Thursday, August 25, 2011

Proposed Reduction in Copyright Customs Royalties

An association of manufacturers and distributors (known as RATEK) seeks to reduce the number of electronic devices for which they pay a 1% royalty, designed to compensate copyright holders for personal copying of film, music or other copyrighted materials done via these electronic devices.  In a letter sent to the Russian government, RATEK proposes to exclude cameras, DVD players, radios, projectors and certain telephones from the royalty list.  The Russian Union of Rights Holders (authorized last year to collect the 1% royalty fee) has yet to comment on the proposed changes.  RATEK President, Alexander Onishchuk, contends that the proposal will not significantly reduce the royalty fees collected because the items at issue account for a small percentage of the overall electronic goods market.  Onischchuk also argues that the players in the electronic devices market will be able to divert money saved on the royalty fee into development of new products.

Silicon Valley Coming to North Caucasus?

The North Caucasus region of Russia hopes to rival Moscow and St. Petersburg in setting up its own version of a high-tech Silicon Valley.  The blueprint for the joint venture would establish a high-tech hub, focused on making silicon parts for solar power systems.  According to the plan, five North Caucasus federal districts would be involved in the project, each playing a role in supply and production of raw materials.  The plan hopes to take advantage of anticipated global growth in the solar energy market, with an expectation that the $1 billion project could break even in two to seven years.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Russia to Renew Work on Pipeline Through Korean Peninsula

North Korea has agreed to the creation of a tripartite commission with South Korea and Russia that would allow for shipment of gas through the Korean peninsula.  After a recent summit in Siberia, President Medvedev said that he and Kim Jong-il had agreed to bring North and South Korea together to move the pipeline project forward.  "We achieved certain results on gas cooperation.  In particular, a decision has been taken to create a special commission for gas transit to the Republic of Korea via the territory of DPRK."  The pipeline agreement could lead to 1100 km of pipeline constructed along the Korean peninsula, with 700 km of the pipeline traveling through North Korea.  An earlier deal on joint gas supply between South Korea's Kogaz and Gazprom stalled in 2009 due to poor relations between North and South Korea.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Russia Contemplating Anti-Tobacco Bill

Russia's Health Ministry and Social Development Ministry have jointly introduced an anti-tobacco bill which would see tobacco excise fees rise 470%, and would likely result in the minimum price for a packet of cigarettes jumping from 17 roubles to as much as 60 roubles.  The bill would also ban smoking in public places such as restaurants, night clubs, hotels and airports, and would also prohibit TV advertising of cigarettes.  In addition, the bill would limit the sale of cigarettes to larger stores (those exceeding 50 sq. meters) which would lead to major changes in tobacco retailing as 40-45% of cigarette sales are now made through smaller outlets.  While the intention of the bill is to restrict the number of Russians who smoke (and ultimately push them to quit smoking), experts say the bill could spur illegal tobacco business.   According to Sergey Smirnov, Director of the Institute for Social Policy at the New Economic School, "[t]he talk isn't just of illegal imports of cigarettes from China, but also of illegal micro plants appearing, with products non-compliant to any standards."

PayPal Launches Services in Russian and Ukraine

International payment system PayPal will launch money transfer services in Russia and Ukraine, beginning September 24th.  The PayPal commission for transfers to Russia will range from .4% to 1.5% of the transaction (depending on the sending nation), while domestic transactions will cost 1%.  Micro payments for electronic goods sold to Russia will be subject to a higher 5.4-6.5% commission.  No commission rates have yet been announced for Ukraine.  PayPal had previously restricted money transfers to Russia and Ukraine creating difficulties and extra expenses for online retail traders in these countries, who had to pay commissions to use foreign intermediaries.  Dmitry Shmakov, Vice President of Chronopay money transfer system, says that the new service means that "more individuals will have an opportunity to use online retail stores such as eBay to sell-buy goods" but that PayPal in these countries still lacks potential services, such as b2b interaction.

China Construction Bank to Strengthen its Russian Ties

China's second largest bank, China Construction Bank (CCB), plans to invest around $150 million to develop its Russian subsidiary, and to take advantage of what it believes to be growth potential in Russia's banking market.  CCB joins The Bank of China and The Chinese Bank of Commerce and Trade as the only Chinese banks with a Russian presence.  Industry experts expect CCB to move into Russia's mortgage or logistic infrastructure financing markets.  CCB's move comes on the heels of the high profile departures of Santander and Barclays from retail operations in Russia.

Russia's Federal Antimonopoly Service Receives "Good" Grade

Russia's Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) received a good grade, and ranked 19th among 39 global counterparts, in the recent 2010 Global Competition Review (GCR).  FAS's score reflects an improvement over prior rankings, most recently 29th position in 2009 and 30th position in 2008.  GCR attributes FAS improved efficiency and ranking to several factors, including:  successfully completing cases against the four largest oil companies (for abusing market dominance), undertaking anti-cartel efforts such as "dawn raids", expanding cooperation with other Russian law enforcement bodies, improving the antimonopoly laws, and increasing competition-related events, particularly at the international level.  Experts questioned by the GCR referred to FAS Russia as the "most productive, independent and transparent" government body in the Russian Federation.

