Friday, August 31, 2012

Russian Oligarch Roman Abromovich Prevails in London Lawsuit

Roman Abramovich has won his London legal battle against exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky.  Claiming $4.7 B in damages, Berezovsky alleged that Abramovich had intimidated him into selling his shares in Russian oil giant Sibneft, and had also broken a promise over a deal involving Russian aluminum company RusAl.  A London Commercial Court judge dismissed Berezovsky's claims in their entirety, saying in her ruling that: "On my analysis of the entirety of the evidence, I found Mr Berezovsky an unimpressive, and inherently unreliable, witness, who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could be moulded to suit his current purposes."  In reaching her decision, the judge employed new technology, called MagnumCloud, which gave her, along with the trial lawyers, secure access to documents from computers in the courtroom.  Berezovsky now faces a large bill for attorney's fees, expected to be near $150 M, and said that although he did not regret bringing the case against Mr Abramovich, he did not yet know if he would appeal.

Obama, Clinton: Russian Human Rights Activists Are Not U.S. Agents

Moscow Helsinki Group leader Ludmila Alexeyeva and Movement For Human Rights Director Lev Ponomarev have received from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton an answer to the question they posed to President Barak Obama. Alexeyeva and Ponomarev asked Obama in an open letter in July if their organizations can be considered U.S. agents. In response, Clinton writes [translated from Russian]: "President Obama asked me to answer you... Answering your specific question whether non-government organizations receiving U.S. grants are 'agents' of the U.S. government, let me tell you categorically that we neither impose any objectives on your organization nor control its activities, nor do we have any wish to do so." The letter reads that the activists of organizations receiving U.S. aid are responsible for determining their priorities and activities, not their donors. A law was recently approved in Russia establishing a registry of non-profit entities which qualify as "foreign agents," that is, receive foreign grants. Entities must apply to be entered into the registry before they can begin operating. Their financial statements will be subject to compulsory audits. Human rights activists say that the law is overtly discriminatory and beyond the legal framework. The bill on foreign agents was signed into law by Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 20.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Liudmila Novoselova Likely to Chair Russia's New Intellectual Property Court

Supreme Arbitration Court Judge Liudmila Novoselova will likely become chair of Russia's new court being created exclusively to handle intellectual property rights issues. She is the only candidate for the position, and is expected to obtain formal approval at the next session of the Board of Judges in September.  Without speculating about her future role, Novoselova explained that the court for intellectual property rights would be completely new to the Russian judicial system, and among its priorities would be to ensure uniform practice on disputes concerning the protection of intellectual property rights, to work closely with government agencies and non-governmental organizations in this field, and to cooperate with the scientific community.  Novoselova, a recognized authority in the the field of civil, corporate and finance law, graduated from the Law Faculty of Moscow State University.  In 1984 she began working in the State Arbitration Court, and in 1992 she became a judge of the newly created Supreme Arbitration Court.

First Russian-Made Tablet Computer Expected to Debut at Year End

A technology firm based at MIFI (National Atomic Research University) presented a prototype of the first-ever Russian-made tablet computer to Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin on Thursday. The tablet is expected to be available by the end of the year and will cost around 15,000 rubles ($466).  While the tablet will be assembled in Russia (at the Central Research Institute of Economics, Informatics and Control Systems), most of the parts will be foreign-made. According to Andrei Starikovsky, director of the technology firm,  the new tablet will have a 10-inch screen, Wi-Fi capability, will be able to run the Russian satellite navigation system known as GLONASS, as well as GPS navigation system. The tablet will be made available in two versions: one is specifically designed for the military, and the other is intended for general consumer market. He added that it is still unclear under which brand the computer will be marketed.

Dagestan Sheikh Killed in Terror Attack

A Sufi spiritual leader in Dagestan, Sheikh Said Afandi, and five others were killed in a blast carried out by a female suicide bomber in the Dagestan settlement of Chirkey, a spokesman for the regional Investigation Committee said on Tuesday. The female terrorist was disguised as a pilgrim. According to preliminary information, the terrorist was a 30-year-old Russian woman, formerly an actress, who converted to Islam. She was a wife of an Islamic militant. Her three previous husbands, also Islamic militants, had been killed.

Alexander Nevsky Relics Stolen in St. Petersburg

Relics of 13 saints, including those of the 13th century national hero Prince Alexander Nevsky, have been stolen from a church in St. Petersburg, a law enforcement source reported on Wednesday. An employee of St. Catherine the Martyr Church on Vasilyevsky Island reported the theft to police on Tuesday. “On Monday night the perpetrators entered the church through a window on the first floor and went to the office of the rector where they stole relics of 13 saints, including those of St. Alexander Nevsky. They also stole a communion cup of white metal with the image of saints and five baptismal crosses of yellow and white metal,” the source said. Police have opened a criminal investigation into the theft.

