Posts Tagged ‘khodorkovsky’
When the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum opens next week, a traditional fixture of the event will be conspicuously absent: renowned economist Sergei Guriev.
During the forum, Russian officials will undoubtedly repeat the usual lines about the country’s untapped potential, its attractiveness as a gateway between Asia and Europe and its tremendous investment opportunities. But the other standard phrase used to pitch Russia at these forums — that the country has a “rich, educated human capital” — will sound particularly hollow amid Guriev’s forced exit from Russia.
Two weeks ago, Guriev announced from Paris, where his wife and two children live, that he would not return to Russia for fear of being named as a defendant in a possible third criminal case against former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky. “There is no guarantee that I won’t lose my freedom [in Russia],” he told Ekho Moskvy on May 31. Guriev resigned as rector of the New Economic School, which he had turned into one of the country’s top graduate programs in economics, and from the boards of Sberbank and four other companies.
Guriev’s “crime” was co-authoring a 2011 report for then-President Dmitry Medvedev’s human rights council in which he explained why the second criminal case against Khodorkovsky was unfounded, a conclusion that had been clear even to the most casual observer. In addition, Guriev donated 10,000 rubles ($320) last year to the anti-corruption fund of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is currently facing criminal charges in an embezzlement trial that many consider to be politically driven.
When an investigator from the Investigative Committee appeared in Guriev’s office in April for a third round of questioning, the official unexpectedly pulled out a warrant to seize Guriev’s computer hard drive and asked him if he had an alibi, presumably for a third Khodorkovsky trial.
After this, Guriev concluded that he had quickly gone from being a “witness” in the Khodorkovsky criminal case to effectively becoming a “defendant.”
Shortly thereafter, he fled to Paris. Guriev feared that if he remained in Moscow much longer, investigators would pay another surprise visit, but this time with a new warrant to seize his passport and place him under house arrest.
Guriev’s exit is a tremendous loss for Russia — at least for its progressive elements that want to pull the country in a new, modern direction. Guriev, an internationally recognized economist and former visiting professor at Princeton University, could have worked in any number of Western countries over the past 15 years, but he decided to stay in Russia and try to build a more modern, liberal and democratic Russia. In addition to developing the New Economic School, his other main modernization projects included participation in Open Government, Skolkovo and the president’s human rights council.
As rector and professor at the New Economic School, Guriev’s goal was to train young Russians to become innovative leaders, managers, economists and financial experts capable of modernizing Russia. And he was tremendously successful in this role, with roughly 80 percent of New Economic School graduates working in Russia in top-level positions at leading financial, consulting, real estate development and manufacturing companies. (more…)
On June 5, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group in the European Parliament held a seminar on Russian political prisoners. The event took place on the eve of the “Bolotnaya Square” trial, widely viewed as politically motivated. The participants stressed the urgent need for the EU to take a firm stand with regard to human rights abuses in Russia.
The situation regarding political prisoners in Russia has been deteriorating since 2011, when unprecedented mass protests against fraudulent elections were held all over the country. A group of prominent political leaders, policy experts, and human rights activists gathered to discuss the situation at the European Parliament. They included Lyudmila Alekseeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group; Bill Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital Management; Anna Karetnikova of the Council of the Human Rights Center “Memorial;” Mikhail Kasyanov, co-leader of the Republican Party of Russia—People’s Freedom Party and a former Russian prime minister; Vadim Klyuvgant, a lawyer for Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Nikolai Kavkazsky; Vladimir Kara-Murza, IMR senior policy advisor and a member of the Coordinating Council of the Russian opposition; and Pavel Khodorkovsky, president of the IMR. Leonidas Donskis, a member of European Parliament and the ALDE Group spokesman on human rights, moderated the seminar. The event was also dedicated to Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s upcoming 50th birthday on June 26.
