Saturday, March 30, 2013

350 Kilos of Cash Seized at Moscow Airport

About half a billion rubles and several firearms have been seized at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport. SWAT teams busted twenty people during the raid on an international money laundering ring. As several undistinguished men were loading their truck, a SWAT team ambushed them shouting “all to the ground”. The driver of the van tried to escape, but the police shot the tires and broke his windows. Soon, the men were lined up against a wall, handcuffed. The people arrested were members of a Caucasian cash laundering gang that tried to smuggle more than 400 million rubles (about $13 million) and several firearms into the country, according to the press-service of the Interior Ministry of Russia. The inter-regional criminal gang carried out their operations in the Caucasus region of Russia, the ministry explained. “More than 100 billion rubles (about $3.2 billion) were extracted by the gang during their money laundering operations from the shadow sector of the Russian economy” said the Interior Ministry of Russia as quoted by RIA Novosti news agency. (video)

Friday, March 29, 2013

Medvedev's Spokesperson: "He Is Not Dimon for You!"

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's press secretary Natalia Timakova said in an interview that Medvedev gets "distressed" by rudeness of some web users, such as those who call him by a diminutive version of his name. "I don't understand the people who write, e.g. on Facebook, 'Wow Dimon you are cool!'" Timakova stated. "He is not Dimon for you! He is the head of the government! Not necessarily Dmitry Anatolyevich, but would you please call him Dmitry at least...? This is just a matter of good manners," Medvedev's press secretary complained. An hour after a transcript of her interview was published on Thursday, #Dimon and #Don’tCryDimon began trending on Russian Twitter. (video; see at 29:00)

Navalny Publishes Materials of Criminal Case against Him

Russian opposition figure and anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny published the materials of a criminal case against him that recently was submitted to court. The case, in which investigators say Navalny defrauded the Kirov region of 16 million rubles ($520,000) by stealing 10,000 cubic meters of timber in 2009, was submitted to the Leninsky district court. Navalny published the indictment document and all accounting documents of the commercial company in question (Navalny is nether a shareholder nor officer in it, though) inviting any interested expert to certify the absurdity of the charges. According to Navalny, the company bought the timber in question for 15.5 mln rubles (and paid for it) and then sold it for 17 mln rubles.

US: Russia Launches "Witchhunt" on NGOs

The United States expressed concern Thursday that a series of raids on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Russia could become a “witch hunt.” “The United States is deeply concerned by the unprecedented wave of inspections on nongovernmental organizations and civil society groups across Russia,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing Thursday. The crackdown “appears to be aimed at undermining civil society” in Russia, and the US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, has met with officials in Moscow in recent days to make Washington’s views on the issue known, Nuland added. As many as 2,000 NGOs across Russia have been raided by prosecutors and other officials in the past month. Many NGO activists have complained of unexpected and time-consuming raids, and activists have condemned the inspections as a form of intimidation.

Russia Probes Case of Adoptee Who Lived on US Streets

Russia has asked the US State Department to look into the circumstances surrounding a teenage Russian adoptee who says he returned to his country of birth after being kicked out of the house by the American couple that adopted him, the Russian Embassy in Washington said Thursday. Joshua Alexander Salotti, 18, was living on the streets for several months in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, due to a conflict with his adoptive parents before deciding to return to Cheboksary, the Volga River city where he was born, according to members of his American family and interviews he gave to Russian media this week. A State Department official told RIA Novosti on Thursday that the agency is “working to facilitate communication between the Russian Embassy and the appropriate local officials” regarding the case. “Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment,” the official said.

Russian Account Holders to Sue Cyprus

Some Russian bank account holders intend to sue Cypriot authorities over the bailout decision which will strip people of a substantial part of their savings, Andreas Sofokleous, the founder and managing partner of the Andreas Sofokleous & Co. law firm, told RIA Novosti. "Our defense attorneys are drafting complaints to courts to protect our clients' interests," Mr. Sofokleous said, adding that he is not sure how likely they are to win. "There is a chance, but the Cypriot judicial system is very slow. We will see the outcome in 5-6 years time," he said.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sweden's Tele2 Exits Russian Mobile Market

Nordic telecoms company Tele2 said on Wednesday it would sell its Russian operations to bank Russia's VTB Group in a $3.5 billion deal. Meanwhile, Alfa Group, owned by Russian tycoon Mikhail Fridman, became embroiled in a battle. A1, Alfa Group’s investment vehicle, said on Thursday it would challenge a deal by state-owned VTB to acquire 100 percent of Tele2 Russia, claiming the transaction runs counter to the interests of minority shareholders at Tele2 and the Kinnevik investment company that controls the Swedish telecoms holding. The deal has not yet been closed. A1 also said it was ready to immediately present an offer “to buy 100 percent of Tele2 Russia at a price ranging from $3.6 billion to $4 billion, all payable in cash.” Tele2 was quick to respond to A1’s statement. “I have just read this statement [by A1] and would like to say that we are very pleased with our deal with VTB, which we think is a very strong deal,” Tele2 spokesman Lars Torstensson said.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

FAS Penalizes Firm for Advertisement that is Offensive to Bread

The Federal Antimonopoly Service has fined a Kostroma taxi firm for an advertisement that is offensive to bread.  According to the FAS, the firm's commercial -- which states that if you make five typos in the word bread, you get taxi -- is "offensive" under Article 5, Part 6 of the federal law "On Adversiting" because bread has a sacred meaning to the Russian people, and may, in fact, be considered a strategic product.  The FAS imposed an administrative fine of 4,000 rubles (approximately $130) in connection with the advertisement.

Kyrgyz Ex-President's Son Sentenced in Absentia to 25 Years in Jail

A Kyrgyz court has sentenced former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's son Maxim Bakiyev to 25 years in prison for corruption in absentia, the Kyrgyz Prosecutor General's Office reported in a statement on Wednesday. In April 2010, Kurmanbek Bakiyev - who came to power following the 2005 Tulip Revolution - was ousted in a coup. Kurmanbek Bakiyev and his brother Janysh, who were placed on the international wanted list, were sentenced in February in absentia to lengthy prison terms for killing their political opponents. Meanwhile, prosecutors state that Maxim Bakiyev was involved in corruption. The actions resulted in damages of over 300 million som (about $7 million) awarded to the Kyrgyz government. In October 2012, Maxim Bakiyev was arrested in London by the law enforcement agencies upon the request of the United States. The U.S. Justice Department has accused Bakiyev of conspiring in securities fraud and the obstruction of justice. A London court has released him on bail. Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan seeks Maxim Bakieyv's extradition.

Russia Slams Arab League’s Decision to Arm Syrian Rebels

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that the Arab League’s decision to allow its members to supply Syrian opposition forces with weapons broke international laws. “As far as international law is concerned, the league’s decisions on Syria are illegal and baseless, because the government of the Syrian Arab Republic remains a legitimate representative of this UN member state,” the ministry said in a statement posted on its website.

Pig DNA Found in Halal Meat in Moscow

Pig DNA has been found in sausages and ham produced at a halal meat processing plant in Moscow, fresh testing results revealed Wednesday, although this does not necessarily mean that the products actually contain pork, a spokesman for the institute that conducted the tests said. (Halal means meat prepared as prescribed by Muslim law.) “The DNA traces that have been discovered may be a result of contact with raw meat consisting of pork or pork products,” said Boris Gutnik of the Gorbatov All-Russian Meat Research Institute. Gutnik called for checks to be conducted at the slaughterhouses, saying that if cattle were slaughtered in the same place as pigs, that could explain the presence of the pig DNA in the halal products. The institute spokesman said that all the facilities and equipment that Moscow’s Tsaritsino meat processing plant uses to produce halal meat are “completely separate from other processes.” Moscow’s Tsaritsino meat processing plant has been supplying halal meat products to the Russia Mufties Council’s International Center for Halal Standardization and Certification since 2007.