Uzbekistan Bans Foreign Military Bases

Uzbekistan will not host any foreign military bases or other military objects on its soil, Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov said on Thursday before the Senate. "There will be no foreign military bases or [military] objects in Uzbekistan," Kamilov said. Uzbekistan’s lower house of Parliament in September passed President Islam Karimov's new foreign policy strategy, which rules out Tashkent’s membership in any military alliances and bans foreign military bases on Uzbek territory.

Russian Constitutional Court Leaves Child with Surrogate Mother

Russian Constitutional Court refused to consider the petition of the biological parents of a child who was kept by the surrogate mother. A woman agreed to be a surrogate mother but after a conflict with the parents withdrew her agreement and with her former husband registered the newborn boy as their child. The parents sued, but a court found that the surrogate mother acted lawfully under current family legislation. The Constitutional Court refused to review that legislation for constitutionality. Two Constitutional Court judges dissented.

Russia to Censor "The Simpsons"

Russian TV channel 2x2, broadcasting "The Simpsons" cartoon, announced that it will have to censor the show in accordance with new adopted Russian legislation. Specifically, "The Itchy & Scratchy Show", a cartoon watched by the characters of "The Simpsons," will be cut from the broadcast because it contains scenes of violence.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

General Motors to Invest $ 1 Billion in Russia over Next 5 Years

General Motor's head of international operations, Tim Lee, said the company plans to invest $1 billion over the next five years to expand car and components production in Russia.  Lee indicated that GM, which currently produces cars in Kaliningrad, St. Petersburg and Togliatti, will invest the money to increase output capacity and in sourcing local components.  The number of cars sold in Russia rose 40 percent last year to 2.5 million, with growth slowing this year, but remaining in the double digits.  In June, GM started work on expansion of its plant in St Petersburg, where it plans to more than double production to 230,000 vehicles per year.  The Petersburg plant makes the Chevrolet Cruze sedan and the Opel Astra hatchback. The expansion will add production of the Astra sedan.  Lee also said GM would expand production of the budget Chevrolet Niva sport utility vehicle, being made in a joint venture with Russia's AvtoVaz.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Russia Hopes Upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum Will Boost Foreign Trade, Particularly With Asia and U.S.

For the first time in its history, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum will take place in Russia, with a keynote speech by President Putin in Vladivostok on September 7th.  The Russian government expects the upcoming forum will help to attract more investment to Russia and remove doubts  about the country's efforts to invest abroad, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said Tuesday.  "The main result will be how much investment Russia will receive after the meeting and how the other economies will be ready to accept Russian investment," Shuvalov said at a news conference.  Shuvalov hopes the APEC forum will help Russia to achieve its goal of having at least 50 percent of its foreign trade come from Asian economies and/or the United States.  Noting that Russia has long had stronger trade ties with Europe, Shuvalov acknowledged that Russia will continue to seek a new trade agreement with the European Union, with the ultimate goal of establishing a free-trade zone.  Shuvalov also noted that Russia will apply as much effort to promote trade with the Asian economies, adding that he hopes that Putin would set up an agency to advance trade ties with Asia.

Russian State-Owned Companies Plan to Spend Billions on Innovation Programs by 2020

Russia's Economic Development Ministry has budgeted 4.2 trillion rubles ($131 billion) for spending by state-owned corporations on innovation programs running through 2020.  The bulk of this money, 3.7 trillion rubles, will be distributed among Gazprom and Russian Railways. There are 46 other state-owned companies that are also included in this budget.  The details of these programs are short on explaining how exactly the innovation goals will be achieved. Some, including Andrei Yakovlev, rector of the Higher School of Economics, question whether these innovation programs will have an effect: "There is a great risk that reports with pretty numbers about testaments to innovation will be produced, but in practice nothing will change. There could be a small side effect: an expansion of the R&D market, as happened with the Electronic Russia program."  Fyodor Zherdyov, of the Expert RA agency, who reviewed and rated the innovation programs of 16 Russian companies in June, stated that companies operating in the competitive segment often have better innovation programs in place than those that are monopolists or survive on state orders.  For example, Rosatom (the nuclear power and construction firm ranking first in Expert RA's recent survey), competes globally with companies from the United States and France, and plans to increase its innovation and R&D spending from 3.9 percent to 4.5 percent.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Russian Wins Symbolic Victory in Legal Battle over Ownership of Faberge Company

Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg won a legal battle with South African mining tycoon Brian Gilbertson over ownership of the Faberge Egg Company. The victory, however, is partial, and includes no compensation award.  Vekselberg, whose private collection is worth more than $100 million, accused Gilbertson of ousting him from the deal to acquire the maker of lavish Imperial Easter Eggs from Unilever in 2007.  A court in the Cayman Islands ruled that Gilbertson violated his fiduciary duties by seizing Faberge for himself, but the judge didn’t award Vekselberg compensation, saying that Faberge has not been profitable since Gilbertson acquired it. In fact, since taking over Faberge 2004, Gilbertson and his partners have invested $140 million but have yet to make a profit . According to the Cayman court, Vekselberg thus suffered no damages due to his inability to acquire the company.

Russian Intelligence to Spend $1 Million for Spambots

Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service will pay about $1 million to develop systems for “monitoring the blogosphere” and “shaping public opinion via social networks”, influential Russian daily Kommersant reported, quoting the terms of a relevant governmental contract. The bulk of the money is to be invested in the system designed for "mass distribution of messages in social networks with a view to the formation of public opinion." Specifically, the contractor is required to "develop a special software complex for automated distribution of information in large social networks and for providing information support for activities under given scenarios to influence the selected mass audience of social networks." In non-technical language this apparently means $1 million worth of propaganda spambots.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

US Under Secretary for International Trade Suggests Trajectory for Russian Commercial Relations and Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Headed in the "Right Direction"

In an interview during a recent visit to Moscow, U.S. Under Secretary for International Trade, Francisco Sanchez, told Interfax that he thought the trajectory of U.S.-Russian commercial relations was headed in the right direction:  "Exports from the United States to Russia have increased 40% since 2009.  Exports from Russia to the United States have increased nearly 30% during the same time period. The numbers are moving in the rights direction. With Russian accession to the WTO, I think those number will increase."  On the issue of intellectual property rights, Sanchez cautioned that although Russia has strengthened many of its laws in this area,  "[the US] and our companies remain concerned in terms of enforcement and application of the IP laws, particularly in internet piracy for example."  He suggested that enforcement of IP rights would also become a concern for Russian companies as they continue to invest in innovation and seek to diversify, and he promised that the US would work with Russian officials and companies on enforcement and other intellectual property issues.

FAS Warns against Making Speculative Public Statements Concerning Future of Oil Prices

On August 23rd, the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) warned the Executive Director of the Russian Fuel Union, Grigory Sergienko, that making speculative public statements about potential growth of gas prices, can not only provoke unsubstantiated demand for oil products and consequent increase in prices, but  also is a violation of Russian antimonopoly law.  This is not the first time when FAS has warned the leaders of the Russian Fuel Union that such statements can improperly suggest price guidelines to markets.  FAS also  reminded the Union that it is a non-commercial organization, whose primary role is not setting or monitoring prices for oil products, but rather development of common positions held by participants of the oil market. FAS further noted that if signs of unreasonable oil price growth are revealed, it will undertake measures of antimonopoly regulation (referencing Part 5 Article 11 and Article 25.7 of No.135-FZ Federal Law “On Protection of Competition” prohibiting coordination of economic activities by non-commercial organizations).

Friday, August 24, 2012

Greenpeace Storms Russian Oil Platform

Six environmental activists led by the head of Greenpeace International, Kumi Naidoo, stormed an oil platform in the northern Pechora Sea, protesting against drilling for oil in the Arctic. The protesters traveled in three inflatable boats launched from Greenpeace’s ship, the Arctic Sunrise, currently touring the Pechora Sea, the environmental advocate said on its website. They successfully scaled the Prirazlomnoye platform despite being hosed down with icy water by staff and settled high on the rigs where the oilmen cannot reach them. The activists said they are supplied to withstand a days-long siege. Gazprom, who owns the platform’s operator, Gazprom Neft Shelf, said on its Twitter it wants law enforcement to remove the protesters. However, the platform is dozens of kilometers away from shore.

Russia Submits Bout Extradition Documents to U.S.

Russia has handed to the United States documents required to consider the extradition of convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, the Russian Justice Ministry said on Thursday. Earlier, Bout’s wife Alla addressed a message to the ministry asking for her husband to be transferred to Russia to serve his sentence at home. A former Soviet military officer, Bout was found guilty of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, including military officers and employees, conspiring to use anti-aircraft missiles, and selling millions of dollars’ worth of weapons to the Colombian rebel group FARC. The businessman, who denies the charges against him, was sentenced to 25 years in April. Attorney General Eric Holder has said the United States may consider Bout’s extradition to Russia if it receives a request from the Russian authorities. Article 6 of the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons stipulates that the sentencing state (in this case, the U.S.) provide to the administering state (Russia) a certified copy of the judgment and the law on which it is based.

