Thursday, November 28, 2013

UK Court Orders Fugitive Kazakh Tycoon to Pay Out $400 mln to Kazakh Bank

London’s High Court ordered fugitive ex-banker Mukhtar Ablyazov to pay damages Tuesday amounting to approximately $400 million. Ablyazov formerly served as the chairman of BTA Bank, which is described in Tuesday’s judgment as a major Kazakh bank that effectively nationalized in February 2009. The bank has filed 11 separate sets of proceedings in England and Wales seeking to recover upwards of $5 billion – money that the bank claims was fraudulently misappropriated by Ablyazov when he was at the helm. Specifically, the bank alleges that acting in concert with various other members of the bank’s former leadership, Ablyazov misappropriated funds for his own benefit by use of a network of offshore companies. He was granted political asylum in Britain in 2011. However, according to the judgment – he has “remained a fugitive from justice since February 2012.” His whereabouts remained unknown until he was detained on July 31 near Cannes, France. Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine are all seeking his extradition.

Russian Police Detain Kidnappers in $8M Ransom Case

Three suspected kidnappers who demanded an $8 million ransom for a man they had abducted in Moscow have been detained and their hostage released, police said on Wednesday. The 45-year-old hostage was unemployed, so the kidnappers demanded his relatives sell their business and apartments in Moscow to raise the hefty ransom, the tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda reported. The man was abducted in southeastern Moscow on November 19, a police spokesman told RIA Novosti. He was held in a village house west of Moscow before being released in a special operation on Tuesday. "Three members of an ethnic criminal group, who held him, were detained on suspicion of committing this crime,” a police spokesman said, adding the group was of Georgian origin.

Russia Opens Criminal Case into Former Defense Minister

Russian investigators opened a criminal case Thursday into former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who is suspected of causing 56 million rubles ($1.7 million) worth of damage to the state. This is the first time that a criminal case has been opened against Serdyukov, who was fired by President Vladimir Putin a year ago amid allegations of high level corruption. During his tenure as minister, Serdyukov ordered his subordinates to use serving soldiers to build a road to an elite holiday resort in southern Russia, the Investigative Committee said in a statement.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Shooting in Moscow Metro Videorecorded

A shocking, seemingly unprovoked gun attack on the Moscow subway has left investigators baffled. The surveillance footage shows two young men sitting on a carriage on Moscow's subway line when the attention of one of them seems to be attracted by another passenger. A brief exchange follows before the other passenger appears on screen and the man stands up to confront him. In the blink of an eye, the man pulls out a gun and shoots the other passenger in the stomach, kicks him, and then shoots him in the head. As other surrounding passengers quickly move to the other end of the carriage, the shooter and his companion calmly wait for the train to pull up at the next station. The man accompanying the assailant also pulls out a pistol and seems to brandish it at the stricken passenger before he and his cohort disembark when the train pulls up at Nagornaya station. The footage ends with the victim examining his wounds as blood drips from his body onto the floor of the train. The wounded man has since been identified as Hashim Latipov, who originally hails from the North Caucasus Republic of Daghestan. Luckily, Latipov's wounds are not considered life-threatening as it transpires that the realistic-looking weapon used in the attack is a so-called "trauma gun," a type of air pistol that is popular in Russia and often used for self-defense purposes. Nonetheless, he has still had to undergo several operations and the shot to the head, which hit him in the upper jaw, will probably leave him scarred for life. In an interview Lapitov claimed he had no idea why the attack occurred. "We just locked eyes..." he said. "I turned away, but he kept looking. And it was such a contemptuous look. He looked like a psycho; like he wanted to kill someone. I was sitting there and I asked him 'What are you looking at?' He immediately exchanged a few words with his friend. When I approached them, he stood up, silently took out a gun, and started shooting. Although the faces of the attackers are clearly visible in the recording, police investigators have still not succeeded in identifying them. No motive has been ascribed to the attack, but Moscow is a city riven with racial tensions and unprovoked attacks on racial minorities, particularly economic migrants from the Caucasus region, are not uncommon.