Saakashvili Signs Law Stripping Him of Vital Powers

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili signed amendments to the country’s Constitution on Wednesday, which reduce his authority and tip the balance of power toward the prime minister. The Georgian parliament passed the amendments, which include stripping the president of the right to appoint or dismiss the government without parliamentary approval, on March 25. “Today [on Wednesday] the Georgian president signed amendments to the Constitution; they will be published and will come into force later today,” Parliament Speaker David Usupashvili said. The signing marks a new victory for billionaire Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose Georgian Dream coalition has been locked in a power struggle with Saakashvili's United National Movement after winning the parliamentary elections last October.

Russian Investigators: FSB Officers On Strike Are "Fictitious Characters"

The officers of the Federal Security Service's main directorate featured in a controversial Novaya Gazeta report this week for their protest against the release of Chechen policemen accused of kidnapping are "fictional characters," the Investigative Committee said. Vladimir Markin, the committee's official spokesman, said on Monday that the FSB was never involved in the criminal case involving policemen — who were accused of kidnapping and torturing a man in Moscow — and that the whole investigation was conducted by police in strict adherence with the law. The case involves several Chechen police officers from Kadyrov's protective unit accused of kidnapping, extortion and torture who were released under pledge not to leave town in mid-March. In August 2011, the suspects allegedly kidnapped a man in Moscow, took him to a private house in the Moscow region and beat him for several days, demanding money. The man was later dumped onto a sideroad, but he survived and went to the police. Eleven Chechens were later detained over the incident and some of them were believed to be personal bodyguards to Kadyrov. On March 25, 2013, Novaya Gazeta published an article about the men's early release, with FSB officers who spoke on condition of anonymity declaring a strike over the release. In the Investigative Committee's official statement, however, Markin said the suspects were released simply because the investigation was over, suggesting there was no behind-the-scenes manipulation to get them out early. (photo: Chechen policemen)

Putin's Security Row with South African Guards

A scandalous incident was barely averted at the BRICS summit in South Africa as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s guards had a row with local security officers, who refused to let them into the building. While President Putin and his counterpart South African President Jacob Zuma were securing important deals, friendship and cooperation were nowhere to be seen on the sidelines of the summit. The South African security officers guarding the meeting apparently took their task extremely seriously, cutting off Putin’s security team at the entrance and ordering them out. In a video shot by journalists outside, Putin enters the building with his Russian security guards following him, but shortly afterwards a South African guard wearing a military uniform prevented several Russian guards from entering. At first, the Russians tried to resist, explaining that they were “the Russian delegation,” but the South African guard shouted “Out! Out!” After a brief skirmish the Russian guards withdrew. Commenting on the incident, Russian presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that the incident was the hosts’ fault, and that the summit was not as well organized as was expected. South African security guards also reportedly behaved harshly towards Russian diplomats, regularly closing doors in front of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other members of the Russian delegation. (video)

Abramovich, RBC May Settle False Report Dispute Out of Court

Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich could settle a dispute with RBC Media group over its false report on Monday of the Chelsea football club owner’s arrest in the United States out of court, his spokesman said Tuesday. Spokesman John Mann said he discussed the possible solution with RBC TV Director General Alexander Lyubimov during a phone conversation. “We are trying to settle the issue peacefully,” he said, adding that a final decision has not yet been taken. Shares of Russian metals giant Norilsk Nickel and steel maker Evraz, which Abramovich co-owns, plunged to a four-month low on Monday afternoon in Moscow and London in response to rumors that Abramovich had been detained in the United States by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). RBC said Abramovich was detained at the request of Britain's MI6 and questioned as part of the investigation into Boris Berezovsky’s death, and was later released. The report was confirmed by a former head of the Atoll private security firm, Sergei Sokolov, who cited his own source at MI6. An FBI spokeswoman in Washington confirmed by telephone that Abramovich had neither been arrested nor detained, though she would not say whether he had been questioned.

Russia's Supreme Court Approves Year-Round Summer Time

Russia’s Supreme Court rejected on Tuesday an appeal to scrap the year-round summer time pattern established by the government in 2011, a RIA Novosti correspondent reported from the courtroom. The complaint had been filed by the League for Defense of Patients, which claimed the government's decision does not comply with Russian and international laws and negatively affects citizens' lives, health and recreation habits. Government officials and a state prosecutor, who attended the court session, asked the judges to reject the complaint as baseless. Alexander Saversky, head of the League for Defense of Patients, said after the court session that he and his colleagues would appeal the Supreme Court’s decision. “I simply tried to defend the right of citizens and children to normal sleep,” the plaintiff said.

HSBC Shuts Russia’s Hermitage Capital Fund

HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA) is closing Hermitage Capital Management Ltd.’s flagship Russia fund just as its co-founder, William Browder, is being sued for libel in London and tried in absentia for tax evasion in Moscow. “It was too small to continue as a viable concern,” Browder, 48, said by phone yesterday from London, where he’s based. Browder said the closing is “completely” in the hands of HSBC, which is the trustee and manager of the fund. The Hermitage Fund, which Browder started in 1996 with the late billionaire Edmond Safra, was the largest foreign owner of Russian shares when it peaked at more than $4 billion in 2005, according to Browder. Russia that year barred Browder from the country without explanation, triggering years of legal conflict, including over the 2009 death of Hermitage adviser Sergei Magnitsky while he was in pretrial detention in Moscow.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Another Russian MP Resigns after Navalny Expose

Vitaly Malkin has resigned his senate seat in the Russian Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, amid allegations that he violated legal restrictions on lawmakers. Malkin came under scrutiny after anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny wrote that Malkin had Israeli citizenship, which would violate laws against Russian lawmakers having dual citizenship. Navalny also reported that Malkin owned real estate abroad that did not appear on his financial-disclosure forms. Malkin admitted he had Israeli citizenship but said he renounced it in 2007. Since the initial accusations became public, other allegations have been made in the Russian media about Malkin's finances, his possible French citizenship, and an alleged attempt to receive Canadian citizenship in the 1990s. Malkin has represented the Buryatia region in the Federation Council since 2004. His resignation is due to be debated in the Federation Council on March 27. (video)

2 Km of Rail Track Stolen in Moscow Region

Unidentified criminals have stolen over two kilometers of railroad track in the Moscow Region, transport prosecutors reported on Tuesday. The theft has caused damage worth over 1.6 million rubles ($52,000), prosecutors said. The tracks were taken from between the stations of Sazonovo and Pilevo east of Moscow. The railroad there was formerly used to transport cargos of peat, but has been abandoned for the past several years. A criminal case has been opened on theft charges. The perpetrators face up to ten years in prison if found and convicted.

UK Police: Berezovsky’s Death Consistent with Hanging

An autopsy has established that the cause of death of self-exiled Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky was consistent with hanging, but no signs of violent death were found, police said on Tuesday. “The results of the post-mortem examination, carried out by a Home Office pathologist, have found the cause of death is consistent with hanging. The pathologist has found nothing to indicate a violent struggle,” a statement by the Thames Valley Police reads. “Further tests will now be carried out, including toxicology and histology examinations, the results of which are likely to take several weeks.” Since 2000, the Russian businessman had resided in the United Kingdom, where he died on Saturday at the age of 67.