Israel Recognizes Georgian "Neutral Travel Documents"

Israel has recognized the "neutral travel documents" issued by Georgia for residents of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the "occupied territories" of Georgia, the office of the Georgian State Minister for Reintegration said on Thursday, which welcomes the decision of the Israeli authorities. According to Georgian authorities, neutral travel documents and neutral identity cards are documents of a humanitarian nature, allowing residents of the territories to receive social services and the opportunity of free movement abroad. Currently, these documents are recognized by Japan, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, USA, Bulgaria, Poland and Israel. Hundreds of such documents have been issued.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Russia's First Criminal Case on Stock Price Manipulation

Law enforcement authorities have initiated first-ever stock market price manipulation case in the aftermath of a federal investigation of trading of Tatar company shares on the Moscow Stock Exchange, according to Russia's Federal Service for Financial Markets. Tatbento, the subject of the investigation, is supposedly involved in the production of clay and kaolin, constructing prefabricated buildings, and manufacturing ceramic tiles and bricks. According to investigators, however, the company carried out no commercial activity.  Regulators reported that several individuals, including the company's founder, manipulated share prices between September and December 2010. "The price of ordinary shares increased by 50 percent," the federal service said. "An examination was held after a bid participant made a statement (in this regard), and regulator discovered signs of manipulation through its monitoring system." The federal law on combating the unlawful use of insider market information and manipulation came into effect on January 27, 2011.

Russia Accedes to WTO

Russia formally became the 156th member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Thursday. The protocol on Russia’s accession to the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the WTO took effect on August 22. The protocol was signed in Geneva on December 16, 2011. Ministers of the WTO member states approved Russia’s accession to the organization after 18 years of negotiations. Russia will assume all obligations under the agreement as a WTO member state. The transitional period for liberalizing market access is generally 2-3 years, or 5-7 years for sensitive goods. Russia has been seeking WTO membership since 1993. Active talks on Russia’s membership began in 1995. In mid-November 2011, the working group created to facilitate Russia’s accession to the WTO confirmed all relevant agreements. The federal law "On the Ratification of the Protocol on the Accession of the Russian Federation to the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization of April 15, 1994" was adopted by the Russian parliament's lower house on July 10 and endorsed by the upper house on July 18. The Constitutional Court announced on July 9 that it saw no violations involved in signing the protocol on Russia's accession to the WTO. In July 2012, President Vladimir Putin signed the WTO accession law into force.

Turkmenistan Gets its Second Political Party

Turkmenistan launched its second political party on Tuesday. The 300-member Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs held its inaugural meeting two years after the president ordered the creation of a multi-party system in the ex-Soviet republic. The new party made its debut under a large photo of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. Created under the auspices of the country’s “Political Parties Act,” which was adopted in January by Turkmenistan’s parliament, the new party faces an uphill battle in its electoral fight against the president’s Democratic Party in the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled to take place sometime in 2013.,0,4212798.story

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Moscow Sees Booming Outlet Mall Market

Moscow will soon host a spate of new retail outlet malls. U.S. real estate developer and investor Hines International Real Estate Fund and local developer Belaya Dacha opened their first mall, Belaya Dacha Outlet Village, this past weekend. Tenants at the mall, located about 4 kilometers from the Moscow Ring Road, include sportswear brands Adidas, Nike, Puma and Reebok, as well as US Polo, L'Etoile and Miss Sixty.  Last week, the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service approved a deal that would allow a wholly-owned Hines subsidiary to purchase Belaya Dacha's 49% share in the mall. However, a Hines spokesman stated, "We are not buying out Belaya Dacha. … Belaya Dacha is our long-term partner on the project." Meanwhile, two other outlets are scheduled to compete with Belaya Dacha Outlet Village soon.  Vnukovo Outlet Village plans to open by the end of the year, and the Fashion House Outlet Center Moscow is expected to open in March of 2013 near the Moscow suburb of Khimki.

Strasbourg Court Bans Extradition of Putin Assassination Attempt Suspect from Ukraine to Russia

The Ukrainian Prosecutor General's Office has confirmed the suspension of Adam Osmayev's extradition proceedings. Osmayev, born in Grozny, Chechnya, is suspected of planning to assassinate Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Odessa Regional Appellate Court dismissed Osmayev's appeal and upheld the decision of the Prosecutor General's Office to hand him over to Russia. However, Osmayev had applied to the European Court of Human Rights, which ordered Ukraine to suspend the extradition proceedings. The Strasbourg court has accepted Osmayev's application and granted him the status of an individual who is challenging a local court's ruling. Russian law enforcement authorities have been searching for Osmayev since 2008. He was charged with committing various terrorist crimes.