Putin Praises Iran Nuclear Deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday praised a last-minute agreement between Iran and the six international negotiators on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. “The agreement is a balanced list of measures and it will certainly have a positive influence on the development of the international situation, especially in the Middle Eastern region,” Putin said in a statement as quoted by the Kremlin. Iran and the P5+1 group (permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) clinched the deal Sunday morning following four days of talks, apparently resolving the decade-long dispute over the issue. A formal signing ceremony was held in the UN building in Geneva on Sunday involving representatives from China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and United States, led by the coordinator for the group, European Commission foreign relations head Catherine Ashton. The core of the deal is a freeze on Iran’s nuclear program, in particular work on enrichment facilities, in exchange for a relaxation of the economic sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy. In his statement, Putin called the deal “a breakthrough,” adding however that it was only the first step on a long road.

Kiev Police Use Tear Gas Against Pro-EU Integration Protesters

Ukraine’s riot police used tear gas and batons against pro-European integration protesters when some of them tried to break through a police cordon to the central entrance of the Cabinet’s building in downtown Kiev, a RIA Novosti correspondent reported from the site Sunday. Kiev police confirmed the use of tear gas but said they used it selectively against those protesters who also used tear gas or threw smoke bombs at them, Ukrainian media reported. Tens of thousands of demonstrators backing EU integration and a separate group of protesters against it assembled in the Ukrainian capital on Sunday in reaction to the government’s decision earlier this week to suspend landmark agreements with Brussels and turn to Russia instead. Police put the number of pro-EU protesters at about 22,000, the Unian news agency reported citing Kiev police. An opposition MP from the Fatherland parliamentary faction, Oleksandr Turchynov, said some 100,000 gathered on European Square. (photo, video)

Ukraine Calls Off EU Deal

Ukraine’s government decided Thursday to call off the planned signing of landmark agreements with the EU that could have weakened the former Soviet nation’s bonds with Russia. The Cabinet said in a decree that the decision was motivated by the need to consolidate economic ties with Russia and members of the Kremlin-led Customs Union trade bloc. The stunning reversal will be greeted with dismay in the European Union, which had been hoping to steer Kiev toward closer economic integration with Europe. Earlier in the day, Ukraine’s parliament rejected draft laws aimed at allowing jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko to seek medical treatment abroad, which EU officials had stipulated as a condition for the agreements to go ahead.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Putin to Examine Political Prisoners List, His Spokesman Denies Their Existence

Prominent Russian writer Boris Akunin refused to participate in a writers’ meeting that is supposed to be attended by President Vladimir Putin. Akunin said he does not want to be anywhere close to the president until there are political prisoners in Russia. Akunin mentioned jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, “Bolotnaya Square case” (a controversial criminal case instituted on mass riot charges) prisoner Sergey Krivov. In response Putin’s press-secretary Dmitry Peskov dismissed all accusations. “I do not understand, whom he means by ‘political prisoners.’ Those arrested in the ‘Bolotnaya case’? But they are not political prisoners; they are charged with hooliganism and violence against officers. This has nothing to do with politics,” Peskov said. He went on to comment on Akunin personally: “He is very well-known and respected writer. of course he has a right for his own opinion. But we also have a right to say his opinion has nothing to do with reality.” Later on a list of 70 political prisoners was passed to Vladimir Putin by opposition party RPR-Parnas leader Vladimir Ryzhkov. Putin publicly promised to “examine” the list.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bail Granted for Several Jailed Greenpeace Activists in Russia

wo district courts in St. Petersburg granted bail Tuesday to several more Greenpeace activists awaiting trial, signaling a possible softening in the authorities’ stance over the case. Nine activists, including nationals of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Finland, France, Italy, New Zealand and Poland, can leave their detention facilities after they have posted bail of 2 million rubles ($61,500) each, the courts ruled. A group of 28 Greenpeace activists and two reporters was initially charged with piracy for attempting in September to scale an Arctic Sea oil platform owned by an affiliate of energy giant Gazprom in protest at offshore drilling in the environmentally sensitive area. That charge was later downgraded to hooliganism, which is punishable by a maximum sentence of seven years in jail. Another three members of the group were granted bail Monday at another court in St. Petersburg. The environmental group said earlier in the day that it has already raised the funds to pay the bail. Greenpeace said in a statement that it was waiting for the Investigative Committee, which is handling the case, to provide details for a bank account into which the bail money can be transferred.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Greenpeace Detainees Complain of Language Barrier in Russian Jail