Norilsk Nickel Stock Plunges on Rumors of Abramovich Arrest

Shares in Russian metals giant Norilsk Nickel and steel maker Evraz plunged to a four-month low in Monday afternoon trading in Moscow and London on rumors that tycoon Roman Abramovich had been detained in the United States by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Norilsk Nickel shares fell by 2.3 percent. Rumors of the arrest were swiftly scotched by Abramovich’s spokesman. An FBI spokeswoman in Washington confirmed by telephone that Abramovich had not been either arrested or detained, though she would not say whether he had been questioned. Following denial of the arrest, Norilsk Nickel bounced back slightly. Rumors of the arrest were originally reported by Russia's RBK TV about an hour before the Moscow Exchange closed.

Opposition Challenges Results of Russian Resort Mayor Polls

An opposition party sought to declare invalid polls in the southern Russian resort city of Anapa, overwhelmingly won by a United Russia candidate. According to early results, United Russia’s Sergei Sergeyev won the polls receiving about 84 percent of the vote. His opponents - Viktor Tyurin of the Communist Party and Alexei Egorov of the liberal opposition Yabloko party scored about 4 and 3.5 percent, respectively. The remaining seven candidates received less than two percent. The turnout was about 34.6 percent. Yabloko leader Sergei Mitrokhin requested Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir Churov to cancel the results of the vote, citing numerous violations. "The number of ballot stuffing incidents registered by observers demonstrates that the true will of the voters cannot be established,” the Yabloko party said in a statement. “The information about all instances of electoral fraud has been sent to the Central Election Commission.” A spokesman for a local electoral commission earlier said that a number of complaints from members of various parties has been lodged with regional electoral authorities, but did not comment on the number of those complaints or their nature. (video)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Russia Probes $1 Mln Space Forces Fraud

Military prosecutors are investigating the suspected embezzlement of over 30 million rubles (about $1 million) at the Space Defense Forces (SDF), the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office said on Monday. Eighteen months ago, substandard equipment that showed signs of repair and included components manufactured over 20 years ago was presented as new and delivered to an SDF unit under a state contract, the office said. A criminal case has been opened on fraud charges. The revelation is the latest in a recent string of scandals at the Defense Ministry involving suspected fraud. Several people employed by the Oboronservis defense property services company were arrested late last year on suspicion of fraud totaling over 13 billion rubles ($430 million) involving the illegal sale of ministry property. Former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov resigned over that scandal in November. The Russian Federal Defense Contracts Service (Rosoboronzakaz) said last Friday that about 1,500 violations and infractions were uncovered in Russia's state defense spending in 2012, involving over 16 billion rubles ($533 million).

Russian Prosecutors Search Amnesty International Office in Moscow

Russian authorities have searched the Moscow headquarters of international rights organization Amnesty International, the latest in a wave of inspections that activists are calling state harassment. Amnesty International's Russia director Sergei Nikitin says Russian prosecutors and tax police conducted an unannounced audit of the office on Monday, requesting documents that he says the government already has on file. The raid comes after prosecutors searched the offices of dozens of non-governmental organizations in Moscow in the last several weeks, including Memorial, one of Russia's oldest human rights groups. A law signed by President Vladimir Putin last July requires NGOs that receive overseas financial support and that engage in "political activity" to register with the Justice Minister as "foreign agents." Critics say the law is designed to intimidate Kremlin opponents.

Lawsuit against Hijab Ban in Russia's Stavropol Schools Rejected

The Stavropol Territorial Court has rejected a lawsuit against the ban on wearing headdresses to school, including the hijab, a Moscow lawyer said on Friday. Lawyer Murad Musayev filed the lawsuit on behalf of the region's Muslim people, who seek to annul the new school uniform requirements introduced last September. "The court has rejected our lawsuit," he said. "I believe this ruling was politically motivated." He added that he plans to appeal the decision. The uniform requirements prohibit schoolchildren from wearing brightly colored clothes, trousers and skirts with a low waistline or high slits, veils, accessories featuring informal youth group symbols, and religious clothing. There are 20 million Muslims in Russia. Most live in the North Caucasus, as well as in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.

Russian Tycoon Berezovsky Dies in London

Self-exiled Russian businessman and Kremlin critic Boris Berezovsky has died in his Surrey home at the age of 67. The precise cause of his death is not yet known. British police opened an investigation and are treating Berezovsky’s death as “unexplained” for now. Under President Boris Yeltsin, Boris Berezovsky had been known as Russia’s “kingmaker.” He was a trusted figure at the very heart of the Kremlin and was central to Vladimir Putin’s rise to power in the late 1990s. After Putin took office, however, Berezovsky’s relationship with the Kremlin quickly soured. In 2001, he fled to France and then on to the UK. The Russian authorities issued an arrest warrant for him the following year on charges of money-laundering and illegal business activity. In January 2004, British media reported UK Home Office confirmation that he had been granted political asylum in the country and issued a UK passport in the name of Platon Elenin. President Putin has been informed of Berezovsky's death, the president's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Russia 24 TV network. Peskov also said that Berezovsky had written to Putin “perhaps a couple of months ago,” asking forgiveness for the mistakes he had made and “requesting permission to return to the motherland.” Experts in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear emergencies conducting a search at the British property where Berezovsky was found dead gave the scene the "all clear."

Friday, March 22, 2013

Russia Refuses to Rescue Cyprus

Talks between Russia and Cyprus on Moscow’s possible bailout of the island nation’s economy have ended, with Russian investors rejecting Cypriot proposals, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said on Friday. “The final round of talks took place yesterday. The talks have ended,” Siluanov told journalists, adding that Russian investors “demonstrated no interest” in Cypriot proposals. Cyprus had offered Russia – which holds between one third and half of the island's bank deposits – investments in its national banks and gas projects in return for financial aid. It remained unclear if Sarris had managed to persuade Russia to extend an existing 2.5-billion euro ($3.2-billion) loan.

Microsoft, Skype Disclose Law Enforcement Request Stats

US tech giant Microsoft disclosed that it and its main video chat service Skype received more than 75,000 requests last year from government law enforcement agencies in the United States and other countries to provide customer user data. Microsoft and Skype had received in 2012 a total of 75,378 “criminal law enforcement requests” for customer information, which potentially impacted 137,424 accounts. Approximately 80 percent of the information provided to governmental agencies was “non-content data,” which includes only information like usernames, e-mail addresses, gender, geographic location, IP addresses, and dates and times of online traffic. Only 2.1 percent—1,558 requests—resulted in the disclosure of customer content, Microsoft said. In particular, judging by the statistics, in 2012 Microsoft received no requests from Russia, while Skype received from Russia two requests concerning five accounts, but in no case did Russian requests result in the disclosure of content.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Medvedev Proposes Offshore Zone in Russia's Far East

With Cyprus caught in a financial crisis, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has proposed creating an offshore zone in Russia's Far East. "The entire world is now talking about Cyprus. Offshore zone or not, they will sort it out sooner or later and the solution will be reasonable and forward-looking. But since there is so much turmoil going on, maybe we should think about creating a zone of some kind in the Far East. There are many suitable areas. Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands. We could transfer the money that is currently deposited in Cyprus and other areas that have not been mentioned for obvious reasons, such as BVI, the Bahamas and so on," Medvedev said at a Government meeting. He stressed that there are certain risks implied as "everyone would be registering in this country" but it is a matter of legislation. At any rate, the prime minister expects new development mechanisms to appear for Russia's Far East. "I expect all government members to give it a thought," Medvedev said. (video)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Russia Launches Criminal Probe into US Death of Adopted Boy

Local authorities in Russia's Pskov Region have launched a criminal investigation into the alleged negligence in the processing of adoption documents of Maxim Kuzmin (renamed Max Alan Shatto), whose recent death in the US provoked an enormous outcry in his home country, the Investigative Committee reported Tuesday. "The social services failed to provide full information on the biological parents of the boys (Maxim and his brother) to the court that was considering his adoption by US parents," the committee said in a statement. Specifically, according to the committee, one of the children's grandmothers was interested in remaining in touch with and visiting the boys, but this information was not relayed to the court. Investigators will also assess the actions of the officials who were responsible for checking the documents that refused to grant custody of the child to the relatives of their biological parents, or to search for adoptive parents in Russia. Children's Rights Commissioner Pavel Astakhov announced the death of the boy on February 18. He tweeted that the child had been given powerful "psychotropic substances," and he was badly beaten before he died in a hospital on January 21. On March 1, the Texas authorities announced that the boy's death was not criminal based on the autopsy results. The four doctors who reviewed the results ruled the death accidental.

