Category Archives: legal system

Now, they go After Magnitsky’s Momma

PRESS RELEASE

Mother of Russian Anti-Corruption Lawyer Killed in Custody, Has Been Harassed in Moscow, Complaint Revealed Today

Nataliya Magnitskaya, mother of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky

3 December 2010 – The mother of Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian anti-corruption lawyer killed in police custody, has been harassed outside her home in Moscow since receiving, on behalf of her son, the 2010 Integrity Award from Transparency International two weeks ago. A team of people from the Russian television station NTV, who have interchangeably represented themselves both as realtors and as journalists, have followed Magnitsky’s mother, attempted to enter her house, carried out covert filming of her and intruded upon her with offensive questions. NTV is controlled by the Russian state-owned gas company, Gazprom.

A complaint about the abusive harassment of Sergei Magnitsky’s mother has been filed today by Sergei Magnitsky’s former partner, Jamison Firestone, with the Grand Jury of the Russian Union of Journalists (Russian version available at: http://russian-untouchables.com/docs/Letter%20to%20Journalist%20Union.pdf).

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Do you dare call THIS anything but Russian Barbarism?

ABC News reports:

Stanislav Sutyagin was planning to sell his large black Mercedes but it now has a huge dent in its right side. He’s getting money to fix the damage, but it’s not coming from his insurance company or the driver who hit him. The government is compensating Sutyagin after Moscow cops ordered him to park his car in the middle of a five-lane highway to block a car they were chasing.

The suspects slammed into the car carrying Sutyagin and a friend, but kept on going. The traffic policemen who had ordered Sutyagin to place his car sideways, and stay in it, told him that neither he nor the other two cars in the barricade would be reimbursed for damages because the fleeing silver Audi managed to escape.

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Once again, to consolidate Dictatorship Putin Ignores Constitution

Nikolai Petrov, writing in the Moscow Times:

Last week, a precedent was set in which a governor initiated the process of removing an elected mayor from office. It happened in the Perm region, well known for its active political and civil life. It was there that Governor Oleg Chirkunov called for the removal of Yury Vostrikov, the mayor of the city of Chaikovsky. (Chirkunov was never elected to his post, having been appointed in 2004 to replace his predecessor, Yury Trutnev, who left to become natural resources minister.) An amendment to the federal law on local government proposed by President Dmitry Medvedev and passed in May served as the legal basis for the move.

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EDITORIAL: Russia in the Crosshairs of Europe

EDITORIAL

Russia in the Crosshairs

Back in January of 2008, LR founder Kim Zigfeld wrote on Pajamas Media about Russia’s increasing exposure to outright condemnation in the courts of Europe.  Two more recent developments show Russia sliding fast down a perilously slippery slope that leads to being cast out of Europe and classified by the world as a barbarous, third-world failed state.

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In Putin’s Russia, Wanton Savagery

The Los Angeles Times reports:

Valery Kazakov was almost to the prosecutor’s office when the killers caught him. He was shot as he cut through an alleyway, and when he stumbled bleeding into the street, a man bent down to stab the final breaths out of him.

It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon, in the heart of the sleepy town of Pushkino. As far as the townspeople were concerned, it was a public execution. Kazakov, a former police officer, was believed to have been on his way to testify in the corruption case against the former mayor.

It has been a year now, and Kazakov’s widow holds out little hope of justice, shrugging off the idea with weary skepticism. Police recently arrested the alleged killer, but that’s just a “technical detail,” Maria Kazakova says. She wants to know who put the hit on her husband, who ordered and paid for it.

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Spawn of Stalin Sues Novaya Gazeta

Translator’s Note: Neo-Nazi Russia is putting a toe in the water to test the political mood of the country. In a supremely emetic move, it has been announced that . . .

Stalin’s Grandson Sues “Novaya Gazeta”

Grani.ru

30 July 2009

Translated from the Russian by Dave Essel


40005Ekho Moskvy radio station has just broadcast the news that Stalin’s grandson, Yevgenii Dzhugashvili, has had a writ served on Novaya Gazeta, complaining about an article entitled “Beria Was the Guilty Party” published in that paper on 22 April this year. The writ is against the newspaper itself and the author of the article Anatoli Yablokov. The writ demands that the paper publish a retraction stating that Yablokov’s remarks about Stalin are baseless, untrue, and defamatory of Stalin’s honour and reputation. In particular, the plaintiff is concerned with the words: “Stalin and the Chekists are bound by great bloodshed and the worst of crimes, above all against their own people”. The plaintiff is demanding moral damages of 10 milllion roubles and also that a retraction be published. Yevgenii Dzhugashvili’s case has been accepted and will be heard by Moscow’s Basmanny District Court.