Putin Hopes for Settlement between Nornickel Major Shareholders

President Vladimir Putin has expressed hope that the Norilsk Nickel Mining and Metallurgical Company's major shareholders will reach a settlement to benefit the company and its personnel. The conflict concerns two shareholders - Rusal owner Oleg Deripaska (25 percent) and Interros owner Vladimir Potanin (28 percent). Last July, while serving as the prime minister, Putin also voiced his hope that a quick resolution would be found to the conflict. Norilsk Nickel is the world's largest producer of nickel, palladium, cobalt, copper and rhodium. According to Vedomosti's unnamed Kremlin sources, Putin's administration has developed a plan of a settlement, which includes the sale by one or both shareholders of their shares.

Russian Anti-Fascist Prosecuted for "Inciting Hatred" against Skinheads

Investigators in Vladimir, Russia, instituted criminal proceedings against a Moscovite who is charged with "inciting hatred against a social group." According to investigators, the suspect, being a member of an informal anti-Nazi group "Antifa", publicly displayed in a Vladimir cafe a video "containing negative appraisal of nationalist view supporters" and "calling for hostile actions against 'skinheads.'" Investigative actions are being taken "to establish all circumstances of the committed crime." The charges may carry a sentence of up to two years in prison.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Russian Ex-Cops Kidnap, Kill Austrian Lawyer

An Austrian lawyer linked to Russian organized crime was kidnapped and accidentally killed by two former Russian policemen with a criminal record, Kommersant daily reported on Saturday. The body of Erich Rebasso, who went missing in Vienna in late July, was recently unearthed in a forest outside the Austrian capital, the report said. The discovery was made after Russian police detained the two alleged kidnappers on request of their Austrian counterparts, who traced them to Moscow. The suspects, Pavel Vlasov and Alexander Molchanov, served on the police force in the city of Kirov, but were discharged and jailed for fraud and heroin dealing, respectively. Vlasov and Molchanov, who started working for an unidentified crime boss after serving their prison sentences, admitted during questioning that they kidnapped Rebasso.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Russian Company Invests in Asteroid Mining

A Russian investment company, 12BF Global Ventures, has invested millions of dollars into US-based Planetary Resources, a company set up to develop satellite webs for private and government clients, and also to observe and mine asteroids. 12BF Global Ventures's Managing Partner, Ilya Golubovich, confirmed the investment and said that 12BF Global Ventures plans to invest a total of $50 million in the space industry over the next several years. Planetary Resource's latest venture will send robots into space to scout asteroids for precious metals with the hope that by 2015 it will be able to bring gold, platinum, rare earth metals, water and fuel back to Earth.  In addition to replenishing the Earth's precious metals and resources, Planetary Resources hopes the project will make space flights cheaper and quicker by turning icy asteroids into bases for hydrogen fuel production.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Pussy Riot Members Sentenced to Two Years in Jail Each

Three members of a feminist punk band were found guilty on Friday of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for staging an anti-Kremlin protest in a church, in a case that supporters say put President Vladimir Putin's tolerance of dissent on trial. State prosecutors wanted the women from the Pussy Riot group jailed for three years. The judge, Marina Syrova, gave them two years in jail each. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Marina Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, stormed the altar of Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February wearing bright ski masks, tights and short skirts and sang a "punk prayer" urging the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin. "Tolokonnikova, Samutsevich and Alyokhina committed an act of hooliganism, a gross violation of public order showing obvious disrespect for society," the judge said. Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and Samutsevich are educated, middle-class Russians who say their protest was intended to highlight close ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and Putin, not to offend believers. (video)

Former Ukrainian Interior Minister Gets Two More Years in Jail

A court in Kyiv has sentenced Ukraine's former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko to two years in prison in a second case against him. Lutsenko was found guilty on August 17 of ordering the illegal surveillance of suspects while investigating the poisoning of former President Viktor Yushchenko during his presidential campaign in 2004. In February, Lutsenko was found guilty of embezzlement and abuse of office and sentenced to four years in jail. Lutsenko pleaded not guilty in both cases and says the charges are politically motivated.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

WSJ: Punk Band Crashes Russia's Investment Case

Influential U.S. daily, The Wall Street Journal, published an article saying the dubious Pussy Riot trial may harm foreign investments to Russia because its outcome "will say much about how the rule of law currently fares in Russia." "The Pussy Riot case is hardly a sign Russia has changed in an investment-friendly way. The shaky rule of law has been one reason—along with excessive bureaucracy and corruption—why Russia languishes at 120th in the World Bank's index for ease of doing business," the journalist explains. "As its members face up to jail, Pussy Riot might find some consolation if their case hits Mr. Putin where it hurts: financially," the article concludes.