London Court Gives Kazakh Bank Rights to Russian Port

The London High Court ruled on Tuesday that Cypriot company Usarel Investment Ltd must hand over its share in Vitino Port on the White Sea to Kazakhstan's BTA Bank. The ruling was one of several made as part of the lawsuit filed by BTA against its former top managers. In 2009, BTA filed a suit on the alleged embezzlement of $6 billion by its former top managers in a London court. In May 2011, the court accepted the bank's complaints against former board chairman Mukhtar Ablyazov; later it ruled to detain Ablyazov for 22 months and deprived him of the right to defend his interests. However, Ablyazov disappeared and his current whereabouts are unknown. According to the case materials, Cypriot firm Usarel and Danish Chrysopa Holding BV are shell companies, which took out a $120 million loan from BTA in 2008 for buying Vitino Port on the White Sea. The London court has decided that Usarel, to which Chrysopa reassigned the loan, must turn over its stake in the White Sea Group to the Kazakh bank, with the exception of the stake which it bought with the funds provided by the companies of the Moscow-based oil trader Rusneftekhim. Usarel bought Vitino Port from Nitek on August 8, 2008 for around $125.9 million.

Russian, Cypriot Presidents Discuss Deposit Tax Crisis

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades discussed the economic situation in Cyprus after Cypriot lawmakers rejected the Eurogroup’s bailout proposals, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “During a telephone conversation, the heads of state analyzed the economic situation in Cyprus in light of the Eurogroup’s bailout proposals,” Peskov said late on Tuesday, adding that the talks were initiated by the Cypriot president who informed Putin about the parliament’s decision. Parliament in Cyprus on Tuesday rejected a government bill that envisioned a levy of 6.75 percent on deposits of less than 100,000 euros ($128,950) and 9.9 percent on larger deposits aimed at securing a European Union bailout loan. Putin reiterated his concern about “any measures that could harm the interests of Russian businesses or individuals [in Cyprus].” Russian banks are heavily exposed to Cyprus risk as they had around $12 billion on deposit with Cypriot banks at the end of last year, with Russian corporate deposits accounting for another $19 billion, according to estimates by Moody’s international rating agency. "Putin reaffirmed Russia's position on the settlement of the Cyprus crisis," Peskov said.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Magnitsky Death Case Closed

The criminal case into the death of Sergey Magnitsky, a lawyer for Hermitage Capital, has been closed for “the absence of a crime,” Russia’s Investigative Committee announced. The investigation revealed that the criminal prosecution of Magnitsky was conducted on legal grounds, that his detention was in accordance with Russia’s legal norms and that he was not subjected to violence or torture while in detention, the committee said in a statement. The case was initiated shortly after Magnitsky died in a Moscow detention center in November 2009. Meanwhile, the posthumous criminal case against Magnitsky himself continues.

Protesters Detained on Russia's Red Square

Russian police said they detained 14 people on Red Square outside the Kremlin on Monday after protesters unfurled a banner bearing a crude slogan and set off smoke bombs. The activists were protesting against legislation initiated by President Vladimir Putin that would increase punishments for violating rules requiring Russians to register their place of residence with the authorities. Photos on the Internet showed a line of activists, the red brick Kremlin wall behind them, holding a long black banner with an expletive referring to the legislation, which critics see as a restriction on freedom of movement. Moscow police said 14 people were detained "for trying to hold an unsanctioned demonstration in the central part of the city", state-run News agency RIA reported. (video)

Monday, March 18, 2013

FAS Publishes 2012 Investigative Activity

Russia's Federal Anti-Monopoly service has published its 2012 report on number and types of anti-monopoly applications, investigations and decisions initiated and issued in the last year.  Out of a total of 27,347 applications filed with the FAS, a vast majority -- 16,200 complaints -- dealt with Article 10 of Federal Law 135-FZ "On the Protection of Competition" (abuse of dominant position), with another 4,000 complaints addressing Article 15 (unfair competition due to action (or inaction) of government entities) and 2,000 complaints addressing Article 14 (private unfair competition).  The remaining complaints dealt with Article 11 (conspiracies among competitors), Article 16 (conspiracies among government entities), Article 17, 18, and 19 (state and municipal contracts), and Article 34 (consent for action by the FAS).  Among the 27,000-plus complaints filed, the FAS initiated action in just over 10,000 cases (37% of complaints filed), and issued a decision (typically including warnings and/or fines) in 8,173 cases (just under 30% of complaints filed). By comparison, in 2011 the FAS initiated action on 42% of total complaints, and issued decisions on 33% of complaints filed.  The FAS also reported that its consideration of pre and post-merger activity (in compliance with the Federal Law 135-FZ and the Federal Law on Natural Monopolies) has declined significantly from 13,278 notifications and petitions considered in 2009, to just 4,437 notifications and petitions considered in 2012.

FAS to Investigate Gmail for Unfair Competition

Russia's Federal Antimonopoly Service will investigate whether Google is engaging in unfair competition via its e-mail service, Gmail.  According to State Duma deputy, Ilya Kostunov, the FAS investigation has been triggered by user complaints that Google violates the privacy of correspondence of Russian citizens, through tracking software that allows for targeted advertising and marketing.  Kostunov said that although other internet providers collect information on users, they do not read private correspondence.  Sergey Kopylov, the head of the legal department for the "Internet Technical Center" questions whether Google's practices also violate Article 138 of the Criminal Code which makes it a crime to invade "the secrecy of correspondence, telephone conversations, postal, telegraph and other messages." Natalya Kaspersky, an information security officer for InfoWatch, admits that Google may be invading users' privacy, but she cautions that no user is forced to use Gmail or other Google services.  Google offers free services, that people voluntarily choose to use, and the more services a person chooses to "opt into", the less privacy a person can expect, says Kaspersky.  The Russian office of Google indirectly confirmed that Gmail software analyzes email content, but said that it no person ever reads email content; rather, an automatic algorithm determines from the email content which ads to show to which users.

Russian Billionaire: Pussy Riot Case Highlights Inefficiency of Russian Justice

In an interview given to the Financial Times Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, chief executive of Rusal, said, in particular, that the Pussy Riot case highlights the inefficiency of Russian justice. Two members of the all-female Pussy Riot band were sentenced to two-year jail terms for singing a protest song against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral. According to Deripaska, if the justice system had “worked properly”, the women would have been sentenced to 15 days’ community service. Instead they were detained for too long, and the system then had to justify itself by putting them on trial. As the businessman puts it, “someone had to cover their ass”. “The Russian law enforcement system is so strong that it will defend itself ’til the last bullet,” explained the billionaire, adding that the Russian FSB security service is now “twice as big” as the Soviet KGB.