[This of course is the court whose name has become a byword for justice perverted by instructions from on high to its judges (or which simply has the most prejudiced and stupid judges in the world). The world laughs and weeps as Russia degradates.]

Welcome to Russia!

The foreigner-in-Russia blogging at News of the Eastern reports on a typical encounter with Russian “law enforcement” authorities.  (NOTE:  An average Russian is paid less than 90 rubles for each hour of work.  Thus, the “little bit of money” asked for by the police as a bribe in this story amounts to more than three hours of labor, nearly half a day’s pay, for an average Russian and as such is roughly equivalent to a bribe of $60 being demanded from an average American. Imagine being asked that for, say, walking on grass with a sign to the contrary.)

Yesterday I had my first run-in with the Russian police. Unlike many of my other foreign friends, I am not routinely stopped and hassled for my documents so this was my first direct experience of the renowned MVD, although of course I’d heard thousands of stories about how corrupt the Russian police are. This time around, however, I was definitely in the wrong, although I’m not entirely sure to what extent the police were in the right either.

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Ponomarev on the Neo-Soviet Gulag

Paul Goble reports:

Forty of Russia’s 700 penal institutions have features which resemble those of Soviet-era concentration camps, according to a leading Moscow human rights activist, who warns that “as long as concentration camps and torture exist, the spectre of totalitarianism will continue to hang of the country.”
In an article in Yezhednevny Zhurnal, Lev Ponomaryev argues that Russian “society must finally understand that no democratic transformations are possible until a radical reform of the penitentiary system and of the law enforcement one as well takes place” and eliminates such institutions.

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Putin’s Constitutional Junta

Russian political commentator Dmitri Oreshkin, writing in the Moscow Times:

What is most interesting about the term increases for State Duma deputies to five years and for the president to six years is the reaction to these changes. We heard hearty, prolonged applause by the Kremlin lackeys in the audience when President Dmitry Medvedev made his announcement in the state-of-the-nation address on Nov. 5. On the other hand, ordinary Russians are strangely silent on the issue.

The game that the Kremlin is playing with the people has taken a new turn. At some point, Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will have to show their cards. Although most people probably have a good idea of what might be up the leaders’ sleeves, they are not ready to believe it completely.

Why was this plan thrown together so hastily? After all, there are more than three years until the next elections, which is ample time for a thorough public discussion and a referendum on such an important matter involving a change to the Constitution. Moreover, given the government’s control over the media, getting a mandate from the people on Duma and presidential term extensions would not have been difficult.

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Putin is murdering the Russian Constitution

Paul Goble reports:

Vladimir Putin’s establishment of “a vertical of power” and his promotion of the idea of “sovereign democracy” have combined with the indifference of the overwhelming majority of Russians to subvert all the key provisions of the 1993 constitution, according to the man who oversaw the drafting of that document’s final version.

In an article in the November issue of “Znamya” timed to correspond to the 15th anniversary of Russia’s “basic law,” Sergei Filatov argues that the 1993 constitution, which was born “in the sharpest struggle of various social-political forces,” played “an important role in the stabilization of the political situation in the 1990s.” That document “defines our state as democratic, legal, federal, and social with a division of power among legislative, executive and judicial functions,” Filatov says, and if it is realized, its provisions open the war for Russia to become a modern, open, stable and strong country with a maximum of human freedom.But since the rise of Vladimir Putin in 1999 and 2000, Filatov notes, Russia has gone in an entirely different direction, with the constitution ignored, the division of power suppressed and the population ignored and repressed. Such “a vector,” he continues, is “incompatible” with the rights of citizens and a strong Russian state respected around the world.

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As Usual, Russia Simply Ignores the Law

Writing in the Moscow Times Andrei Kolesnikov, a deputy editor of The New Times, explains the Russian pattern of simply ignoring the law. In light of this, the Kremlin’s opposition to the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi to face trial in the killing of Alexander Litvinenko seems simply insane — that is, fully neo-Soviet.