Monday, August 22, 2011

BBC Journalist Tortured in Tajikistan

UK’s BBC World Service expressed concern about the treatment of its correspondent, Urunboy Usmonov, after details of torture emerged during his trial in Khojand, Tajikistan. When questioned, Mr. Usmonov told the court that he'd been beaten by security officers and burned on his arms with cigarettes.  He also said he'd been forced to sign a confession which had been dictated to him. He has maintained, as has the BBC World Service, that the charges against him - specifically, that he is a member of Hizbut-Tahrir, an extreme Islamist organisation - are unfounded. The BBC condemns the torture of Mr Usmonov and has asked the Tajikistan authorities to investigate these incidents. Acting under considerable international pressure, authorities have released Usmonov from custody, but it is currently unclear whether they will completely drop his prosecution.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kremlin: Former Ukrainian President Lied to Court

An unnamed high-ranking Kremlin official stated that former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko lied when he testified in Kyiv court that he had no relation to natural gas supply contracts between Ukraine and Russia. "Yushchenko is lying to his court... During his presidential term he personally wanted to gain political dividends and proposed to [Russian] President Dmitry Medvedev that he personally sign a deal settling gas issues... But he was told that the issue was within the competence of the heads of the governments," the official said to journalists. Yushchenko was giving testimony in the trial against his one-time Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, accused of abuse of office and of inflicting damages to Ukraine by signing the gas contract.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Chechen Jury Trial Judgment Affirmed

Russia’s Supreme Court affirmed an acquittal judgment entered by the Supreme Court of Chechnya on a “not guilty” jury verdict in May 2011. Four defendants were charged with terrorism, including several bomb attacks. After the acquittal the prosecution challenged the judgment on the ground that the jury had been formed illegally. Allegedly, some jurors had relatives who are convicted criminals and guerilla members. The defense, however, pointed out that the relatives in question were nephews of the jurors, which is not disallowed by the jury trial legislation. Russia’s Supreme Court agreed with the defense. Apparently, this is the first jury trial judgment to enter into force in Chechnya, the last Russian region where trial by jury was introduced.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Belarus President Pardons 9 Oppositionists

Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko pardoned nine people convicted of participating in the December 2010 mass disorders in Minsk. The disorders followed national elections, the results of which the opposition claims were forged. “The decision to pardon them was taken on the basis of requests of the said persons considering they realized the illegal character of their actions, admitted their guilt and sincerely repent,” Lukashenko’s spokesperson stated. More than 40 people have been convicted for the disorders, including five ex-presidential candidates.  Exactly who has been pardoned has not yet been announced.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Russian City Bans Campaigning against Fraudsters and Thieves

The Russian Communist Party intends to complain to the Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutor's Office concerning prohibitions by regional authorities against public display of party posters. In particular, the Tomsk Mayor Office's prohibited communists from displaying posters with the slogan “Against the Power of Fraudsters and Thieves!” Tomsk officials say the slogan breaches the Law on Advertising, which prohibits obscene and offensive phrases. Communists counter that, according to dictionaries, the words “fraudster” and “thief” are neither obscene nor even offensive. In fact, “the Party of Fraudsters and Thieves” is a nickname for the ruling “United Russia” party, popularized by well-known blogger and anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny. Other opposition parties have reportedly faced similar problems with displaying their ads.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Russia Backs Ukrainian Oppositionist

Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement essentially backing the former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is being tried for “exceeding her authority” in signing the 2009 natural gas supply contract with Russia and was recently arrested for contempt of court. "All 'gas' agreements of 2009 were in strict accordance with the legislation of both countries and international law, and authorized by the presidents of Russia and Ukraine," the Russian ministry stated. It also urged for a "fair and unbiased trial" for Tymoshenko that must follow "basic humanitarian norms and regulations." Tymoshenko supporters call the trial “politically motivated” and say it has been organized by her political enemy President Viktor Yanukovich. Ironically, in recent Ukrainian elections Russian authorities have backed supposedly “pro-Russian” Yanukovich while consistently campaigning against “pro-Western” Tymoshenko.

Massive Admissions Fraud in Moscow Medical School Suspected

Russia’s General Prosecutor Office has launched a probe into student admissions at the Russian State Medical University (RSMU, a leading Moscow medical school formerly known as the Second Medical Institute). Since 2003, students to most Russian colleges and universities, including the RSMU, have been admitted on the basis of the results of the independent Unified State Exam (USE), partly with a view to avoid admissions bribery. However, it has emerged that of 800 applicants admitted to RSMU in 2011 with state stipends, 700 are fictitious persons. Apparently, the plan was to later sell the places to other applicants that do not have the necessary USE points. The price for a place was reported to be about $13,000. The university explains that the incident merely involves a “computer malfunction.” (video)

UPDATE: RSMU chancellor fired over admissions scandal

Friday, August 5, 2011

Prominent Human Rights Activist Arrested in Belarus

Ales Belyatski, the Head of Human Rights Center “Viasna” (Spring), was arrested in Belarus and charged with tax evasion in connection with accounts of “Viasna” in foreign banks, specifically in Lithuania. According to other Belarusian human rights activists, those accounts accumulated donations which then were used to pay fees of Belarusian human rights lawyers and court fines imposed on street protesters in Belarus.