Putin: Cyprus Deposit Tax "Unfair"

Russia's President Vladimir Putin called on Monday the proposed Cyprus levy on banking deposits "unfair, unprofessional and dangerous," his spokesman Dmitry Peskov quoted the president as saying. Peskov said that Putin held a special meeting on Monday to discuss developments in the debt-stricken Cyprus. "Assessing the possible decision of imposing additional tax by Cyprus on deposits Putin said that this decision, if taken, would be unfair, unprofessional and dangerous," Peskov told Reuters. A proposal to levy a 6.75% tax on deposits of up to 100,000 euros ($130,738), and 9.9% above that, as part of a euro-zone bailout of Cyprus would be felt sharply by Russian financial institutions and companies which have large footholds on the island. According to Moody's Investors Service estimates, Russian residents and institutions could lose around $2 billion if Cyprus goes ahead with this proposal. Russia's stock markets tumbled Monday on the news, with the Moscow Exchange declining 2.4% by 0848 GMT and the dollar-denominated RTS exchange slipping 3.0%.

Medvedev: New Cyprus tax "looks like confiscation"

Schneerson Library to be Handed Over to Russian Hasids

Books from the so-called Yitzchok Schneerson collection will be handed over to Russian Hasids amid requests by Hasids in the United States to transfer the books into their possession instead, an official said on Thursday. The disputed books will be registered with the Russian State Library, Presidential Commissioner for International Cultural Cooperation Mikhail Shvydkoi said at the Moscow Jewish Center on Thursday. Lubavitcher Rebbe Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson was forced to leave the Soviet Union in 1927. He took his collection with him to Latvia and then Poland, where he left the books after Poland was attacked by Nazi Germany. The collection was taken to Germany and confiscated by the Red Army in 1945. Schneerson died in 1950 without leaving instructions regarding the collection. On January 16, the US District Columbia Court ordered Russia to pay fines of $50,000 per day until it returns the books and manuscripts to American Hasids. Russia's Foreign Ministry described the ruling as unlawful provocation.

Strasbourg Court Will Not Hear Kalmyk Claims of Stalin Repressions

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) announced its refusal Friday to consider the applications it has reviewed so far as filed by members of Russia's Kalmyk population claiming persecution under the Soviet authorities in the 1940s. 2,716 claimants from the Russian Republic of Kalmykia have asserted that they or their family members suffered political persecution during the Soviet era. The Russian government has confirmed that the applicants qualify as victims of political repression, thus entitling them to various benefits under Russian law. Still, the claimants sought damages against the Russian government, an assertion that the Russian courts viewed as baseless. The claimants then turned to the ECHR, claiming that their fair trial and property rights had been violated. According to the press release, "The applicants' complaints were found essentially not to raise any issues under the Convention." In 1943, inhabitants of the Republic of Kalmykia were deported en masse to Siberia after having been accused of treason by Soviet authorities. A year prior, the Soviet Army had liberated its territory from a Nazi occupation. Following the accusations, its residents were rounded up without prior notice and deported to Siberia. The Republic was abolished. The Kalmyks were not granted permission to return to their homeland until 1957.

Russian Legislator Accused of Treason After U.S. Visit

In a striking move to purge the Russian Parliament of even the faintest of contrarian voices, legislative leaders on Friday accused an opposition lawmaker of treason and demanded an ethics investigation, saying that the legislator had used a visit to Washington this month to urge the United States to meddle in Russia’s internal affairs. The lawmaker, Dmitry Gudkov, is one of just two members of the State Duma who are leading supporters of the Russian political opposition and who have participated since December 2011 in the large street protests in Moscow calling for the ouster of President Vladimir V. Putin. Dmitry Gudkov visited the United States this month where he participated in a panel discussion held by Freedom House, a nonprofit pro-democracy group that Russia has called biased and accused of promoting American interests. While Mr. Gudkov made some remarks critical of Mr. Putin’s government and of the Parliament itself, the charges of treason were all the more stunning because Mr. Gudkov went out of his way during his public statement to emphasize that the political opposition was working only in Russia’s interests. He urged the United States to help make that clear to the Russian public as well.

Russian Lawmaker "Threatens" Journalists

Management of Russia’s second most-read daily promised on Saturday to report to prosecutors a prominent pro-Kremlin lawmaker who attacked the newspaper for calling his female colleagues “political prostitutes.” Andrei Isayev, a federal lawmaker with United Russia, tweeted on Friday about “scum” from a “yellow print rag” who attacked three female lawmakers. “We won’t forget, we won’t forgive,” Isayev wrote. “Petty jerks can relax, we don’t care about you. But the actual editor and author will pay hard,” the lawmaker said in another emotional tweet. The article, titled “Sex Change in Political Prostitution,” accused several female pro-Kremlin activists and United Russia lawmakers of sacrificing their convictions for the sake of political career. Moskovsky Komsomolets editor-in-chief Pavel Gusev told RIA Novosti that he will file on Monday a request with the Prosecutor General’s Office, asking it to look into Isayev’s “big threats against journalists.”

Ukraine's Trade Privileges On Line Over Intellectual-Piracy Concerns

Kyiv's checkered track record in the area of intellectual-property protection has once again attracted the attention of the U.S.-based International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIAP), an umbrella organization comprising seven trade associations representing U.S. producers of copyrighted content and materials. Last month, the IIAP called on the U.S. government to designate Ukraine a "priority foreign country" -- the most serious of three categories of countries considered problematic in terms of rights protection. More importantly, the IIAP also called for Washington to suspend Ukraine's trade benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). Such a move could cost Kyiv about $50 million a year. Washington will announce its decision before the end of April.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Russia to Crack Down on Arms Sales Dumping

The Russian Defense Ministry and the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTS) have agreed to join forces to ensure arms delivered to the Russian army and their export variants are sold at the same prices, the FSMTS said on Thursday. The Defense Ministry and the FSMTS will join forces to ensure Russian arms manufacturers maintain competitive pricing policies, and do not sell weapons abroad at dumping prices, the service says. The FSMTS is the state agency which oversees military cooperation with other states. “This cooperation will ensure strict implementation of state pricing policy in the area of arms manufacturing, and will prevent companies from setting export prices lower than those for domestic customers,” the FSMTS said in a statement on its website.

Rebel Russian Lawmakers Expelled from Party

The Fair Russia party has expelled two of its leading members - the father and son Gudkovs - for taking part in the loose bloc of non-parliamentary street opposition. Gennadiy and Dmitry Gudkov were ejected from the party after they failed to respond to a warning issued over a month ago. Fair Russia told them and two more top party members – Ilya Ponomaryov and Oleg Shein – that the four must decide whether to remain in the party or in the semi-formal Opposition Coordination Council that they recently sided with. Dmitry Gudkov currently represents Fair Russia in the Lower House. His father Gennadiy Gudkov was elected to the State Duma in 2011 but lost the seat in September 2012 over allegedly continuing to run his business which is forbidden for Russian parliamentarians. However, even after losing the parliamentary seat, Gudkov senior continued to work in the Fair Russia parliamentary faction. Gudkov senior blamed his ousting on his political stance as he and his son were actively participating in street protests against alleged elections violations and joined the Opposition Coordination Council – the body that represented those who were unhappy with the current political situation, but did not want to side with any political force or propose their own political agenda.

