel case filed against Nemtsov by oil tycoon Gennady Timchenko, a Russian court directed Nemtsov to publish a refutation of the following phrase from his book “Putin. The Results. 2010”:  “Old friends of Putin who had been nobodies before he came to power - Gennady Timchenko, Yuri Kovalchuk, the Rotenberg brothers - became dollar billionaires.” Nemtsov published a refutation, as directed, but added a heading: “Concerning Gennady Timchenko – a co-owner of Gunvor company.”  Federal bailiffs found that the heading failed to conform with the court's order, and prohibited Nemtsov from leaving the country until he fully complied with the judgment. After that decision, the European parliament adopted a resolution concerning Russia's democratic process which, among other things, condemned the Nemtsov travel ban.  Russia’s Foreign Ministry promptly blasted the EU's resolution as “a blatant method of interference in our internal legislative process”, but the bailiffs nevertheless cancelled Nemtsov's travel ban the same day. (refutation)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

400 Arrested in Belarus as “Silent Protest” Continues

Plain-clothes police officers and KGB agents detained about 400 more people on July 6, 2011, as the actions of “silent protest” continued in many cities and towns of Belarus. According to the sources, police officers used excessive force to arrest silent protesters on the streets.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Polish Journalist Convicted for Criticism of Lukashenko in Belarus

Polish journalist, Andrzei Poczobut, was convicted in Belarus for defamation of Belarusian authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko. Poczobut, who works for a major Polish newspaper “Gazeta Wiborcza,” was sentenced to a three-year prison term, with a two-year suspension of the sentence. Experts believe that the sentence is nothing but revenge by the Belarusian KGB leaders for Poczobut's criticism.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Hundreds Unlawfully Arrested in Belarus

On July 3, 2011, plain-clothes KGB agents and police officers brutally arrested hundreds of people throughout Belarus merely because they had showed up on the streets and clapped their hands. Clapping of the hands is a part of the peaceful process that thousands of Belarusians are expressing these days to protest the regime of the Belarusian dictator, Alexander Lukashenko. On July 3rd, the official national holiday in Belarus, Lukashenko delivered a speech during the military parade. The speech was met with silence as hundreds of police officers and secret agents suppressed any attempts at hand clapping.