Thursday, October 31, 2013

US Blacklists Russian Singer for Alleged Criminal Ties

The US Department of the Treasury on Wednesday blacklisted three Russians for ties with an international criminal group, US Treasury spokesman John Sullivan said. The department said in a statement earlier in the day that it had “designated six individuals and four entities linked to the Brothers’ Circle, a Eurasian crime syndicate, pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13581, which targets significant transnational criminal organizations (TCOs).” Three of the six individuals have Russian citizenship, one is a national of former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan and one is an Israeli passport holder. The citizenship of the sixth person was not disclosed. The list mentions Grigory Lepsveridze, also known as Grigory Leps, whose personal data, such as the full name, date and place of birth coincides with that of a Russian singer-songwriter of Georgian origin. Sullivan confirmed that the person on the list was indeed “a singer.” However, RIA Novosti was unable to obtain an official confirmation from Lepsveridze or his authorized representatives at the time of the publication. Lepsveridze was put on the list for couriering money on behalf of Vladislav Leontyev, blacklisted under the same executive order last year for being “a key member of the Brothers’ Circle and has been involved in various criminal activities, including narcotics trafficking.” According to information provided by the US Treasury Department, The Brothers’ Circle is one of five TCOs sanctioned by the US, along with the Camorra, the Yakuza, Los Zetas, and MS-13.

Prosecutors Crack Down on Skolkovo President

The president of the Skolkovo Foundation, Russia's high-tech development center, had a personal stake in issuing unfounded research and developments grants, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced on Wednesday. The prosecutors claim that 17 grants totaling 3.6 billion rubles ($112 million) were issued without the requisite evaluation, and that three members of the grant committee, including the fund’s president, had a personal stake in the matter. In addition, The Prosecutor General's office reports a possible misuse of up to 125 billion rubles ($4 billion) of budget funds, and that the construction of the fund's facilities was conducted without proper licenses and papers confirming property rights. The Prosecutor General’s Office issued a warning, calling upon the fund to compensate the damages and to determine the party responsible. The Skolkovo Foundation, set up in 2010 by then-President Dmitry Medvedev, is the primary agency for the Skolkovo high-tech development hub, which includes a business center, a science and technology institute, and a management school. The project is intended to showcase the drive to diversify and modernize the Russian economy. Billionaire Renova Group president Viktor Vekselberg is the foundation's president and head of the Skolkovo Fund.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Navalny Faces New Charges

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny is facing fresh charges of embezzlement over an alleged scheme to defraud a local branch of cosmetics manufacturer Yves Rocher, investigators said Tuesday. The Investigative Committee said in a statement that Navalny and his brother, Oleg, swindled Yves Rocher out of 26 million rubles ($812,000) and laundered 21 million rubles. The prospect of further legal troubles for the outspoken Kremlin critic follows a mild reprieve in mid-October when a court in the city of Kirov revoked a prison term for separate fraud charges, instead imposing a suspended sentence. Moscow City Court earlier this month turned down a motion by the Navalny brothers to dismiss the case against them. The Investigative Committee had in December 2012 accused the Navalnys of embezzling over 55 million rubles from a trading company that was subsequently revealed to be the Russian operation of French cosmetic giant Yves Rocher. Oleg Navalny is accused of using his senior position with Russia's Postal Service to manipulate Yves Rocher into entering into a contractual agreement for cargo mail transportation with a private mailing service in which Alexei Navalny was registered as founder.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Russia Jumps Up 20 Spots in ‘Doing Business’ Rankings

Russia's business climate has made notable strides over the past year, climbing up 20 positions in the World Bank’s Doing Business rankings from 112th place. The World Bank Group's Doing Business 2014 report, which was launched in Thailand on Tuesday, presents business data for 189 economies and includes information from Libya, Myanmar and South Sudan for the first time. The authors of the report said Russia was third among 10 countries that showed the best results in liberalizing their economies last year, trailing Ukraine and Rwanda. In comparison, Russia climbed only eight spots in rankings in 2012, from 120th to 112th.