In his opening remarks, Donskis noted that “the human rights saga in Europe is an interesting combination of Russian, Ukrainian, East European courage and Western organization.” After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West had high hopes for Russia, as the era of Boris Yeltsin was very promising in terms of democratic development and political freedom. But today Russia is sliding back to the “obese of Soviet legislation,” and Europe is finding itself at a crossroads: should it lower its standards for countries that play a crucial role in international trade, like China and Russia, or should it continue to apply universal standards of human rights and dignity? In Donskis’ opinion, if the standards are lowered, it will be a historic failure for Europe and a betrayal of great minds such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov, who shaped the entire discourse of human rights. The EU legislator also stressed that Russian political prisoners exist, calling Mikhail Khodorkovsky a symbolic figure in this group, and suggesting that he stopped being just a Russian political prisoner and became a European political prisoner. “As long as corruption exists as an international phenomenon, every fighter against corruption or every fighter for human rights becomes an international figure… These people fight for Europe,” Donskis observed.
Mikhail Kasyanov said there are thousands of cases of human rights abuses in Russia, and about one-third of appeals to the European Court of Human Rights are coming from Russia. But the public is largely unaware of this situation, because “there is a taboo” on discussing it. Kasyanov reminded the audience that Russia is a member of the Council of Europe, and therefore needs to abide by its obligations; Russia has signed up the European Convention on Human Rights, but is not fulfilling its provisions. The former Russian prime minister added that in the case of Mikhail Khodorkovksy and Platon Lebedev, reputable Russian lawyers and independent international experts have been clear that the evidence was fabricated, and that these two people should therefore be released. Kasyanov also recalled the case of Sergei Magnitsky and the sanctions that were imposed by the U.S. against officials involved in his death, as well as against other human rights abusers. He called for similar measures to be undertaken by the EU, emphasizing that they do not target Russia, but rather deprive criminals and human rights abusers of privileges. (more…)
Today, in Moscow, there begins the trial of a 37-year-old accountant by the name of Sergei Magnitsky. Mr Magnitsky is accused of tax offences dating back perhaps 10 years.
What is astounding about this case is that Magnitsky is not only innocent of all charges. He is also dead. He died in prison in November 2009, after almost a year in which he was kept in squalor, denied family contact and deprived of medical treatment — detention that culminated in a savage and fatal beating by his captors.
It says something about the Russian state that it should now put this ghost on trial, in what must be the most grotesque parody of legal proceedings since the animal trials of the Middle Ages. It says something about Russian justice that Magnitsky — and his family — are now being persecuted by the very legal establishment whose corruption he exposed. And that message is that there are no lengths to which the Russian kleptocrats will not go to protect themselves and their ill-gotten loot, and to grind the faces of their enemies.
Magnitsky was a whistleblower. He uncovered a scam, a gigantic criminal conspiracy by which the Russian police and tax officials colluded with the judiciary and mafia to steal millions from the Russian state. When he refused to change his evidence and give in to his interrogators, they killed him – only eight days before they would have been legally obliged to bring him to trial or let him go.
Magnitsky’s tragedy was to be hired by a US-born British citizen called Bill Browder, who runs Hermitage Capital Management — a fund that used to be one of the biggest investors in Russia. Bill Browder’s misfortune was to fall out with Vladimir Putin, and in a big way. To understand the Magnitsky affair, you have to go back to the collapse of communism and the decision of a semi-inebriated Boris Yeltsin to allow the assets of the Russian people, and incalculable wealth, to fall into the hands of about two dozen more or less cunning and opportunistic businessmen — the oligarchs. (more…)
Relations between Russia and the U.S. have recently hit a rough patch.
In December, Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, which will create a black list of Russian officials suspected of human rights abuses. Hermitage Capital founder William Brouder had lobbied for years for the legislation, which is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Hermitage-lawyer who died in a Moscow jail after accusing officials of involvement in an enormous tax fraud.
Before the list could even be finalized, however, the Russian Duma hit back with its own legislation seeking to ban the adoption of Russian children by U.S. families. Russian media had complained about high profile cases of abuse for years, but the timing and severity of the legislation made it clear this was retaliation.
