Friday, March 30, 2012

Russian Deputy PM Acccused of Corruption

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov has been accused of making a fortune on deals related to his government job. The accusations came from several international business publications (The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Barron’s) that disclosed details of multi-million-dollar transactions involving Shuvalov. They said Shuvalov's offshore company, registered in his wife’s name, has earned millions investing in the projects of Russia's most powerful enterprises, among them Gazprom, during the last twelve years – while he has been a deputy prime minister. Journalists believe that it was Shuvalov’s post that allowed him access to the best possible deals. The Prosecutor’s Office, however, said that after conducting a check that both Shuvalov’s assets and property have been properly declared, according to a Russian law obliging officials to be transparent about their financial status. The deputy prime minister said that as a lawyer, he has always been very responsible about his income and the assets of his family. “The funds I earned when I was an entrepreneur are now managed by a trustee,” Shuvalov told journalists. “They are a basis for my independence from different influence groups when I make a decision as a deputy prime minister.”

Russian Spammer Convicted of Pedophilia

The Moscow City Court has sentenced Leonid Kuvayev to 20 years in maximum security prison after a jury panel found him guilty of raping underage orphans. Kuvayev is believed to be the ringleader of one of the world's biggest spam gangs. In 1990s he moved from Russia to the US and in 2002 obtained US citizenship. In 2005 the Massachusets attorney general filed a lawsuit against Kuvayev and six others alleging that the gang sent millions of spam messages advertizing pornography, pills, pirated software and fake fancy watches. About that time Kuvayev moved back to Russia, apparently to avoid prosecution in the US. According to Russian prosecutors, in 2006-2009 Kuvayev committed 60 sexual crimes against minor orphans; the jury found him guilty of 30 counts.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Borat's Version of Kazakh Anthem Played at Kuwait Medal Ceremony

Kazakhstan's shooting team was taken by surprise when a spoof national anthem from the film Borat was used at a medal ceremony in Kuwait. The spoof song was taken from Sacha Baron Cohen's 2006 film, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan." The team demanded an apology after the obscene song, which features lyrics about prostitutes and potassium exports, was played while Maria Dmitrienko received her gold medal. The blunder apparently occurred after the event's organisers downloaded the parody from the internet by mistake. They also got the Serbian anthem wrong. An apology was issued and the ceremony staged again. However, the Kazakhstan Foreign Ministry has demanded "a thorough investigation of the incident." (video)

Friday, March 23, 2012

EU Expands Sanctions against Belarus

European Union foreign ministers have imposed new sanctions targeting the Iranian, Belarusian, and Syrian regimes. On Belarus, the EU ministers added 29 firms and 12 people to some 230 Belarusians already blacklisted in response to repression of the political opposition by President Alexander Lukashenko's regime.

Russian Prisoner Captured after Escape by Helicopter

Police in Russia’s Vologda Region have recaptured a convicted murderer who escaped prison on board a helicopter earlier in the day, Interior Ministry spokesman Valery Gribakin said. The escapee, Alexei Shestakov, was slightly injured when he refused to surrender after being cornered by police. Shestakov, who had served half of his 24-year term for murder at the high-security penal colony in the town of Sheksna, escaped aboard the helicopter, even though prison guards began firing at the aircraft. The helicopter was rented by one of the prisoner's associates on the outside. “At the scheduled time today the helicopter's crew landed it at the designated place, taking on board a man and a woman. After the aircraft took off, they drew guns and forced the pilot to hover above the penal colony and throw out a rope. The convict used the rope to climb onboard,” Gribakin said. However, Shestakov's luck changed soon after the helicopter landed. Once on the ground, Shestakov hijacked a taxi, but he was soon stopped at a roadblock by authorities and taken into custody. The man and woman who hijacked the helicopter remain at large.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ukrainian Ex-Premier Accused of High Treason

Signs of state treason have been found in former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's conclusion of a gas agreement with Russia in 2010, according to a Ukrainain paliament's resolution. The document states that during talks and while signing the contract between Naftogaz and Gazprom, Tymoshenko concealed that she owed $405 million in debt to the Russian Defense Ministry. The document adds that she also hid a criminal case proving that she paid bribes to ministry officials. The Ukrainian Prosecutor General's Office earlier charged Tymoshenko with abuse of power in signing a gas contract with Russia in 2009 when she served as prime minister. She was sentenced to seven years in prison in October 2011. A barrage of cases against her have also been opened for allegedly embezzling public funds.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Foreign Retailers Flock to Moscow