Russian Ballet Star Pleads Not Guilty to Bolshoi Acid Attack

Bolshoi Ballet star soloist Pavel Dmitrichenko pleaded not guilty to masterminding an acid attack on the theater’s ballet artistic director, RAPSI legal news agency reported from the Moscow courtroom where the trial opened Tuesday. Sergei Filin, 42, suffered third-degree burns to his face and eyes on January 17 when a masked assailant threw concentrated acid in his face outside his apartment building in Moscow. Dmitrichenko, 29, has been in pre-trial detention since he was arrested in March, when police said he had confessed to organizing the attack but claimed he did not know that the perpetrator planned to use acid. The assault was reportedly motivated by Dmitrichenko's desire to avenge his girlfriend, a fellow dancer who had been passed over by Filin for key roles in the Bolshoi's productions.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Putin: No Customs Union with Ukraine in Case of EU Deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that it would be impossible for Ukraine to join a Moscow-led Customs Union if the country signs an association agreement with the European Union. “It will be impossible since such association stipulates the creation of a free-trade zone between the European Union and Ukraine,” Putin said at a session of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in Minsk. However, he noted that Russia is neither for nor against Ukraine’s drive to join the European Union.

Russia Cancels Handgun Order after Navalny Expose

Russia has canceled an order for Austrian-manufactured Glock pistols placed by the Defense Ministry after the prices were found to be inflated. The Federal Defense Contracts Service said Friday that the procurement process is to be investigated. A preliminary probe revealed that the Defense Ministry’s procurement agency inflated the initial contract price in a notice on its website earlier in October, a contracts service spokesman told RIA Novosti. He said that other defense, security and law enforcement agencies could buy the same guns at a quarter of the price. The procurement agency said it would pay up 210,000 rubles ($6,600) for Glock 17 handguns and 191,000 rubles for Glock 26 models. This sum covers a full set, including barrels and silencers not mentioned in the order, the spokesman said. The order was canceled after a post in the blog of prominent opposition leader Alexey Navalny who pointed out the the retail price of the guns is around 50,000 rubles and surmised the price had been corruptly inflated.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

FAS Russia Considers Amendments to Antimonopoly Laws

The Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS Russia) is discussing amendments to the current antimonopoly laws (the so-called “third antimonopoly package”) as suggested by authorities and businesses. In particular, the draft amendments would eliminate the requirement to file multiple annual notifications with the FAS, require the FAS to send a warning prior to opening an investigation, provide for publication of rules for issuing determinations by the FAS, prohibit the formation of state and municipal enterprises in competitive markets, detail the procedures for applying antimonopoly laws to actions and agreements concerning the use of intellectual property rights, enable the use of joint operating agreements, and provide that entities with less than 35% market share could not be recognized as having a "dominant position" in the market.  Discussion and review of the amendments remains on-going, with the hope that their adoption will reduce administrative burdens on the FAS and facilitate development of competition in Russia.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Russian FSB To Increase Control of Internet

Russia’s Communications Ministry, in cooperation with security services, is finalizing a directive obliging internet providers to record private internet communications. However, unwilling to bear unanticipated expenses, internet providers are citing constitutional freedoms. According to Kommersant daily, the new directive has been in development for over six months, in close cooperation with the Federal Security Service (FSB). The major innovation of the new directive is that it would require internet providers to record constantly the last 12 hours or more of traffic coming through their servers, starting from July 1, 2014. This would allow the FSB secret service to control phone numbers, IPs, register entries, e-mails of social networks users etc.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Bus Bomb Kills 6 in Russia

Six people were killed and 37 injured - some of them critically - after a female suicide bomber set off a bomb on a bus in Volgograd, central Russia. Local authorities have been put on high terror alert for the next 15 days. “Today at 2:05pm Moscow time [10:05 GMT] in Volgograd inside a bus, as a result of an unknown explosive device going off, a blast happened, leading to casualties,” a national Anti-terrorist Committee representative said in the statement. Forty passengers were on the bus. At least eight of them are in critical condition. A 20-month-old toddler is among those injured. His state is assessed as moderately severe. Russia’s Health Ministry indicated that most of the victims in the explosion sustained mine explosive-type wounds, caused by the bus’s paneling and the shattered glass. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has instructed the Emergencies Ministry and the Ministry of Health to provide all the necessary help to the victims of the blast. An Emergencies Ministry plane has already brought four injured to Moscow for treatment. A three-day mourning for the victims of the terrorist attack has been declared in Volgograd Oblast. (video)

Netherlands Sue Russia over Greenpeace Ship Seizure

The Netherlands on Monday filed a lawsuit in an international maritime court against Russia’s seizure of a Dutch-registered Greenpeace icebreaker. The Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea will begin reviewing the case in the coming two or three weeks, the Netherlands government said on its website. Amsterdam says it is willing to suspend the lawsuit if the Greenpeace ship and crew are released. The Netherlands had earlier announced it was initiating arbitration proceedings under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea in the hope of prompting a diplomatic solution. Russian authorities seized the Greenpeace ship in mid-September after activists tried to scale an oil rig in the Arctic in protest against offshore drilling in the area. All 30 people on board were detained and later charged with piracy, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Russia refuses to take part in Hamburg litigation