1,200 Illegal Vietnamese Immigrants Busted Sewing Armani Near Moscow

Police discovered some 1,200 Vietnamese in the Moscow region making ​​clothes under famous brand names like Louis Vuitton and Armani in a 6-story building, Russia’s Interior Ministry reported on Thursday. “The production of counterfeit goods was carried out in the town of Ivanteevka in the Moscow region where the illegal migrants were working. The building was secured round the clock by guards and CCTV,” a police statement read. The workers were sewing clothing under the brands of Louis Vuitton, Emporio Armani, Lacoste, and Chanel. According to preliminary information, the amount of damage to brand owners was estimated at more than 30 million rubles ($1 million). During the operation, police confiscated sewing machines, fabric, labels, chevrons, tags and embroidery with the logo of the brands, as well as financial and economic documentation of the illegal activities.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Russia-U.S. Visa Requirements to Be Simplified

Visa requirements between Russia and the United States will be simplified starting September 9, Russia's Foreign Ministry reports. Pursuant to the agreement, the citizens of both countries will be granted multiple entry visas allowing stays for a term of up to six months after each entry. They will be also valid for 36 months after they have been issued. The agreement abolishes the requirement for an official invitation for U.S. citizens visiting Russia. But those applying for a Russian tourist visa will still need to have an accommodation booking confirmation or have a tour operator's confirmation. The document, signed on November 21, 2011, was designed to simplify travel between Russia and the United States and to further develop economic, cultural, scientific and humanitarian ties between the two countries. The agreement was ratified by Russia in late July.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Moët Hennessy Wins $1 Mln Tax Case in Russia

The Moscow Commercial Court has ruled in favor of Моеt Hennessy International's Russian subsidiary Moet Rus by overturning a $1.04 million tax service assessment, including fines, against the company. The penalties were charged against the company following a 2009-2010 audit. Moet Rus appealed the tax service's decision in court. In participial, Moet Rus paid dividends to its Cyprus parent, MHWH Ltd, and, as a tax agent, withheld taxes amounting to five percent. This rate is stipulated by the bilateral agreement between Russia and Cyprus on double taxation. But the tax service ruled that the 15 percent rate applies since Moet Rus allegedly have not proved that MHWH Ltd was based in Cyprus. The court, however, found that the 2008 tax residency certificate from the Cyprus authorities was sufficient grounds to confirm the company's status.

Woman Files Suit after Crash with Medvedev's Motorcade

Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky resident Olga Kuklina, whose car was damaged on July 4 after a collision with a car in Dmitry Medvedev's motorcade, has filed a lawsuit demanding moral damages, Kuklinas attorney, Elena Komleva, told RIA Novosti. Reports indicate the woman pulled over to the curb when she saw the prime minister's motorcade, but that one of the cars suddenly changed direction, hitting Kuklina's car and then ending up in a ditch. The prime minister's press secretary Natalya Timakova said that the car's tire burst, which resulted in the crash. The driver of the car was found to be at fault for the crash. On Wednesday Kuklina filed a lawsuit for 230,000 rubles ($7,258) in moral damages, over and above the already paid 120,000 rubles ($3,787) in insurance payments. (video)

Anonymous Attack Ukrainian Government over Demonoid Shutdown

Members of the Anonymous hacktivist community have attacked websites belonging to the Ukrainian authorities after Demonoid was forced offline. The BitTorrent link tracker's internet service provider (ISP) took it offline after being contacted by law enforcement officers. The US had previously alleged Demonoid was one of the most visited sites used to share pirated content. Many of its visitors are now concerned their activities may be exposed. It has emerged that officers at Ukraine's Division of Economic Crimes acted after being contacted by Interpol. Members of Anonymous subsequently announced plans to attack "those responsible for the interruption." The webpages belonging to the Ukrainian Anti-Piracy Association, the Ukrainian Agency for Copyright and Related Rights, and the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council of Ukraine all became unavailable for a time.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Belarus Journalist Fined for Teddy Bear Photo Session