Every Russian or Soviet leader changes the structure of government to serve his own tactical interests. It’s highly unlikely that Nikita Khrushchev, NKVD chief Lavrenty Beria or Georgy Malenkov, chairman of the Soviet Council of Ministers, thought too much about observing the spirit and letter of the Soviet Constitution of 1936 when they divided power right after the death of Josef Stalin.

When Beria needed to centralize power by strengthening the role of the Council of Ministers, a simple resolution was enough to accomplish this. In order to deprive Beria of his authority, however, the other two members of the triumvirate had to use other means — arrest.

In 1957, Khrushchev tried to weaken the concentration of power in the Kremlin that Beria had instituted by introducing the Regional Economic Councils. This was an attempt to decentralize the federal ministries by creating 105 regional zones to improve local planning and management. In 1958, Khrushchev became a head of the government.

When Khrushchev’s opponents ousted him in 1964, they once again changed the government structure. A new triumvirate later emerged: Alexei Kosygin, chairman of the Council of Ministers, Nikolai Podgorny, chairman of the presidium of the Supreme Soviet and Leonid Brezhnev. Although Podgorny was formally the main figure in the Soviet government, the de facto leader of the country was Brezhnev, the general secretary of the Communist Party. It took Article 6 of the 1977 Constitution to codify this new distribution of power into law.

In 1988, when the Communist Party’s power was gradually fading, Mikhail Gorbachev concentrated power in the parliament and combined the positions of general secretary and head of the Supreme Soviet. A new model of government was necessary, and in 1990, the position of president of the Soviet Union was introduced, which was not provided for in the 1977 Constitution.

Throughout the 1990s, it was impossible to rely on laws to rule the country. Russia was instead ruled by presidential and Cabinet decrees.

Legal contradictions have never been an obstacle for Russian and Soviet leaders to change the structure of government and how power is allocated. There is no model that cannot be invented or manipulated in order to decide the main issue for a leader — how to preserve his power. The only requirement is the political will to push a new model through.

History has shown that coups, conspiracies, plots and revolutions are often carried out under the pretexts of restoring law and order. And when leaders try to achieve “stability” by manipulating the laws to increase their own power, this is fraught with tremendous political risk.

Russian Lies and the Lying Russian Liars Who Tell Them


The Russian prosecutor-general has ruled out extraditing former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoi to the UK over the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. “Extradition is out of the question, because it contradicts our constitution,” Yuri Chayka was quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency as saying.

Yuri Chayka, the Russian Prosecutor General, is a boldfaced liar.

Annals of Russian "Justice": Another Failing Grade for Russia

Blogger and attorney Robert Amsterdam reports that Transparancy International has issued yet another failing grade to Putin’s Kremlin, this time over its so-called “justice” system: 

At the end of last week, corruption watchdog Transparency International issued its annual global report with respect to corruption of the world’s judicial systems. The full report is well worth reading, as Russia is heavily featured as one of the countries that has significantly backtracked against international standards with political corruption of the courts. Below is an excerpt of an analysis written by Tom Blass, freelance journalist and consultant with the Foreign Policy Centre, taken from Chapter 2 (“Independence, political interference and corruption”) of the new TI report. (click through to the PDF version to see all the footnotes.)

Combating corruption and political influence in Russia’s court system Tom Blass

Prior to the perestroika process, the judiciary was largely perceived as: ‘Nothing more than a machine to process and express in legal form decisions which had been taken within the [Communist] Party.’ The independence of the judiciary was one aspect of the changes called for by Mikhail Gorbachev in his groundbreaking speech to the 27th Party Congress in 1986.

The reality – a supine, underpaid judiciary, ill-equipped to withstand corruptive practices and the influence of economic or political interests – has proven slow to change, despite a series of reforms by Boris Yeltsin and his successor, President Vladimir Putin.

A 1991 decree by the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation established the judiciary as a branch of government independent from the legislature and the state. The following year, a Law on the Status of Judges was introduced that granted judges life tenure after a three-year, probationary period; new powers to review decisions by prosecutors regarding pre-trial detention; and established the role of the judicial qualification collegia – self-governing bodies, composed by and responsible for the appointment and regulation of members of the judiciary. The Yeltsin regime transferred control over the financing of courts from the Ministry of Justice to a judicial department attached to the Supreme Court, further distancing the judiciary from the executive branch.