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Navalny Gets Suspended Sentence

A court in Russia offered outspoken opposition leader Alexei Navalny a reprieve Wednesday by granting him a suspended sentence on embezzlement charges. The decision by Kirov Region Court marks a softening of the five-year prison term ordered in July, but will leave Navalny open to arrest should he engage in the defiant political activity that has become his trademark. Navalny will also be prevented from running for office for the foreseeable future. In a blog post after the sentence, Navalny conceded he would not be able to stand for election, but stressed his continued commitment to playing an active political role. (video)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

3 Facing Charges Over Moscow Anti-Migrant Clashes

Authorities in Moscow have detained at least three people suspected of involvement in anti-migrant riots that targeted a vegetable warehouse in the city’s south over the weekend, police said Tuesday. Deputy city police chief Oleg Baranov said at a City Hall meeting that police are holding two Moscow residents and one person from the surrounding region. He gave no information about what role the individuals may have had in the unrest, which injured dozens, including six police officers. Hundreds of people were detained by police overnight Sunday and on Monday in response to the violence that erupted after protests over the fatal stabbing of a 25-year-old man on Saturday spiraled out of control. The killer, who police identified Tuesday as being from the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, remains at large. Police said Tuesday morning that around 70 people are facing minor administrative charges over the clashes in the neighborhood of Biryulyovo. RIA Novosti’s Rapsi legal news agency cited a local court as saying 23 people have been ordered to pay fines ranging from 500 rubles ($15) to 3,000 rubles ($93).

1,200 Migrants Arrested in Response to Moscow Anti-Migrant Riots

Moscow police rounded up and arrested more than a thousand migrant workers at a vegetable warehouse on Monday morning, hours after hundreds of ultranationalists clashed with riot police. The rioters had overturned cars and raided a shopping centre used by migrants after the murder of an ethnic Russian was blamed on a man from the Caucasus. Police arrested more than 1,200 people in what was called a "pre-emptive raid" on the warehouse where the rioters believed the killer worked, Russian news agencies reported. Sunday's rioting in the southern Biryulyovo district of Moscow, which escalated after hundreds gathered where Egor Shcherbakov, 25, was murdered last week, marked the capital's worst nationalist unrest in three years.

Anti-Migrant Riots in Moscow, Hundreds Arrested

Moscow police detained some 380 people during the mass rioting in a southern district of the city. A mixed crowd of nationalists and locals attacked a warehouse run by natives of the Caucasus, blaming a migrant for the fatal stabbing of a local. Authorities lifted the emergency plan codenamed “Volcano” after midnight, several hours after public order had been restored. The plan, put into effect in the afternoon, involved sending scores of riot police to the scene of the clashes, and placing police officers across the city on high alert. By midnight the streets were practically deserted, except for police officers and a couple of bystanders discussing the day’s events. Meanwhile the 380 detained during the unrest were being interrogated in a criminal case over hooliganism – thus far as witnesses, police said. A crowd of people on Sunday broke into a vegetable warehouse in the southern district of Biryulyovo, hurling rocks, smashing up stalls and vending machines. While the police estimated the crowd at about 350 people, witnesses at the scene suggested the number of rioters could be as many as 1,000. (video)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Observers Find Violations at 'All Stages' of Azerbaijan Elections

International observers have criticized “serious” and “overwhelming” violations during Wednesday presidential elections in oil-rich Azerbaijan that resulted in a landslide win for autocratic incumbent Ilham Aliyev. Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe identified voter intimidation, a restrictive media environment during the election campaign and violations at all stages of the voting process in a preliminary report on the elections released Thursday. The former Soviet nation’s Central Elections Commission gave Aliyev, 51, who succeeded his father as leader of Azerbaijan in 2003, almost 85 percent of the vote in preliminary results. His closest rival, opposition candidate and prominent academic Camil Hasanli, managed just 5.18 percent. “Significant problems were observed throughout all stages of election day processes,” the OSCE report said. “Counting was assessed in overwhelmingly negative terms, with 58 percent of observed polling stations assessed as bad or very bad, indicating serious problems.” The OSCE also criticized the lack of a level playing field for the 10 officially registered candidates, noting “the restrictive legal framework and disproportionate coverage of the incumbent President.”