Moscow has been ranked one of the most attractive sites for foreign retailers, following London and Paris. Global retail chains are seeking solvent customers and “new growth territories,” when most of the European economies are struggling in a downturn, said Maxim Karbasnikoff, Head of the Retail Department at Jones Lang LaSalle for Russia & CIS. “Sustainable growth of the 15 million Moscovites' disposable incomes, has steadily boosted retail sales for the past 3 years,” he went on, and the city is basically “the gate to a 140 million consumers market development,” Karbasnikoff conceded.  Among the newcomers in Russian retail are American Eagle Outfitters, underwear firm Victoria’s Secret and DKNY. At least ten more foreign brands are expected to come to Russia’s capital in 2012, Jones LaSalle added, including British department store Debenhams, Noodle House restaurants, Seattle's Best Coffee, the Australian owned coffee chain Muzz Buzz, Brisket Express, doughnuts and coffee provider Krispy Kreme, clothiers Peek & Cloppenburg and Abercrombie & Fitch.

BRIC Countries Agree to Common Investment Platform

Small and medium investors across the BRICS countries will soon get easier access to each others’ markets. The alliance of the trading floors of the five member states – Brazil's BM&F Bovespa, Russia's MICEX-RTS, India's BSE, Hong Kong's HKEx and South Africa's JSE Limited – plan to start trading futures listed on all major BRICS indices by March 20. Currently, there are a number of restrictions to access to global markets, Aleksey Pukhaev, an analyst from Investcafe, explained to Business RT. While the agreement won't likely produce any immediate effect, it will give investors the chance to access the markets in other BRICS countries in real time regime, Pukhaev said. “In the future this will contribute to mutual penetration of BRICS stock markets, which will be positive for concrete financial instruments,” he said. “Openness and the absence of borders will contribute to flattening imbalances,” the Investcafe analyst concluded.

YouTube Suspends "Russia Today"

RT’s main YouTube channel was suspended for about eight hours. YouTube ascribed the temporary blackout to a “technical mistake.” During the temporary suspension, anyone who attempted to access RT’s main YouTube channel was greeted with a startling message: “This channel has been suspended due to multiple or severe violations of YouTube’s policy against spam, scams, and commercially deceptive content.” In 2007, RT (formerly Russia Today) became the first Russian media outlet to open its channel on YouTube. Now RT is the most popular news broadcaster present on YouTube, having racked up about 700 million views and 275 thousand subscribers since the channel’s inception. The blackout sparked frenzy among RT viewers. Viewers speculated that everything from censorship to a hacker attack could have been behind the incident. Some of them said this is “ACTA in action”, while others focused on the timing, which coincided with an NYPD crackdown on an OWS protest in New York that was being covered by the channel.

Russian Oil Companies Suspected of Collusion

Bashneft, one of Russia's largest oil producers, is suspected of colluding with LUKOIL and illegally obtaining a license for the Trebs and Titov oil fields. State Duma deputy Sergei Karginov has appealed to the government seeking a return of the oil fields to public control. Bashneft stated that Karginov's information is false and damages the company's business reputation and the investment climate in Russia in general. Bashneft President, Alexander Korsik, has claimed that the allegations have been made in an attempt to manipulate the company's share prices. Bashneft shareholders have filed a lawsuit with the Moscow Commercial Court seeking to invalidate an order that registered the development license for the oil fields in the name of Bashneft's subsidiary, Bashneft-Polyus.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Belarus Bars Former Leader from Leaving Country

Belarus' first post-Soviet leader, Stanislau Shushkevich, says authorities have prevented him from leaving the country by removing him from a train bound for the capital of neighboring Lithuania. Shushkevich said he was taken off the train heading to Vilnius early on March 18 by border guards who offered no explanation. He called it a sign of "lawlessness" and added that, since he earns part of his income by working abroad, it was also an infringement on his economic rights. Several prominent journalists and opposition members have been barred from leaving the country in recent weeks. The government has refused to comment on the existence of a suspected blacklist of people barred from leaving the country.