After Putin was elected president in 2000, he made numerous assertions about the importance he attached to the judiciary. ‘An independent and impartial court is the legal protectedness (sic) of citizens,’ he said in 2001. ‘It is a fundamental condition of the development of a sound, competitive economy. Finally, it is respect for the state itself, faith in the power of the law and in the power of justice.’

President Putin’s Programme for the Support of Courts 2002–06 was structured to increase funding for the court system as a whole, including judges’ salaries. Top pay is now around US $1,100 per month for judges, although average judicial salaries are closer to US $300 per month. More recent developments include a move toward publishing details of court judgements.

While elements of these reforms are positive, new threats to the independence of the judiciary have emerged, with the International Bar Association, the OECD, the International Commission of Jurists, and the US State Department all expressing concerns at practices they perceive as not conducive to the independence of the judiciary.

Judicial appointments

Not all judges welcomed Putin’s attempts at reform. Among his initial targets were the qualification collegia, established in the early transition and responsible for appointing and dismissing judges. Originally these were constituted entirely by judges, but the 1996 Constitutional Law on the Judicial System was amended in 2001 so that one third of the membership would be constituted by legal scholars appointed by the federation council – which is appointed by the president. Under the Law on the Status on Judges 1992, judicial appointments were made by the president ‘based on the conclusions of the collegia relative to the court in question’. The same process applies to the appointment of court chairpersons, whose tasks include allocating cases and overseeing the running of courts. They wield substantial influence over the careers of their fellow judges.

In a 2005 report on proposed changes to the structure of the collegia, the International Bar Association (IBA) said it was ‘particularly concerned by a number of cases of judicial dismissals where undue influence appears to have been wielded by Court chairpersons or other parties’. ‘A system which could allow chairpersons to cow or eliminate independent-minded judges’, it noted, ‘is in practice the antithesis of recognised international standards for the judiciary’.

The IBA cited a number of instances in which it was alleged that undue influence had been brought to bear. In the case of Judge Alexander Melikov, dismissed by a qualification collegium in December 2004, it said it had studied the judge’s allegation that his dismissal followed his refusal to follow the directive of the Moscow City Court chairperson ‘to impose stricter sentences and to refuse to release certain accused persons pending their trials’. The IBA said that it was ‘impressed by his credibility’ and was satisfied there was no legitimate ground for dismissal.

Another recent case further highlighted the role of chairpersons. Judge Olga Kudeshkina was dismissed from Moscow City Court in May 2003 for ‘violating the rules of courtroom conduct and discrediting the judiciary’ after she claimed to have been pressured by the public prosecutor and the chairperson of the court to decide in the prosecutor’s favour in an Interior Ministry investigation.

In a widely publicised letter to President Putin in March 2005, Kudeshkina said the judicial system in Moscow was ‘characterised by a gross violation of individual rights and freedoms, failure to comply with Russian legislation, as well as with the rules of international law’ and that there is every reason to believe that the behaviour of the chairperson was possible because of patronage provided by certain officials in the Putin administration.

Perceived extent of corruption

While it is difficult or impossible to quantify the validity of Kudeshkina’s claims, her letter was in tune with the lack of public confidence in the judiciary. Research by the Russian think tank INDEM goes so far as to quantify the perceived average cost of obtaining justice in a Russian court. At 9,570 roubles (US $358), the figure is still less than the 2001 figure of 13,964 roubles.

Another Russian survey found that over 70 per cent of respondents agreed that ‘many people do not want to seek redress in the courts because the unofficial expenditures are too onerous’, while 78.6 per cent agreed with the statement: ‘Many people do not resort to the courts because they do not expect to find justice there.’ The same organisation estimated that some US $210 million worth of bribes is spent to obtain justice in law courts in a year, out of a total US $3.0 billion in bribe payments.

Senior court officials also hint at corruption within the judiciary. Veniamin Yakovlev, former chair of the Supreme Arbitrazh court, said that while mechanisms had been, and continue to be, put into place to root out corruption and the ‘overwhelming majority’ of judges conducted themselves lawfully, ‘it would be wrong to maintain that the judiciary has been purged of all traces of bribery’. In an interview with Izvestia, Valery Zorkin, current chairman of the constitutional court, was more forthright when he said that ‘bribe taking in the courts has become one of the biggest corruption markets in Russia’.

Anecdotal evidence (including from lawyers within Russia who would not wish to be named) suggests that the corruptibility of courts increases, moving down the judicial hierarchy13 and further away from Moscow.