Ukrainian Court Arrests Ex-Prime Minister

A court in Kyiv authorized the arrest of the former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, as it was requested by the prosecution. The arrest is formally grounded on the alleged “systematic violations” of Tymoshenko, such as “obstructing the examination of witnesses” in court. Tymoshenko is charged of “exceeding her authority” when signing a 2009 agreement with Russia on natural gas supply. Tymoshenko denies wrongdoing and calls the trial politically motivated.

Medvedev: Saakashvili Should Face International Tribunal

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev opined in an interview that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili should face an international tribunal for the 2008 war in South Ossetia. Answering the question: “Speaking about Saakashvili, does Russia, as represented by its President, believe an international tribunal should be created to look into the events of August 2008?,” Medvedev responded: “If I were asked, I would say yes. I think what happened there was a flagrant violation of international laws. However, since it would not be possible to rely on Russia’s position alone in this matter, I think the creation of such a tribunal is unrealistic at the moment. This means the conflict will be ultimately judged by history or, in a shorter-term perspective, the voters of Georgia who will have to decide which way their country should go.” Russia and Georgia began a five-day war on August 8, 2008. Russia accused Georgia of attacking its breakaway republic of South Ossetia in an attempt to bring it back under central control, killing several Russian peacekeepers. Georgia accuses Russia of occupying a large part of Georgia’s territory (breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhizia, which Russia recognized as independent states after the 2008 war). (video)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

High Court Rejects Lower Courts' Reevaluation of Evidence in Arbitration

Russia's High Arbitrazh (Economic) Court overturned two lower courts' refusal to enforce a $3.9 award issued by the Russian Federation Chamber of Commerce and Industry's Court of International Arbitration in favor of a U.K. company in a dispute over a contract to supply olein to a Russian buyer. The buyer refused to accept the olein when the seller refused to adjust the contract price to reflect a decrease in the market price on the commodities exchange. The arbitral tribunal awarded damages for the seller's loss in selling to another buyer 6,000 tons of shipped olein and for lost profits on 24,000 tons that were not shipped. The Voronezh Region arbitrazh court refused to enforce the award on the ground that it was based on falsified documents, because the resold olein amounted to only 5,961 tons, not 6,000. The court's decision was affirmed on appeal. The High Court reversed the decision, ruling that the lower court was not permitted to reevaluate the evidence considered by the arbitral tribunal and noting that the buyer had not presented evidence of falsification to the lower court and that the court had not conducted a forensic examination of the evidence.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Turkmenistan Convicts 10 Central Bank Officials

Turkmenistan’s Supreme Court has convicted ten senior central bank officials of bribery and sentenced them to long jail sentences as part of a crackdown on corruption in the country. The officials were found guilty of extorting about $4.8m worth of bribes from construction companies, state media reported. Four of the convicted men, including Byashim Begdzhanov, the former head of international operations at the bank, received 15-year jail sentences, the country’s maximum penalty for economic crimes.

Russia Slams US Senate’s Resolution on Georgian Territorial Integrity

Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich sharply criticized the recent US Senate resolution in support of Georgia’s territorial integrity, which characterizes Russia’s military presence in the breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as “occupation.” “Generally speaking, the basic factor, from the point of view of international law, to recognize an occupation regime is one state’s effective control over the territory of another state and civilians living there, which means the installment of occupation authorities instead of local ones. Russian army units however have replaced legitimate authorities neither in Abkhazia nor in South Ossetia. Neither Russia’s authorities nor Russian army units have ever issued any normative acts mandatory to the local population. It means that allegations that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are occupied by Russia have neither actual nor legal grounds,” Lukashevich stated. “Pronouncements by U.S. Senators on this subject only prove their illiteracy in the area of international law or their flagrant disdain for actual facts,” the official added.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Opposition Rally Dispersed in Moscow

Moscow police dispersed an opposition protest as activists tried to march towards the Kremlin. The Strategy-31 action in support of constitutional rights was held on Triumfalnaya Square in downtown Moscow. Around 100 activists sat on the ground, holding hands and shouting slogans, while the police stood by without interfering. The sit-in lasted for two hours without incident, but when activists got up and tried to walk down Tverskaya Street towards the Kremlin, the police broke up the march, detaining several dozen people. Opposition forces regularly hold Strategy-31 protests in central Moscow, insisting on their right to peaceful gatherings. (video)