Given that just a few years ago we were talking about a U.S.-Russia “reset” in relations, the whole thing seems like a remarkable step backwards for the two countries. Add to that an ongoing clampdown on dissent in the country — most notably in the case of the anti-Putin feminist group Pussy Riot — and strict new legislation on homosexuality, the situation in Russia looks dark.
For insight on the matter, we talked to Pavel Khodorkovsky, the head of the Institute of Modern Russia and the son of a bitter enemy of President Vladimir Putin. Pavel’s father, Mikhail, was once Russia’s richest man, head of the enormous Yukos oil company with a personal fortune of $15 billion. A public spat with President Vladimir Putin, however, left him as one of Russia’s most famous prison inmates — and one of Putin’s most outspoken critics.
Pavel hasn’t been back to Russia since his father’s arrest, but keeps in close correspondence with Mikhail, monitoring events in Russia. He explained how the adoption ban seemed to be a bargaining chip for Russia, and one that Russian orphans would lose out from. He admitted that his family’s hope for the Russian opposition had initially been high, but that the Kremlin’s clampdown means “criteria by which we judge the progress will have to change.” Finally, he explained why the Magnitsky Act was so important, not just in the Hermitage Capital case, but also for other jailed dissidents, such as his father. (more…)
MEPs are this week expected to back a resolution which calls on the Russian authorities to “put an end to impunity” in the country.
Parliament’s non-binding resolution on the next EU-Russia agreement will be voted upon by members in Strasbourg on Thursday.
It contains several references to human rights and the rule of law, and “stresses the need for the Russian authorities to put an end to impunity in the country, as well as to politically motivated persecutions, arrests and detentions”.
The paper also “emphasises the need to cease using repressive measures against the political opposition”.
It seeks to ensure that “full light is shed on the many violations of human rights that have occurred” in Russia.
These, it says, include the imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the deaths of Sergei Magnitsky, Alexander Litvinenko, Anna Politkovskaya, Natalya Estemirova and others. (more…)
The Moscow Times
The Kremlin and the people are headed toward a new round of conflict starting in September.
Since President Vladimir Putin assumed office in May, several laws have been passed that will clamp down on the opposition, journalists, bloggers and nongovernmental organizations. These include an extrajudicial or administrative procedure for banning specific websites and blogs as well as granting the authorities the right to prosecute anyone who disagrees with Kremlin policy.
The law on NGOs has been one of the most controversial. If foreign-funded NGOs that are deemed by the authorities to be “politically active” fail to register as “foreign agents,” their directors and other top officials within the organizations could be subject to huge fines and prison terms.
Several leading human rights organizations have declared that they will ignore the law and will not register as foreign agents. These include the Moscow Helsinki Group headed by Lyudmila Alexeyeva and the For Human Rights movement headed by Lev Ponomaryov. Both organizations are highly respected in Russia and abroad. (more…)
Today’s guilty verdict in the Pussy Riot case has confirmed Vladimir Putin not as the sucessor to Stalin, but sucessor to the tsars. Putin is anointed little father, and the church-state monster against which Tolokonnikov, Alekhina and Semutsevich protested at Christ The Saviour Cathedral in March has bitten back.
When the three members of the art collective entered the cathedral in March, they cannot have imagined where it would end – Pussy Riot members told Index on Censorship that the arrests had been a surprise. Some of the group had previously staged anti-government actions in Moscow, and even been arrested, but nothing could have prepared them for this ordeal.
That is not to say that these are naive people. Pussy Riot is loosely affiliated to the avant-garde art group Voina (“War”), which has staged increasingly daring activities over the past few years. In 2010, the group audaciously managed to paint an enormous penis on St Petersburg’s Liteinyi Bridge. The action took exhaustive planning, but the result was brilliant, and hilarious: as the bridge was raised at night, the huge phallus pointed directly at the city’s FSB headquarters. That work, “Cock Held Captive By The FSB”, won an award for innovation in art. Two years later, Voina’s feminist counterpart has been condemned.