A court in the Belarusian capital Minsk has ordered Belarus Komsomolskaya Pravda journalist Irina Kozlik to pay a fine in Belarusian rubles equivalent to $360 for holding a teddy bear photo session. Kozlik and photographer Yulia Doroshevich were detained by police outside the Arts Palace in central Minsk on Wednesday while taking photos of teddy bears. They were accused of staging an illegal protest and a protocol of administrative offences was compiled against them. Several Belarusian journalists have participated in different online events and have had their photos taken with teddy bears since July, thus demonstrating their support of journalist Anton Suryapin, who was detained by the Belarusian State Security Committee after publishing photos of teddy bears dropped by Swedish pilots over Minsk on his website at the beginning of July. On July 4 a lightweight civilian airplane operated by Swedish citizens crossed the Belarusian airspace from Lithuania and dropped teddy bears with labels calling for freedom of speech in Belarus over Minsk and Ivenets, a town in the Minsk region. Belarus expelled Sweden's ambassador on 3 August, and withdrew its own envoy to Stockholm. (video)

France, Germany Concerned over Pussy Riot Trial

The French and the German authorities have officially expressed their concern over the Pussy Riot punk rock group's trial in the Khamovnichesky District Court. The statements of concern were made by the German government and the French parliament. On February 21, five girls wearing brightly colored masks stormed the altar of downtown Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral to perform a protest song. A video of their performance was posted on the Internet and incited a public uproar.  The prosecution has requested three years of imprisonment for each defendant. Their sentence will be announced on August 17. "The federal government is convinced that Russia can modernize over a continuous time period only with an open and versatile society," German Deputy Spokesman Georg Streiter said. Additionally, 121 deputies from all of Germany's parliamentary factions sent a joint letter of support for the Pussy Riot band members to Russian Ambassador in Germany Vladimir Grinin. France also supports Germany's stance regarding Pussy Riot's trial. "We share the concern regarding the detention terms and the course of the trial against the group's members," Deputy Foreign Minister Vincent Floreani said.

Putin: Russia Had Prepared for Georgia War

President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia did have a contingency plan for its 2008 war with Georgia and had even trained militiamen in the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Putin's confession immediately led Georgia to accuse the Kremlin of starting the brief but bloody war on 2008. Speaking on the fourth anniversary of the war, Putin said he had approved the contingency plan to counter a possible attack from Georgia months before the conflict broke out. "There was a plan, it's no secret in my opinion," Putin said at the Kremlin in televised remarks. "It's within the framework of this plan that the Russian side acted. It was prepared by the General Staff at the end of 2006 or the beginning of 2007." "It was approved by me, agreed with me," said Putin. "Moreover, within the framework of this plan the training was conducted of South Ossetian militiamen," he said, adding that the men proved very helpful during the conflict. Putin, who at the time served as prime minister after the maximum two consecutive Kremlin terms allowed by the Constitution, said he called Medvedev twice to discuss the conflict. Georgia said Putin's revealing comments proved that the Kremlin was responsible for the conflict. "Such a confession never happened before and it's a paradox that even today some people are arguing about who was the aggressor," the head of Georgia's National Security Council, Giga Bokeria, told journalists. The two neighbours clashed when President Mikheil Saakashvili's military attempt to reassert control over Moscow-backed South Ossetia was crushed by Russian troops who pushed deep into Georgian territory. After the war that stunned the West, Russia recognised South Ossetia and the fellow Georgian rebel region of Abkhazia as independent, a move that has been followed by only a handful of other far-flung states.

Ukraine President Passes Russian Language Bill

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich on Wednesday signed into law a bill which will make Russian the official language in parts of the former Soviet republic, angering opponents who warn it risks splitting the country. Yanukovich's Regions rushed the language bill through parliament last month in what opponents saw as an attempt to rally flagging public support in Russian-speaking regions ahead of the October vote. The move led to street protests in the capital Kiev and brawls in parliament as the opposition, which fears it will lead to the status of Ukrainian as the state language being eroded, fought to block it. (video)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Russian Court Cuts Yukos' Platon Lebedev's Sentence

A court in the Arkhangelsk region reduced the sentence of former YUKOS top manager Platon Lebedev by three years and four months. Accordingly, he is to be released in February, 2013. Lebedev was serving a total of 13 years for tax evasion and embezzlement related to the former Yukos oil company, which he ran with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was convicted alongside him. Earlier, the prosecution agreed it was necessary to requalify Lebedev's offenses in line with a new provision of the Russian Criminal Code which reduced the punishment for his offenses.