Greenpeace activists currently facing trial in Russia after mounting a protest at oil drilling in the Arctic Sea have few complaints about prison conditions but are being hampered by the language barrier, a state rights watchdog said Monday. Mikhail Fedotov, who heads the Kremlin rights council, visited two of the three detention facilities in the northern city of St. Petersburg in which the group of 28 activists and two journalists are being held. All 30 people were initially charged with piracy for attempting in September to scale an oil platform owned by an affiliate of state-run energy giant Gazprom, but those charges were later downgraded to hooliganism, an offense punishable by up to seven years in jail. Fedotov wrote on his official blog on the Kremlin website that pre-detention facilities he visited lack any English-language books and magazines. Inmates are of little help as most speak no English, and an official translator helps only during conversations with detention facility staff, Fedotov said.

Russia and Ukraine Reach 'Compromise' Gas Payment Deal

Russia and Ukraine have reached a compromise deal allowing Kiev to alter its payment schedule for Russian natural gas imports, Ukrainian Energy Minister Eduard Stavytsky said Monday. The new agreement will allow Kiev to pay on time for energy deliveries, honoring its commitments to both Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom and European consumers, Stavytsky told reporters in Ukraine. Kiev and Moscow have been locked in a bitter dispute over gas supplies that has prompted fears of a return to the winters of 2006 and 2009, when Russia temporarily halted gas deliveries to Ukraine and some European countries. Last week Ukraine said it was suspending the purchase of gas from Russia, and relying on supplies from its own storage facilities. But it backtracked on the announcement within days.

Protesters Detained on Red Square

A few protesters were detained Sunday on downtown Moscow’s Red Square, according to reports from the Moscow department of the Russian Interior Ministry and media. The ministry said five people had been detained and taken to a police station for violating public order. Meanwhile, the Novaya Gazeta newspaper said eight people had been held. The newspaper said its correspondent made a few photos of the protest, whose participants unfolded three banners that read “My country has been seized by enemies,” “Resist” and “You can’t jail everyone.”

Thursday, November 14, 2013

McCartney Asks Putin to Release Greenpeace Activists

Veteran British musician Paul McCartney has appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to release Greenpeace activists jailed after mounting an abortive protest against oil drilling in the Arctic Sea. Beatles founder McCartney asked Putin to reunite the 28 activists and the two journalists accompanying them with their families in a letter posted Thursday to his official website. “Vladimir, millions of people in dozens of countries would be hugely grateful if you were to intervene to bring about an end to this affair,” McCartney wrote in the letter, dated October 14.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ukraine Delays Tymoshenko Release Law, EU Deal Under Threat

Lawmakers in Ukraine on Wednesday again delayed consideration of measures to enable jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to travel abroad for medical treatment, possibly dashing prospects for a historic trade deal with the European Union. The draft law has undergone sustained debate in the ex-Soviet nation's unruly legislature, and its failure is likely to be blamed on pressure from Russia, which has sought to persuade Kiev to join its own Customs Union trade bloc instead of seeking closer ties with the EU. Tymoshenko, a prominent opposition leader, was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011 for abuse of power over a gas contract with Russia that was determined to be financially unfavorable for Ukraine. She insists that the charges were politically motivated. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said last month that the EU would only be ready to sign a free-trade agreement with Ukraine at a summuit scheduled for late November only if a "suitable solution" was found for the Tymoshenko issue.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Moscow Court Orders Seizure of Navalny's Assets

A court in Moscow on Tuesday ordered the seizure of bank accounts and assets belonging to opposition leader Alexei Navalny as part of an ongoing embezzlement case against him. Investigators formally charged the anti-corruption blogger and his brother Oleg with fraud in a case involving the local representative of cosmetics company Yves Rocher at the end of last month. Basmanny court press spokeswoman Natalya Romanova said a judge had ordered Monday that 50,000 rubles ($1,500) should be frozen, along with bank accounts amd company assets seized during the investigation. The value of the accounts and company assets was not disclosed. Authorities have said they believe the Navalny brothers embezzled around 26 million rubles ($790,000) from Yves Rocher Vostok and another 4 million rubles from the Multidisciplinary Processing Company. The brothers also face charges of laundering 21 million rubles.