Navalny Exposes Another MP

Federation Council Senator Vitaly Malkin has become the latest lawmaker to be targeted by anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny for unethical behavior, amid mounting speculation that the upper house of parliament would also be hit by resignations. In a blog post Thursday, Navalny published documents showing that Malkin had failed to declare ownership of 111 condominiums in Canada and that he has an Israeli passport (under the name of Avihur Ben Bar). Russian MPs are not allowed to hold foreign citizenship.  A colorful businessman who made a fortune in banking in the 1990s together with current Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, Malkin has been a senator for the remote Siberian republic of Buryatia since 2004. Last summer, Malkin made headlines when he traveled to Washington as part of a group of senators who lobbied Congress against adopting the so-called Magnitsky Act that imposes U.S. sanctions on Russian officials implicated in human rights violations. The speculation about the senator exodus comes on the heels of a string of resignations of State Duma deputies after accusations of either undeclared property or illegal business activity. Five lawmakers have quit the parliament so far, among them the Duma's ethics committee head, Vladimir Pekhtin, who left last month after Navalny published documents showing that he owned luxury real estate in Florida.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Experts: Russian Secret Services Monitor Skype Communications

Russia's special services are now able to listen to private Skype chats and track users' locations. Intelligence services have for years have been monitoring Skype communications, several participants in the Russian information security industry have told Russian newspaper Vedomosti. According to security experts, access to correspondence and Skype conversations within the Russian intelligence community does not always go through the court system – it is often obtained on a “simple request.” After Microsoft acquired Skype in May 2011, it updated its software with a technology allowing “legitimate wiretapping,” an expert told the publication. Since then, any user account can be switched to a special mode in which the encryption keys that were previously generated on a user’s mobile device or computer would be generated on Skype’s server. With access to the server, anyone can listen to the conversation or read the correspondence, including short messages sent to mobile phones. Microsoft provides the opportunity to use this technology to security services all around the world, including Russia, the expert explained.

Skype denies providing access to communications to Russian secret services

Russian Experts: Communists Won 2011 Elections

The announcement of a report casting fresh doubt on the results of Russia’s 2011 parliamentary polls drew a dismissive response from the pro-Kremlin ruling party and the country’s top election official on Wednesday, while also causing a flurry of speculation about motives, as the study reportedly emerged from a think-tank headed by an official close to President Vladimir Putin. “The officially announced results are unreliable. United Russia did not take first place,” Stepan Sulakshin, the author of the Moscow-based Governance and Problem Analysis Center’s report, told the RBK Daily newspaper in comments published late on Tuesday. “The Communist Party took first place.” Sulakshin said the United Russia party had gained 20-25 percent of the vote at the 2011 State Duma polls, compared to the official figure of 49 percent, while the Communists had gained 25-30 percent, significantly more than the 19 percent announced by election officials. The findings were based on mathematical methods. Widespread allegations of vote fraud in favor of then Prime Minister Putin’s United Russia party at the December 4, 2011 parliamentary elections triggered the largest anti-government demonstrations since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

240,000 Russians Dodged Draft in 2012

More than 244,000 draft-age men avoided conscription into Russia’s Armed Forces last year, the General Staff reported on Wednesday. Some 8,794 Russian men received their draft card but did not show up at the recruiment office as required - a criminal offence carrying a prison term of up to two years under Russian law, General Staff senior official Maj. Gen. Viktor Glotov said during a meeting at the Federation Council on Wednesday. In addition, some 235,800 men dodged the draft by avoiding being notified last year, which is an administrative offence in Russia.

Russian MP Refuses to Participate in UK-Based Litvinenko Inquest

Ex-security service officer Andrei Lugovoy, who is now a State Duma lawmaker, will not take part in the UK-based inquest into Alexander Litvinenko’s mysterious death. “I am quitting the coroner's inquest, I will not participate in it any longer,” Lugovoy has told a press conference held in Moscow on Tuesday, adding that he made the decision after the Foreign Office insisted on some of the case records to be classified. Litvinenko, a former KGB agent, fled to the UK in 2000. He died in 2006 shortly after meeting with Lugovoy in London's Millennium Hotel. It was announced soon afterwards that Litvinenko was poisoned with polonium-210 which was found in his body. UK officials claimed that they had sufficient evidence to charge Lugovoy with murdering the former intelligence officer.

Soviet Union Domain Becomes Hacker Haven

The online leak of US celebrities’ and government officials’ private financial details—including first lady Michelle Obama’s—has cast a fresh spotlight on .su, the Soviet Union’s old Internet domain suffix that security experts say has become a haven for cybercriminals two decades after the superpower’s collapse. “It has definitely become a popular domain for cybercriminals, and not just in Russia,” Hemanshu Nigam, a former Justice Department prosecutor who runs the online security advisory firm SSP Blue, told RIA Novosti on Tuesday. The purportedly stolen information was first posted on a website with a .su suffix Monday and included alleged personal and financial details for 17 US celebrities and politicians as of Tuesday afternoon. In particular, the hackers posted Michelle Obama’s Social Security number, phone numbers, mortgage information and credit card details.

Russian Officials' Salaries Doubled

Salaries for staff of the Russian government’s central apparatus have been doubled, as have those for staff of the presidential administration, a Kremlin spokesman said Tuesday in response to a report by a well-known business magazine. Forbes Russia had reported earlier in the day that the wage hike at the government’s so-called apparat – which comprises over 30 subdivisions, including the secretariats of the prime minister and his deputies – took place last fall following a comparable increase in President Vladimir Putin’s administration. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, confirmed to Business FM news radio that salaries at the two loci of executive power had indeed been nearly doubled, saying the rationale was to get the wages closer to those of military and security officials, and also that the raise had to do with an attempt to monetize public servants’ official, non-cash perks.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Russian Busted Smuggling 26,000 Diamonds

A Russian passenger trying to smuggle in 26,000 diamonds was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on his way back from Dubai. “Various gemstones were found during the customs inspection. There were diamonds of different colors and cuts packed in plastic bags," said the press service of the Federal Customs Service of Russia on Monday. The diamonds are worth about 5 million rubles (about US$163,000) according to preliminary estimates in the media. The baggage also contained 249 boxes with iPhone5s and five other devices that were not packed. The man, who appears to be an unemployed 37-year-old Russian citizen, walked down the “nothing to declare” customs lane.

Venice Commission Lambasts Russian Anti-Protest Law

The European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) views a set of controversial amendments enacted on the heels of a series of opposition uprisings last year as “a step backward for the protection of freedom of assembly in the Russian Federation,” according to a copy of the opinion released to RAPSI Monday. On the heels of several months of protests last summer, Russian legislators adopted amendments to a law on public protests increasing fines for protest-related offenses ten-fold, stipulating compulsory community service for those found in violation of the law, and prohibiting the use of masks during protests. The Commission recommends the revision and drastic lowering of penalties applicable in case of the law’s violation.

Russian Lawmaker Denies Owning Luxury Property

A senior Russian lawmaker on Monday vehemently denied media reports that she had failed to declare ownership of a luxury apartment in central Moscow. Irina Yarovaya, the head of the State Duma Security and Anticorruption Committee, who is also a member of the ruling United Russia party, dismissed the allegations that she owns a $2-million apartment she failed to put on her official property declaration as an attempt by her “ill wishers” to ruin her reputation. “Their efforts have been in vain,” she said. Her press secretary Oleg Zhdanov earlier told RIA Novosti the apartment in question belonged to Yarovaya’s underage daughter and was not subject to declaration.

Monday, March 11, 2013

300,000 Self-Employed Russians Quit over Tax Hikes

Almost 300,000 self-employed Russians have quit business in Russia in the past three months due to social tax hikes, an Economics Ministry official said on Monday. Beginning on January 1, 2013, the Russian government doubled the annual fixed-sum social security tax for individual entrepreneurs to 36,000 rubles ($1,200), in a move that directly affected babysitters, housemaids, tutors, handymen and other self-employed Russian workers earning 50,000-100,000 rubles a year. “The new tariffs that came into force from January 1, 2013 and doubled the taxation base for fixed-rate payments reduced the number of individual entrepreneurs by 293,421 people between December 2012 and February 2013,” said Natalia Larionova, director of the ministry’s department for small-medium enterprise business and competition. That represents 7 percent of the total number of individual entrepreneurs registered in Russia, she said.