Legal scholar Ethan Burger points out that large financial stakes and asymmetry between the parties in a court proceeding increases the likelihood of corruption,14 and that it is more likely to occur in trial courts than in the appeal courts since it is ‘easier to bribe a single trial court judge than a panel of appellate judges or members of the Supreme Arbitrazh Court’. Due legal process is altered in one of two ways, according to Burger: a judge may decide a case on its merits, but ask for payment before making a judgement; or the judge may ‘simply favour the highest bidder’.

Recommendations

The challenge now is for the Russian judiciary to build on the various reforms which have already taken place and to win the confidence of court users, regardless of the level of proceedings in which they become involved. But such a transformation will require more than structural or procedural reform.

Successive laws pertaining to the judiciary passed since the dawn of glasnost have reinforced or reiterated its independence. Despite some adjustment of their membership structure, the Judicial Qualification Collegia remain essentially self-governing. Salaries of judges and court officials, while low in comparison to those in Russia’s private sector and the West, have been significantly raised in the past 15 years. Civil society groups in Russia and outside (including TI) have been vocal in calling for greater transparency and openness within the judicial system.

Russian courts already have what is required to be fair, open and transparent. These elements need to be encouraged and consolidated. What follows are six concrete recommendations that can assist in consolidating what is fair, open and transparent in the Russian court system:

● The government should resist any further dilution of the judicial composition of the Judicial Qualification Collegia.
● Judges’ salaries should be regularly reviewed with a view to achieving near-parity with private sector salaries in order to reduce the incidence of bribe taking and to retain talent within the judiciary.
● The programme for publishing court decisions should be accelerated and expanded, with an emphasis on explaining the legal basis of judgements, the nature of disputes, the sums at stake and awards given.
● Local and national public awareness campaigns should be initiated to educate on the role of judges, the concept of judicial awareness and future expectations of the judiciary.
● The government should review existing penalties for corruption within the judiciary.
● Judges should be allocated cases on a randomised basis to minimise bias toward one party.

Norway Kicks Some Russian Ass in U.S. Corporate Battle

A reader offers the following fascinating tale of Russian corporate intrigue from the Ukraine:

It seems that Russia and Norway are locked in a battle for control of a Ukrainian telecommunciations company called Kyivstar GSM. In 2004, a Russian-controlled company called Storm LLC and a Norwegian-controlled company called Telenor Mobile Communications AS established Kyivstar as a joint venture, and signed a shareholders agreement (this followed about six years of negotiations). Storm was the proxy of the Russia-controlled firm Altimo Holdings & Investment Ltd., the Russian control being funneled through a Cyprus proxy company known as Hardlake and a minority shareholding company called Alpren. They soon began to fight over control (basically, the Russian side wanted to seize it), and proceeded to arbiration in New York as per the terms of the 2004 agreement (Telenor insisted on this provision because it feared the reliability of the Ukrainian courts and the motivations of its Russian partner, which turned out to be quite a good idea).

Despite entering into arbitration, Storm immediately began to claim that the arbitration clause was not binding (likely as soon as it saw that it had little chance of winning in the American court). It claimed that its General Director, one Valeriy Nilov, was not authorized to sign the arbitration agreement with Telenor and tried to disavow it. Shortly after the arbitration began, Alpren filed a lawsuit in Urkaine seeking to have the arbitration agreement declared invalid. In a classic Russian move, it “forgot” to tell either Telenor or the New York arbitrators that it had done so until the Ukrainian court had ruled in its favor. It then informed the New York arbitrators of the results, but they valiantly refused to stop their activities and Storm filed suit in a New York state court to block the arbitration from going forward based on the Ukrainian court’s order. Telenor moved the case to federal court where it convinced the judge to side with Norway.

On December 15th of last year, the federal judge determined that the Ukrainian court proceeding “had a number of curious features.” First of all, though a representative of Storm appeared and claimed to oppose the proceedings because it was in arbitration, the whole thing only lasted ten minutes. Then, Storm’s representative in the proceeding was not only not a lawyer, he was an Altimo executive. This caused the federal judge to decide that Storm’s opposition may have been “somewhat perfunctory.” In other words, it was a classic Russian tour-de-force. Therefore, though the Russian companies were represented by expensive lawyers from the top American firm of Cravath Swaine & Moore, the federal judge nullified the Ukrainian proceedings and ordered the arbitration to go forward.