The female nature of the protest is at least part of the problem. Though their name itself is meaningless to most Russians, the dresses and tights and appeals to the Virgin Mary to become a feminist in their “punk prayer” are a very clear signal that this is about women. In a country whose leader takes every opportunity to exhibit his manly attributes – horseriding with no shirt on, judo, magically discovering ancient artefacts while out for a swim, subduing unruly polar bears – feminism in itself is a provocation – even un-Russian, as the prosecution in the trial claimed. (more…)
On November 16, 2009, after 355 days of pre-trial detention, Sergei Magnitsky passed away in a Russian prison—his ailing body untreated and cruelly bound by straitjacket—as medical staff idled just outside his door. In the year since his arrest, Magnitsky had endured incarceration in a below-freezing open-air cell, living amidst sleep deprivation, isolation, raw sewage, and psychological torture. It was an unthinkable position to be in for Sergei Magnitsky, a studious and timid tax lawyer. Magnitsky’s apparent crime? Uncovering one of the largest tax frauds in Russia’s history—estimated at $230 million—and implicating a cabal of corrupt Russian Interior Ministry officers, judges, tax service officials, and known criminals.
In Putin’s Russia today, the Magnitsky case may have passed unnoticed. Here, even the most powerful voices can be silenced—no better example of this exists than the continued imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. But due to meticulous documentation, the heinousness of the crime, and a well-organized network of advocates, the Magnitsky case has struck a rare chord of outrage in both Russia and the international community. Thanks to the campaigning of U.S. Congress members, Magnitsky’s former client, and an organization called Russian Untouchables, the Magnitsky case may yet force the Russian government to address human rights abuse allegations.
As William Browder, former client of Magnitsky and founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management—a global investment advisory firm—outlined in a 2009 article titled “They Killed My Lawyer,” the complicated machination that resulted in the defrauding of $230 million and Sergei Magnitsky’s death started in 2007. In June of that year, dozens of police officers raided the offices of Hermitage Capital Management and law firm Firestone Duncan—where Magnitsky worked—under the premise of tax investigation. In the months that followed, Interior Ministry officers used the confiscated and illegally obtained seals, documents, and charters of Hermitage Capital to secretly re-register Hermitage’s various investment companies in the name of a third party.
At the behest of his clients, Sergei Magnitsky uncovered the scheme: The stolen companies were being used to claim overpaid taxes—to the tune of $230 million. In turn, crooked tax authorities processed the claims and wired money to obscure shell banks. As research into the case continued and complaints by Hermitage mounted, the Interior Ministry struck back by opening criminal cases against the Hermitage lawyers investigating the fraud. As a result of harassment or threat, all but one Hermitage lawyer either left the country or went into hiding. That lawyer was Sergei Magnitsky. (more…)
The imprisoned former CEO of Yukos Mikhail Khodorkovsky has approved the list of Russian officials who are suggested being banned to enter Western countries by the opponent Garry Kasparov.
As reported earlier, Khodorkovsky suggested the British Prime Minister David Cameron banning many high Russian officials to enter United Kingdom. The list, which includes 308 people, was originally initiated by the former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, Sunday Telegraph reported.
Khodorkovsky’s lawyars said he had not discussed such suggestions with them and had not made a list of officials who, in his opinion, are blamable for violations of human rights. However, later the press secretary of Khodorkovsky and his partner Platon Lebedev published a full answer of the imprisoned oligarch.
“The British government with the Olympic games can do something to raise importance of human rights. In June 2011 one of the Russian opposition leaders Garry Kasparov presented a list of persons who are involved in violations of human rights to the US House of Representatives. I would like the United Kingdom to read carefully this list and compare it to the list of the Russian delegation planning to arrive in London in 2012,” the answer said. (more…)