Syrian Rebels Kill "Russian General"

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) claimed responsibility on Wednesday for the killing of a "Russian general" in Syria who was working as a consultant to the Syrian defense minister and head of general staff of military affairs, it said in an announcement aired by Al Arabiya. FSA said the killing of the general, Vladmir Petrovic Kojaiv, along his private translator, Ahmed Aiq, was evidence that Russia was embroiled in the Syrian crisis. However, an unnamed Russian Defense Minister official said to RIA news agency that there was no such general in the Russian army. The source suggested this might be a retired officer or else an officer from another post-USSR country. (video)

UPDATE: Retired General Kuzheyev denies being killed in Syria

Madonna Backs Pussy Riot

Madonna urged the release of the three members of Russian protest group Pussy Riot at a concert last night night, making her the highest-profile international star to come out in support of the feminist trio, who are on trial for carrying out a “punk prayer” in a Moscow cathedral. The U.S. singer told fans at Moscow’s Olimpiysky Stadium that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alekhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, had acted bravely in performing the “prayer”, which called on the Virgin Mary to “drive out” President Vladimir Putin. Earlier in the day, a federal prosecutor had demanded Tolokonnikova, Alekhina and Samutsevich be jailed for three years for “abusing God” during the cathedral performance in February. The defendants were charged with "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred." (video)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hungarian Natural Gas Trader Sale Dispute Reaches Moscow Commercial Court

Russian company Rosgaz is demanding that the decision of the International Commercial Arbitration Court at the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICAC) which invalidated the sale of Hungaria's major gas trader Emfesz be nullified. The Moscow Commercial Court is set to hear the Rosgaz suit against Cyprus’ Mabofi Holdings Limited on September 18. According to the plaintiff, ICAC decision was rendered with procedural violations. The sale of Emfesz to Switzerland’s Rosgas A.G. for a symbolic price of $1 was completed in 2009. On March 15, ICAC found that the sale of the trader’s shares was illegal.

Navalny Finds Bugs in His Office

Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny says listening devices and even a video camera were found in his office in Moscow. The opposition blogger said after finding the "bug" in his office he telephoned police who found two microphones, a radio transmitter, a camera, and a battery to run the equipment. Navalny posted a video of what he claimed were some of the devices found in his office. It is not immediately clear who had installed the bug. (video)

Expert Whose Findings Led to Pussy Riot Charges Won't Testify

Judge Marina Syrova on the sixth day of the Pussy Riot trial dismissed punk rock collective Pussy Riot’s motion to call to the stand an expert whose conclusions have served as the basis for charges against them. The defense submitted a motion to call Igor Ponkin to the stand on Monday. The expert's conclusions about the vulgarity of their protest in the Christ the Savior Cathedral have been used as the basis of charges against them. According to attorney Violetta Volkova, experts constantly say that the punk prayer was directed against Orthodox believers, but they do not provide any grounds for their conclusions about the protest's vulgarity.

Navalny's High-Profile Rosneft Lawsuit Dismissed

The Ninth Commercial Court of Appeals has upheld the Moscow Commercial Court’s decision dismissing Rosneft minority shareholder Alexei Navalny’s lawsuit over the production of company documents. Thus, the court has dismissed his appeal and the first instance court's ruling has come into effect. The dispute over whether Rosneft should provide Navalny with the meeting minutes has passed through courts in three instances and has continued for more than two years. Navalny filed the lawsuit because he believed the contracts were not on an arm's length basis.

Blogger Who Criticized Russian Orthodox Church Seeks Refuge in Estonia

Russian blogger Maxim Yefimov asked the Estonian authorities to grant him temporary political refuge. Earlier, a criminal case was opened against him for "inciting hatred and animosity against the clergy." In late July, Yefimov wrote in his LiveJournal blog that he has left Russia. The case against him was opened after he published his article, “Karelia Tired of Priests.” He wrote that anti-church moods were becoming stronger in Russian region Karelia’s capital due to the construction of Orthodox churches using budget funds.

Russia’s Supreme Court Orders Review of Khodorkovsky Conviction

Russia’s highest court on Tuesday ordered a review of the second conviction of jailed former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev, Dow Jones Newswires reported. The decision by Supreme Court Chairman Vyacheslav Lebedev overturned an earlier ruling in May by the same court that upheld their 2010 convictions for embezzlement and money laundering charges in a politically-tinged trial. The case heads back to the Moscow City Court for review.

Anti-Putin Activist Navalny Faces 10 Years For Embezzlement

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny faces as much as 10 years in jail after being charged with embezzlement, marking an escalation in President Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on the biggest unrest of his 12-year rule. The Investigative Committee increased the severity of the charges against Navalny, accusing him of defrauding a state timber company of 16 million rubles ($496,000) in the Kirov region, the agency said on its website today. Navalny, 36, an anti-corruption activist who helped organize mass protests against Putin, previously risked a maximum sentence of five years for causing a 1.3 million-ruble loss to the firm. Navalny was barred from leaving Russia by investigators, who said that two more people linked to the case will soon be charged. The accusations are “astonishing,” Navalny said on his blog.