Russian Supreme Economic Court Judges Massively Resign

At least seven, but possibly up to 23, of 53 judges of Russia's Supreme Arbitrazh (Economic) Court (VAS) submitted resignation letters, according to media reports. The VAS press office confirmed that seven judges resigned. Other sources say there are 10 or 23 of such resignation letters. Apparently this is a reaction to the bill submitted to the State Duma by Vladimir Putin, according to which the VAS should be dissolved and merged with the Supreme Court. Russia's Supreme Arbitrazh Court is the last instance court of the Russian economic court system. Many analysts are highly critical about the proposed reform.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Russian Highest Economic Court to Be Dissolved

Russian President Vladimir Putin submitted to the State Duma a bill to radically reform the Russian judicial system. According to the bill, the Supreme Arbitrazh (Economic) Court will be dissolved. The functions of both the Supreme Arbitrazh Court and the Supreme Court (currently being the highest court of general jurisdiction) will be transferred to the new Supreme Court. To implement the reform, changes must be made to the Constitution. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that the reform will be completed. Surprisingly, no details of the reform are found in the bill. Apparently, specific features of the future court system are to be determined later. No meaningful public discussion of the reform, that was proposed by Putin last June, has ever taken place. Many analysts are highly critical about the reform. Unlike the system of general jurisdiction courts, the system of arbitrazh (economic) courts headed by Anton Ivanov transformed during the last decade into a reasonably efficient and high-quality system of resolving commercial disputes. This accumulated efficiency is very likely to be lost in transition, critics say. According to rumors, the major purpose of the reform is to create a job for current Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who may become the head of the unified Supreme Court.

Anti-Putin Protester Sent to Psych Ward

A RUSSIAN court ordered that an activist be sent to a mental hospital after convicting him for protesting against President Vladimir Putin. In its verdict, the Moscow court found activist Mikhail Kosenko, who suffers from a mild form of schizophrenia, guilty of participating in an anti-Putin mass protest and using violence against police. The judge however ruled that due to his illness, Kosenko, 38, was mentally incompetent and must be admitted to a high-security psychiatric facility indefinitely. "The court ruled that Kosenko undergo compulsory medical treatment," his lawyer Valery Shukhardin said. Diagnosed with "sluggish schizophrenia" - a term for mild mental illness used in Russia - Kosenko had been treated on an outpatient basis before his pre-trial detention. His defence insists that he should not be hospitalised and continue treatment as an outpatient.,0,6077483.story

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Russia Protests "Attack" on Diplomat in Netherlands

The Russian Foreign Ministry has sent a note of protest to the Dutch government after an alleged attack on a member of the Russian Embassy in the Netherlands, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said Monday. "During the past weekend, armed men in camouflage broke into the apartment of Minister-Counselor, Dmitry Borodin. Using a false pretext of the alleged ill-treatment of children, they severely beat him in front of his children,” Lukashevich said. He also said that the assault was carried out after Borodin informed the masked men about his diplomatic status. The diplomatic residence is protected by immunity, the spokesman said. The diplomat was then taken into custody by law enforcement where he spent the night and was then released “without explanation or apology ." "This case is not only a gross violation of the rules and regulations of international communication, but also the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” Lukashevish added.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Olympic Flame Dies Out in Kremlin

A lantern containing the Olympic flame arrived in Moscow's Red Square where it was greeted by Russian President Vladimir Putin, before it promptly blew out. After Mr Putin lit the cauldron, he said the "Olympic flame - symbol of the most important sports competition of this planet, symbol of peace and friendship - has arrived in Russia." The flame then set out on a ceremonial loop through the Kremlin, with 11 torchbearers participating in a relay. However, the flame, which was lit a week ago in Greece and flown to Moscow earlier on Sunday, went out. The glitch occurred when torchbearer, former world swimming champion and record holder Shavarsh Karapetyan, ran through a long passageway leading into the Kremlin, which apparently created a wind tunnel, extinguishing the flame. A security guard standing along the route, pulled out a lighter and re-lit the torch.

Netherlands Sues Russia over Seized Greenpeace Ship

The Netherlands has initiated an international inquiry into Russia’s actions in the Greenpeace ship incident in the Pechora Sea, Reuters reports citing the Dutch authorities. "The Netherlands, as the state under whose flag the Arctic Sunrise sails, today started an arbitration process on the basis of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea” reads the letter by the Dutch Foreign minister Frans Timmermans. The Arctic Sunrise ship was seized by Russian border guards on September 19 in international waters, within Russia's exclusive economic zone, a day after two Greenpeace activists scaled the Prirazlomnaya drilling rig in the Pechora Sea, the southeastern part of the Barents Sea. Greenpeace claimed that the ship was held under armed guard.