Russia Charges Hermitage Capital's Head of Fraud

Russia filed fraud charges against William Browder, head of London-based investment fund Hermitage Capital Management, over dealings a decade ago in shares in the state gas firm Gazprom. The charges were filed before Browder was due to be tried on Monday in absentia, along with Hermitage's dead lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, in a separate tax evasion case that has stoked tensions between Moscow and the West. The Interior Ministry said in a statement that Browder had been charged with large-scale fraud after failing to respond to a summons for questioning. It estimated losses to the Russian state from the Gazprom deals at 3 billion roubles ($98 million). Browder has called the charges an "absurdity" and said the offshore structures Hermitage used to buy Gazprom shares had received the blessing of Russia's market regulator and the gas firm itself. Browder accuses President Vladimir Putin of retaliating over an investigation by Magnitsky that, Hermitage says, uncovered a $230 million tax fraud involving corrupt officials who seized control of companies affiliated with the fund group. Magnitsky died in jail in 2009 after what his employer said was a severe beating, prompting the U.S. Congress last year to pass the Magnitsky Act, which imposes visa bans and asset freezes on Russians suspected of violating human rights.

Federal Judge Killed in Russia’s Dagestan Republic

A federal judge was shot dead in Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Dagestan on Saturday, the Interior Ministry said. Judge Radzhabov was attacked on Saturday evening near his home in the city of Izberbash on the coast of the Caspian Sea. He sustained several gunshot wounds and died on the spot. Earlier in the day two gunmen were shot dead when a group of unidentified attackers opened fire on police in the village of Mutsaul, in Dagestan’s Khasavyurt district. There were no casualties among police or civilians, the Interior Ministry said. The Islamist insurgency, once confined largely to the republic of Chechnya, has spread across the North Caucasus in recent years. Attacks on security forces, police and civilians are reported regularly in the neighboring republics of Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria.

Georgian Parliament Confirms Course for EU, NATO Integration

The Georgian parliament on Thursday approved a 19-point resolution, in line with which Georgia will continue its integration into the European Union and NATO, and will have no diplomatic relations with "states recognizing the independence of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia." (This basically means Russia.) The resolution was approved by 96 deputies of the 150-member parliament. “Georgia will conduct dialog with Russia both with the use of international mechanisms in the format of Geneva talks and in bilateral format to settle the conflict and develop good-neighborly relations,” the document says. Georgia broke off diplomatic ties with Russia after the two nations fought a brief war over Abkhazia and South Ossetia in August 2008.

Russian Lawmaker Faces Fraud Charges

Russian investigators brought fraud charges against a lawmaker from the opposition party "A Just Russia" on Thursday, just weeks after he was stripped of parliamentary immunity from prosecution. Oleg Mikheyev is suspected of real estate fraud and attempting to embezzle 2.1 billion rubles ($69 million) from the Promsvyazbank bank, the Investigative Committee said on its website. He denies the charges. Russia’s State Duma voted to strip Mikheyev of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution on February 19 at the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office. The charges follow a series of scandals involving State Duma lawmakers, three of whom have quit this year, with widespread speculation in the media of more resignations to come.

Bolshoi Attack Mastermind Denies Ordering Acid Assault

A lawyer for the star Russian ballet dancer who admitted this week to having masterminded an attack on the artistic director of the Bolshoi Theater said in court on Thursday that his client had not ordered acid to be used in the assault. A masked assailant threw concentrated acid into the face of Sergei Filin, the Bolshoi’s artistic director, on January 17 in Moscow and fled the scene. Filin, 42, suffered third-degree burns to his face and eyes. The former dancer is undergoing treatment in Germany. Bolshoi soloist Pavel Dmitrichenko, 29, confessed to police earlier this week that he had organized the attack. Two other men also admitted involvement. But Dmitrichenko’s lawyer told a packed Moscow courtroom on Thursday his client had not ordered the alleged attacker, 35-year-old Yury Zarutsky, to use sulfuric acid in the assault. Police said on Thursday Dmitrichenko paid Zarutsky 50,000 roubles ($1,600) to carry out the attack. “Dmitrichenko admits his guilt,” said lawyer Alexander Barkhanov. “[But] my client did not intend to cause severe injuries to Filin, and especially not in this abominable way.”

Azeri Police Break up Protest Against Abuse in Army

Police of Baku broke up an unsanctioned protest against violence in the army by firing water cannons and rubber bullets on Sunday. More than 50 people were detained at the rally called via Facebook after the death of soldiers who were allegedly killed in accidents. In addition, three student opposition activists were detained ahead of the protest. Some 20,000 people had signed up online to take part in the Sunday protest, while the official figures of number of protesters were not immediately available.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Bolshoi Solo Dancer Arrested over Acid Attack on Artistic Director

Police in Moscow have detained a suspect over a horrific acid attack on the Bolshoi Theater’s artistic director, a police spokesperson told RIA Novosti on Tuesday. A masked assailant threw concentrated acid into the face of Sergei Filin, the Bolshoi’s artistic director, on January 17 in Moscow and fled the scene. Filin suffered third-degree burns to his face and eyes. He is currently undergoing treatment in Germany. “Yury Zarutsky, the suspected attacker, has been detained,” the spokesman said. Meanwhile, police also searched an apartment belonging to the Bolshoi Theater’s leading solo dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko, who was later detained in connection with the attack.  Dmitrichenko has performed at the theater for more than a decade. In one of the most recent performances, he played the tsar in "Ivan the Terrible." The police believe he ordered the attack.

Russia Vows to Keep Arms Deals With Venezuela After Chavez Death

Russia will continue military-technical cooperation with Venezuela regardless of who takes over power in the Latin American country after the death of its charismatic socialist leader Hugo Chavez, a Russian arms trade source said on Wednesday. Chavez, 58, died on Tuesday following a two-year tough battle with cancer, leaving the country in a political turmoil. “Whoever comes to power in Venezuela, our military-technical cooperation will continue because it is aimed primarily at safeguarding the national security of the country,” the source told RIA Novosti.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Russia Establishes Specialised Court For Intellectual Property Rights

As of 1 February 2013, a specialised court for intellectual property rights (the IPR Court) is instituted within the system of commercial (‘arbitrazh’) courts of the Russian Federation. The IPR Court was established by the Federal constitutional law of 6 December 2011 N 4-FKZ that amended the Federal constitutional law “On the Judicial System of the Russian Federation,” and the Federal constitutional law “On Commercial Courts of the Russian Federation.” In a recent interview, Lyudmila Novoselova, the newly appointed head of the IPR Court, discussed the advantages of a specialised court and, generally, acclaimed the idea of specialisation, without which “we would still be enjoying wearing the clothes that we had sewn ourselves out of the animal skin.”

Monday, March 4, 2013

Russia to Put Magnitsky on Trial, Posthumously

Moscow's Tverskoy Court will start the posthumous trial of Sergei Magnitsky next week after ignoring calls by his family and lawyers to abandon a case they say is absurd and politically motivated.
Magnitsky's death in custody in 2009, after he had complained repeatedly of being denied medical treatment, has damaged Russia's image and strained ties with the United States.  Following Magnitsky's death, U.S. lawmakers passed the "Magnitsky Act" that attempts to punish Russians who were involved in his case and are accused of violating human rights.  Russia, in turn, passed similar measures aimed at punishing Americans suspected of violating human rights. It also banned U.S. families from adopting Russian children.  The upcoming trial will be based on charges that Magnitsky, who was a lawyer at Hermitage Capital Management investment fund, had committed tax fraud, and critics say it is meant to discredit not only Magnitsky supporters, but Hermitage owner William Browder, who will be tried in absentia.