Money Laundering Case Opened Against Former Bank of Moscow Execs

Russian investigators have opened a money laundering case against former Bank of Moscow president Andrei Borodin and his ex-first deputy, Dmitry Akulinin, the Interior Ministry said Monday. A fraud case had earlier been initiated against them. The Interior Ministry has said that Borodin and Akulinin from 2008 till 2011 organized the transfer of at least 50 billion rubles ($1.5 billion) from Bank of Moscow to accounts of affiliated commercial companies in Cyprus. Then they allegedly laundered the funds via affiliated non-resident companies registered in Cyprus. According to investigators, the former bankers conducted illegal financial transactions in excess of 623 million rubles ($19 million).

Ukraine Stops Buying Russian Gas

Ukraine has stopped buying gas from Russian energy giant Gazprom as of Saturday, Ukraine’s UNIAN news agency reported Monday, citing a Russian energy official. The head of Russia’s Central Dispatching Department of the Fuel and Energy Complex said Ukraine bought less gas than usual earlier this month before stopping gas purchases completely on November 9. Tensions between the countries are running high as Ukraine has repeatedly rejected Russia’s overtures to join a Moscow-led customs union and is due to sign a series of free-trade and association deals with the European Union – a step Russia has called “suicidal.”

European Court Questions Russia Over 2012 Rioting Case

The European Court of Human Rights has sent a number of questions to Russia over complaints lodged by seven Russians facing prosecution over their participation in anti-government protests last year. Lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky told RAPSI on Monday that Russia is obliged to answer the ECHR’s questions by January 17. The Strasbourg court has raised general and individual issues relating to the activists and their detention. In September, the ECHR gave priority status to the Russians’ appeals against the length of their detention and conditions while awaiting trial over a protest in Moscow on May 6 last year. The court also combined their appeals into one case. The seven suspects to appeal to the ECHR – Vladimir Akimenkov, Yaroslav Belousov, Leonid Kovyazin, Artyom Savyolov, Mikhail Kosenko, Andrei Barabanov and Nikolai Kavkazsky – are among the 12 people who are currently on trial over the Moscow protest rally held on the eve of Vladimir Putin's inauguration for a third presidential term. The rally on Bolotnaya Square ended in clashes between protesters and the police, which each side accuses the other of initiating. The rally’s participants and organizers have since been under criminal investigation in Russia over charges of violence against the police, and of taking part in and organizing riots.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Fugitive Russian Tycoon Captured in Cambodian Jungle

According to media reports, fugitive Russian businessman Sergey Polonsky was arrested in Cambodian jungle wearing only a beach towel.  His lawyer Alexander Karabanov has said he learnt about Polonsky’s arrest from a TV journalist on the scene and is expecting an official confirmation from the authorities. Last night, Cambodian police launched an operation to detain Polonsky after he had posted a video on Facebook showing a Cambodian official extorting $1 million from the businessman for not extraditing him to Russia, the lawyer said. Russia issued an international arrest warrant for Polonsky for defrauding investors of the Kutuzovskaya Mile housing project of 5.7 billion rubles. In Cambodia, Polonsky and two other Russian nationals are facing criminal charges for inflicting or attempting to inflict bodily harm to Cambodian sailors and taking them hostage. On New Year’s Eve in 2012, Polonsky and his friends, under the influence of alcohol, locked up the crew of a yacht in the hold and then forced the sailors to jump overboard. Last week, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office filed a formal request for Polonsky’s extradition. The Cambodian authorities confirmed their readiness to extradite him. (video)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

900 Baseball Bats Seized From Moscow Drivers in 4 Days

Moscow traffic police officers seized 912 baseball bats from drivers during a special operation on the first four days of November, local media reported. Nearly 11,000 vehicles were stopped during the operation, which also turned up about 330 knives, 180 rubber-bullet handguns and several rifles, the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper reported Tuesday. Sixteen drivers were found to be using fake licenses, the report said. Drivers’ rights advocates have cried foul over the reported seizures, arguing that there is no law against having baseball bats in one’s car.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