Russia Bans Lithuanian Dairy Products

Russia’s consumer rights watchdog said Monday it was ordering a ban on the import of Lithuanian dairy products, the latest twist in an escalating spat between the two countries. Lithuania, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, has angered Moscow by its strong support for closer ties between Brussels and former Soviet states. “After investigating dairy products produced by the Lithuanian Republic we have found many legislative violations in the field of consumer rights… and in human disease control and prevention,” said a statement posted online by Rospotrebnadzor, Russia's consumer rights watchdog.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

$3M Embezzled During Renovation of Moscow Theaters

According to preliminary police estimates, more than 100 million rubles ($3.1 million) were embezzled during renovation works in Moscow’s Bolshoi and Maly theaters, the Interior Ministry’s Moscow department said on Wednesday. “According to preliminary estimates, the federal budget lost more than 100 million rubles,” the department said in a statement. “At the moment, four people are named as suspects in the case.” The Interior Ministry said on June 13 that an investigation was under way into a suspected embezzlement of 90 million rubles (nearly $2.8 million) allocated for remodeling work at Moscow’s famous Bolshoi Theater. It was not immediately clear whether this money was part of the sum announced on Wednesday. The Bolshoi reconstruction project, which lasted from 2005 to 2011, was marred by repeated delays and fraud allegations. Russian prosecutors opened a probe in 2009 into the suspected embezzlement of millions of dollars during the renovation. The theater’s extensive reconstruction cost an estimated 35.4 billion rubles ($1.2 billion), according to the Russian Audit Chamber.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Snowden Shortlisted for Sakharov Prize

Fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden has been included in a short list for the prestigious Sakharov Prize celebrating freedom of thought, the European Parliament announced. European lawmakers cast their votes for nominees in the short list in a secret ballot on Monday. The list also includes three jailed Belarusian dissidents and Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai, who is widely regarded as the favorite to win the prize. Snowden, a computer specialist and former employee of the US National Security Agency (NSA), was the focus of international attention over the summer after he leaked classified evidence of US government surveillance programs to the media. He fled to Hong Kong and then to Moscow, where he was granted temporary asylum in Russia in late July despite repeated extradition demands from Washington. Snowden has been nominated by the Greens and the leftist GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament.

Top Official Flees Russia Amid Corruption Scandal

A senior Russian official suspected of involvement in a corruption scandal has been sacked, the federal land registration agency confirmed Monday, amid media reports that the man had already fled the country. Sergei Sapelnikov, former deputy head of the Federal Service for State Registration, Cadaster and Cartography (Rosreestr), which maintains the country’s real estate registry, was fired on September 26, almost three weeks after having reportedly fled to Ukraine or the United States, according to a report by the Izvestia daily. Sapelnikov’s dismissal is a new development in the corruption scandal at Roseestr, where checks by Federal Security Service officers and Russia’s Audit Chamber in July found financial irregularities amounting to 23.9 billion rubles ($735 million). Investigators suspect that some 2.5 billion rubles ($75 million) was misappropriated during the implementation of the agency’s ambitious project to unify Russian real estate and cadastral databases, a process supervised by Sapelnikov.

Kremlin: No Job for Navalny

The Kremlin is not considering the possibility of offering a position in the echelons of power to opposition leader Alexei Navalny until he proves himself as a capable politician, the head of the presidential administration said. “Why, on Earth, the authorities should discuss something like this? On what grounds?” Sergei Ivanov said in an interview published Tuesday by four Russian media outlets, including the Rossiskaya Gazeta newspaper. “For that, one has to prove that he is capable of doing something. And, for starters, one has to win something, at least the elections of the head of a municipal council…but nothing like that happened,” Ivanov said referring to Navalny’s lack of political experience and his recent loss in the race for Moscow mayor. Navalny, a politically ambitious anti-corruption blogger who helped organize large-scale anti-Kremlin protests in Moscow in 2011-2012, came in second place in September 8 elections receiving an impressive 27.2 percent of the vote versus the 51.3 percent had by former Kremlin administration head and incumbent Mayor Sergei Sobyanin.

Nigerian Students Arrested in Moscow Embassy Violence

Sixteen students from Nigeria studying in Moscow have been arrested for thrashing a conference hall in their country’s embassy in the Russian capital after an apparent dispute over financial aid issues, a Moscow police source said Tuesday. According to the source, police received a fax message late Monday from the Nigerian embassy downtown Moscow asking for assistance in dealing with a crowd of enraged students who refused to leave the embassy building after a discussion of financial issues, broke the furniture in the conference hall and threatened further destruction in other sections of the embassy. Police arrested 16 Nigerian students on charges of hooliganism, the source said, adding that their administrative cases will be sent to a Moscow court for processing.