Belarus Executes Subway Bombers

The EU and human rights groups have strongly condemned the execution of two young men in Belarus following their conviction for a deadly attack on the Minsk metro last April. Late on Saturday, state television reported that Vladislav Kovalyov and Dmitry Konovalov, both 26, had been put to death. In Belarus, execution is performed by a shot to the back of the head. Kovalyov's mother said she had received a note from the authorities saying the death sentence on her son had been carried out. European governments said they were dismayed by the sentence and described the men's trial as deeply flawed.

Friday, March 16, 2012

EU Parliament: Russian Elections Neither Free Nor Fair

The European Parliament has condemned shortcomings and irregularities in the preparation and conduct of Russia's March 4 presidential elections. In a resolution passed on Thursday, it called on Vladimir Putin to tone down his rhetoric against the protesters and begin a "sincere dialogue" with them. Russia's Central Election Commission (CEC) has emphatically condemned the European Parliament resolution. "This is a super tendentious and groundless statement,” CEC Deputy Chairman Stanislav Vavilov stated. “Everything is just the opposite – the election was free and fair."

Russian Oppositionist’s Husband Gets 5 Years in Jail on Economic Charges

A court in Moscow sentenced businessman Alexei Kozlov to five years in prison for stealing shares in a company producing imitation leather. Kozlov was arrested in the courtroom and placed in detention. Kozlov's case has been one of the most high-profile in Russia in recent years. Investigators maintain that Kozlov used fake documents to steal the company shares. Kozlov pleaded not guilty. Kozlov and his wife, journalist and well-known opposition leader Olga Romanova, claim he was framed. Kozlov was convicted and sentenced related to the same charges in 2009, but the Supreme Court reversed the conviction; now the court has convicted Kozlov again on remand. (video)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Russian Female Group Jailed over “Punk Prayer”

Charges of hooliganism were filed against two suspected members of the all-female punk group Pussy Riot over a protest at the Russian capital's largest cathedral. The charges carry up to seven years in prison. Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were arrested following the band's performance of what they called a "punk prayer" at the altar of Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral last month, and they now face two months of pre-trial detention. Four members of the group, clad in bright balaclavas, bowed and crossed themselves as they sang an acapella version of a song entitled “Holy Sh*t” at the cathedral. The lyrics included lines such as “Holy Mother, Blessed Virgin, chase Putin out!” Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin demonstrated a very “negative” reaction when told about the performance, his spokesman said last week. The Orthodox Church demands that criminal charges of "inciting religious hatred" be brought against the group members. In addition, a leading Orthodox Church official suggested that Russia should make blasphemy a criminal offense. (video)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Electronic Procurement Bid Rigged

Russia's Federal Anti-Monopoly Committee (FAS) announced what it called the first discovery of collusion in an electronic government procurement tender.  Eight companies refrained from bidding for a road work contract in the Moscow area in order to enable another company to be the only contestant, bidding slightly below the maximum.  FAS has referred the matter for possible criminal prosecution.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Russia Boots Out Biggest NGO

Russian Justice Initiative (RJI), Russia’s largest foreign non-governmental organization providing legal assistance to Russians in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), was excluded from the list of authorized NGOs. Since 2001, RJI has won about 10 million Euros (almost $13 million) in the Strasbourg court on complaints from residents of Chechnya. In late 2010, it won a record lawsuit of 1.72 million euros (about $2.3 mln) against Russia over the killing of at least 24 Chechen villagers in an operation against militants in 2000. The Russian Justice Ministry ruled in February 2011 to exclude the organization from the list of authorized non-governmental organizations over an overdue report, effectively barring it from operating on Russia’s territory. “It looks like they [the authorities] are deliberately finding faults with us,” the organization’s executive director Vanessa Kogan said. Russia accounts for more than 26 percent of ECHR cases, a larger share than any other country. It has lost the majority of its cases.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

St. Petersburg Passes Anti-Gay Law

St. Petersburg governor Georgiy Poltavchenko has signed a new law, adopted by the city legislature, under which “public actions directed at the propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism among minors” will be punishable with fines of up to $17,000.  Arkhangelsk and Ryazan have passed similar laws, and others cities have said they would follow suit. Valentina Matviyenko, the chairwoman of Russia’s upper house of Parliament and a former governor of St. Petersburg, has suggested that the measure could be enacted on a federal level.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Tajikistan Blocks Facebook

Tajikistan has blocked access to Facebook, the social media website. The ministry for communications told Tajik internet providers to cut access to Facebook and two other websites used by anti-government opposition groups. "This morning, we carried out the instruction of the communications service and blocked the sites, and," one of Tajikistan’s internet providers told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "We could not refuse to carry out this instruction."