83,000 'Unlawful’ Website Blacklistings Reported in Russia

In the year since an Internet blacklist was activated by Russia’s communication watchdog Roskomnadzor, more than 83,000 websites have been blocked without appropriate legal justification, head of the ‘RosKomSvoboda” NGO Artyom Kozlyuk. The Internet-freedom NGO head says that the unlawful blocks made up 98% all of sites blacklisted since the registry’s activation. The cause for blocking resources that were not in violation of the law was their sharing of the same net addresses as the banned sites. The NGO reports that the blocking reached its peak in October : 320 IP addresses were added to the blacklist, which hosted 35.5 thousand domains. The deputy head of the telecommunications ministry earlier told that the law abiding owners of internet portals shouldn’t use shared IP addresses. “Buy your own IP address, and there’s no reason to worry. Or, if you decided to use a shared IP – check who your neighbors are,” Deputy Minister Aleksei Volin said. The blacklist was activated on November 1 2012. Since the activation, the telecom regulator has received more than 70,000 applications to block internet resources. More than half of those websites were implicated for allegedly giving out info about drugs, 30% - child porn resources, and 15% - websites promoting or providing information about suicide. After the applications were processed, more than 14,000 resources were blocked. Most of the web hosts complied with the regulator and deleted the information. The regulator reports that only 4% of the websites refused to delete the prohibited content. Currently, the blacklist contains approximately 3,400 resources.

US Seizes Ukraine Ex Prime Minister's $6m California Mansion

US authorities have confiscated the $6.75 million California mansion of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko in connection with his money laundering conviction nearly a decade ago and have also sanctioned the seizure of a Pablo Picasso lithograph that he is believed to own. The sprawling 20-room home in the city of Novato, 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of San Francisco, was formally handed over to the United States last month in an Oct. 8 order issued by Judge Charles Breyer of the US District Court for the Northern District of California. The mansion, where comedian Eddie Murphy reportedly once resided while filming a movie nearby, was seized as part of the US government’s efforts to recover $22.8 million from Lazarenko based on his 2004 conviction by a federal jury in San Francisco on charges of extortion, fraud and money laundering. The seizure comes as Lazarenko, who served as Ukraine’s prime minister from May 1996 to July 1997, faces possible deportation from the United States following his release from federal prison last November after serving out a nine-year sentence.

US Aquarium Fights for Russian Belugas in Court

A US aquarium denied permission to import 18 Russian Beluga whales has launched a legal battle to overturn the decision by US federal authorities, an environmental policy website reported this week. In August, the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) rejected the aquarium’s application to import the whales, citing concerns that five of the animals may have been nursing when they were captured in Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk between 2006 and 2011. The whales are currently stranded in limbo at the Utrish Marine Mammal Research Station in Russia and have become something of a cause célèbre among US environmental activists. Oscar-winning actress Kim Basinger in August wrote a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin urging him to release the whales from captivity and return them to her ocean home.

Drunk US Lawyer Barred from Russian Flight

A Belarusian-born lawyer from the United States has been barred from a flight in Russia’s Urals for “having an untidy look and being drunk,” regional transport police said on Tuesday. The 44-year-old US passport holder tried to take a Moscow-bound flight in the Urals city of Perm on Sunday, but the airline refused to let him on board. The man, who came to Perm to meet a client, was taken to the airport’s transport police station instead. The lawyer, whose identity was withheld, now faces a fine of 100-500 rubles ($3-$15) or up to 15 days of administrative arrest.

Moscow Police Seize 100 Kilos of Heroin

Moscow police have seized about 100 kilograms of heroin during a special operation, the head of Russia’s drug control agency said Tuesday. “The operation is ongoing. It’s still too early to speak about its final results,” Viktor Ivanov, currently on a visit to Lithuania, told RIA Novosti. Some 30,000 Russians die from heroin use every year, according to official statistics.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Two Killed in Grenade Blast in Russian Court

Russia’s Interior Ministry said at least two people were killed Friday by a grenade blast in a magistrate’s court in the central city of Kurgan. Police said that a man detonated a grenade, killing himself and one other person. Two others were injured by the blast. Investigators have reached the site of the explosion. A law enforcement source told RIA Novosti that the suspected attacker was motivated by unhappiness at an unfavorable verdict. The source said the attacker had tried to enter a courtroom, but detonated a grenade while he was being searched by a guard.