Moscow Police to Probe Alleged Pro-Kremlin Rally Payment Scam

Moscow police will investigate complaints against the organizers of Saturday’s state-endorsed rally against foreign adoptions who allegedly refused to pay its participants for attending the event. Some 20 participants have filed complaints against a rally coordinator, who allegedly refused to pay them for their participation. Some 12,000 attended the “Rally in Defense of Children,” intended as a show of public support of the government. The sincerity of rally goers’ concerns was put into question ahead of the event due to online ads offering payments of 300 to 700 rubles ($10 to $23) for attending. The claim was vehemently rejected by the organizers, who called it “a smear campaign,” but RBC news website reported at least one group of people being paid 500 rubles per person after the rally. "It is awfully interesting, where the organizers of those 'putings' take these amounts of cash from?" rhetorically asks prominent anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny in his blog. (video)

Thousands Rally in Moscow to Support US Adoption Ban

Thousands have protested in Moscow to demand a ban on foreign adoptions following the death of Maksim Kuzmin, 3, who died shortly after being adopted by a US family in Texas. Pro-Kremlin activists demanded his brother Kirill be returned to Russia. According to several estimates by the Russian Mothers public movement, the 'Protect the Children' protest gathered 12,000 to 20,000 people. At the same time an opposition rally took place. Hundreds of people (estimated 1,200 to 2,000) marched from Strastnoy Bulvar towards Prospekt Akademika Sakharova in a protest organized by Left Front leader Sergey Udaltsov, who also initiated the 'March against scoundrels' rally in January. The 'March for Muscovites' Rights' called for "putting Moscow back under the control of its citizen."

Russian Migration Officials, Cossacks Disrupt Pussy Riot Play in Moscow Theater

A play about the trial against Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot was interrupted in Moscow on Sunday when migration authorities came to ask the Swiss theater director for his work documents. The Moscow Trials play by director Milo Rau tells the story of the most controversial cases of the last decade, including the trial against three female activists, who were convicted of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" for performing an anti-Putin “punk prayer” at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral last February. Two of the group members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, were sentenced to two years in prison, while another one, Yekaterina Samutsevich, had her sentence suspended. In the middle of the play, in which Samutsevich took part, the officials of the Russian Federal Migration Service entered the Sakharov Centre, staging the performance, and asked the Swiss director to show his work documents. Shortly after the migration officials left, the performance was interrupted for a second time when dozens of people wearing Cossack uniforms stormed the building in protest of the play’s content. Meanwhile, a police spokesman said the situation was “calm” and “no serious violations of the law have been registered.”

Friday, March 1, 2013

Russian General Suspended in $1 Bln Trash Case

Lt. Gen. Valery Ivanov, deputy chief of Russia's Aerospace Defense Forces (VKO), has been suspended from office on suspicion of causing the state an estimated $1 billion in damage by organizing an illegal dumpsite in the Moscow Region, a military legal source said on Friday. According to the ministry, in 2010-2011, Ivanov signed several contracts with a private firm for reclamation and restoration of land at a military site north of Moscow. Instead, the firm set up a garbage dump there.

Hounded Russian Blogger Moves to Prague

A leading opposition blogger hounded by allegations of child abuse said he moved from Moscow to Prague, though he denied the move has anything to do with the accusations. Rustem Adagamov, who tops Livejournal’s rating of most influential Russian bloggers with his blog, reported the move on his Twitter and Facebook on Thursday. “My move to Prague has nothing to do with this crazy story. I want to do photojournalism in Europe, I’ve proposals for my blog,” he tweeted, referring to the accusations against him.

Fugitive Russian Banker Gets Asylum in UK

Self-exiled former Bank of Moscow chief executive Andrei Borodin has been granted political asylum in Britain, his lawyer said on Friday. In an interview with Vedomosti business daily published on Friday, Borodin said that in his appeal for asylum he maintained the criminal case against him in Russia was politically motivated. Moscow will seek Borodin’s extradition regardless of his status in the UK, the Russian Interior Ministry said on Friday. “Russian law enforcement agencies will continue to demand Borodin’s extradition, as he has been charged in absentia with fraud and is on an international wanted list,” the Ministry said. Russian investigators launched a criminal case against Borodin and his former first deputy Dmitry Akulinin in late 2010 on charges of large-scale fraud involving state funds at Bank of Moscow, which functioned as the capital's chief investment vehicle under former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

Russian Municipality Drops Plans to Buy Luxury Cars after Navalny's Expose

The administration of the Noginsk District of the Moscow Region dropped its plans to spend some $700,000 for four Lexus LX 570 cars after the intervention of Moscow Region acting Governor Andrey Vorobiev. Public attention to the questionable contract was attracted by prominent anti-corruption activist and opposition leader Alexey Navalny. In his blog Navalny pointed out that the deficit of the municipal budget of the Noginsk district was some $6 mln in 2012.

Russian Police Look into Speeding Schoolgirl Video

A Russian motorist has been branded 'the world's worst father' after he forced his eight-year-old daughter to drive his car at more than 60mph on an icy road. Dmitry Mihulchik, 28, filmed his daughter Karina taking the family Audi for a spin and uploaded the shocking footage online. As the speed increases, with the father occasionally clutching the wheel to control the car, he tells his daughter: 'Push it to at least 100kph.' The mom was sitting on the backs seat. Neither the eight-year-old driver nor her parents were wearing seatbelts during the drive lasting more than six minutes. The couple from St Petersburg are facing a police probe over the hair raising drive. 'An investigation has been opened,' said a spokesman. It is unclear what punishment the parents might face, but some have suggested it could be a fine of 2,500 roubles ($80) for allowing their daughter to drive without a licence. (video)

Russia Plans to Keep 10 Warships in Mediterranean

A proposed Russian permanent naval task force in the Mediterranean Sea may consist of up to 10 combat and auxiliary ships, a high-ranking military source said. “A command headquarters responsible for the deployment of a permanent naval task force must be set up at the Black Sea Fleet,” the source told RIA Novosti on Thursday. “The group may consist of up to 10 vessels, including auxiliary ships,” he said. A source in the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces confirmed on Thursday that the deployment of Russian warships in the Mediterranean had been a subject of planning for some time. The task force may operate on a rotation basis and use ports in Cyprus, Montenegro, Greece and Syria as resupply points

Kremlin Statement Included in Russian Extremist List

Russian justice officials seem to have displayed too much zeal this month, tossing a Kremlin statement into the state registry of extremist materials and stirring up criticism that some of the government’s anti-extremism efforts are misguided and ineffective. The text in question is an August 2011 news release from the Russian president’s official website, reporting a military honor conferred by then President Dmitry Medvedev on a special forces brigade in southern Russia. The news item was reprinted, almost verbatim, by a newspaper called Radikalnaya Politika in its September 2011 issue, which was ruled extremist by a Siberian court last fall, according to the Federal List of Extremist Materials posted on the Justice Ministry’s website. The Kremlin reprint, entitled “Congratulations from the President,” was specifically named among the articles in the offending issue, added to the Justice Ministry’s list on February 19, according to Sova, a Moscow-based nongovernmental watchdog group that monitors extremism and xenophobia. Other materials in the issue included headlines from major news agencies, a political flyer from the historic Russian coup attempt of August 1991 and a smattering of articles from Russia's famous Ogonyok magazine. Theoretically, this means that all online outlets displaying these materials must remove them. In the case of the Medvedev news item, this would include the Russian president’s official website,, and the ruling United Russia party’s website. Otherwise, Russia's telecoms watchdog, Roskomnadzor, could demand the sites be shut down.