Tajik government unblocks Facebook, keeps blocking news sites

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

League of Voters Does Not Recognize Results of Russia’s Presidential Elections

Russia’s League of Voters does not recognize the results of the presidential election of March 4.  The League said in a memorandum:  “The elections were not equal because the discrimination of popular politicians has stripped the citizens off the possibility of choice and made the competition for the candidate from the authorities much easier.”  The elections “were not just because candidates were canvassing in unequal conditions,” and because "vote counting was accompanied by systemic rigging, which has dramatically distorted the voters’ preferences.” The League was established in the run-up to the presidential elections by a number of acclaimed cultural figures and journalists.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Kyrgyz President’s Brother Escapes from Prison

Kyrgyztan ex-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s brother, Akhmat Bakiyev, is wanted by the police after escaping from prison.  He was convicted in 2011 on charges of orginizing mass riots and inciting ethnic hatred.  He was brought from prison camp no. 35 to a city hospital to undergo treatment for pneumonia and escaped fromm there.  Kurmanbek Bakiyev fled from Kyrgyzstan after the April, 2010, revolution and received asylum in Belarus.

Lukashenko: Better to Be Dictator than Gay

Berlin has reacted with disgust to an insult by the Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko about Germany's homosexual foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle. In response to Westerwelle's recent description of Lukashenko as "Europe's last dictator," Lukashenko said in an interview that it is "better to be a dictator than gay." Westerwelle said the remark "speaks for itself." Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said Lukaschenko's comment "shows very clearly the position that the Belarus president takes in relation to basic rights. It's interesting to find out this way that Mr. Lukashenko too now classes himself as a dictator.",1518,819458,00.html (video)

Hundreds of Protesters Arrested in Moscow

U.S. Ambassador in Russia Michael McFaul has expressed concern over a crackdown on protesters in downtown Moscow on Monday. Riot police dispersed protesters who tried to prolong an opposition rally at Pushkinskaya Square, detaining hundreds, including prominent whistleblower Alexei Navalny and leftist leader Sergei Udaltsov. (video)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Medvedev Orders Khodorkovsky Case Probe

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the Prosecutor General’s Office to probe the legality of the verdicts handed down to 32 prisoners, including former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev, the Kremlin said on Monday. The president also ordered a probe into the verdict in the case of the former Yukos security head, Alexey Pichugin, who received a life sentence in 2007 on charges of organizing murders and assassination attempts against Yukos rivals, the Kremlin press service said. Khodorkovsky has been in jail on charges of fraud and tax evasion since his arrest on a Siberian airport runway in 2003, which his supporters claim was punishment for funding the liberal opposition at a time when Vladimir Putin was beginning to create a “vertical power structure.”

Ballot Stuffing in Dagestan Broadcasted Online

The election outcome at the polling station No 1402 in Dagestan will be cancelled due to ballot stuffing, the Russian Central Elections Commission said. The ballot stuffing was recorded with a web camera and posted online. (video: stuffing)

UPDATE: Putin wins in Dagestan with 93% of votes
UPDATE: Central Elections Commission denies Dagestani ballot stuffing

Putin Wins Presidential Elections

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin secured 63.82 percent, or 44.9 million votes, as 99 percent of all ballots have been counted in Sunday’s presidential elections, the Russian Central Election Commission said on Monday. The Communist leader, Gennady Zyuganov received 17.18 percent of the vote, which is equivalent to over 12 million ballots, while the independent candidate, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov came in third with 7.77 percent (5.4 million votes). Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the charismatic leader of the nationalist LDPR party, came fourth with 6.23 percent, or 4.3 million votes. The A Just Russia party candidate and former Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov tails the list with 3.84 percent (2.7 million votes). (video)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Putin: Opposition Conspiring to Murder

In a speech addressed to his supporters, Russian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin accused his opponents of being ready to murder a well-known person so as to blame the act on the authorities. Putin also suggested his opponents were producing bogus material in advance to give the impression that the results of Sunday’s presidential election would be falsified in his favour. “I know this technique. They have been trying to employ it for ten tears now, especially those who are now abroad. They are even selecting a sacred sacrifice among some well-known people. They themselves will kill the victim, and then will blame the government,” Putin stated.