Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

Truthiness Abounds in Russia’s Ratification of Protocol 14

January 15, 2010 Leave a comment

After dragging its feet for four years, the Russian parliament ratified the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) Protocol 14 earlier today. Russia had been the only country out of 47 participating states to refuse to ratify Protocol 14, which improves the efficiency of the Court. The current process has created a backlog of complaints, a third of which are filed against Russia.

Dmitri F. Vyatkin, Russian Parliamentary member mentioned that the impasse was overcome because the ECHR had addressed Russia’s concerns by providing written commitments that Russian judges would be included in reviews of potential cases against Russia, the Court would not begin investigating complaints before cases were formally accepted and the Court would not have new powers to enforce rulings.

Taken together this sounds like Russia wants to transform the ECHR into a Russian court: by hearing complaints against Russia that the Russian government approves of, not delving too much in to the details of complaints filed and if the complaint is accepted for the Court to have no ability to enforce its ruling.

However, Thomas Hammarberg, the human rights commissioner of the Leaders of the Council of Europe, presents a different view of Russia’s approval of Protocol 14, that Russia’s concerns where heard but ultimately Russia will be held to the same rules that apply to other members and that no changes to the protocol were made.

Leaving for now, what Russia’s ratification of Protocol 14 actually means for the ECHR, a central question remains, “What propelled Russia to ratify the protocol after all these years?”

“Smoothing over differences” appears to be the official reason media outlets are reporting, however there may be other reasons political and financial reasons why Russia is offering this carrot to the West.  

Earlier this week, the $100 billion lawsuit YUKOS v. Russia was postponed for the third time because two Russian representatives were unavailable. Perhaps the Russian authorities feel that ratification of Protocal 14 could pave the way for this case to be dismissed.

Additionally, the Financial Times reported earlier this week that Russian companies would be seeking $90 billion over the next two years to finance debt restructuring and capital improvements and perhaps to rebuild the coffers for politically connected Russian business owners who saw their fortunes collapse during the 2008 financial crisis. As demonstrated with the Rusal IPO, concerns over the management of Russian companies remain and ratifying Protocol 14 may be a signal to the investment community that Russia wants to play nice.

Russia may see ratifying Protocol 14 satifying many goals: to reduce the effectiveness complaints against Russia in the ECHR while reassuring investors that Russia abides by the rule of law. But as the trial against former YUKOS chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky and a Russian policeman’s open letter to end authorized corruption demonstrate, Russia remains a feudal state, where

in absence of functional legal or law enforcement systems, people’s only real protection lies in a network of personal and professional relationships with powerful individuals.


Igor Sechin – Russia’s New Decider?

December 29, 2009 Leave a comment

In a recent Newsweek article, “Sechin Evolution into Reportedly Number Two Man in Russian Government Examined,” Vice Premier Igor Sechin is revealed to be the true power broker in the Russian White House, “the country’s main manager” and “expanding…spheres of influence.” Additionally, IHS Global Insight recently reported:

…that Deputy Prime Minister, Igor Sechin, has reminded investors that new amendments to the law on foreign investment in state–controlled strategic mineral fields are not designed to relinquish state control over the strategic assets but rather to offer an asset-swap to gain a foothold in Russia’s natural resources industry. Sechin’s comments are a stark reminder why the investors are wary of venturing into Russia in the first place. The Kremlin needs to do more to assure the foreign investors, already guarded by the infamous Yukos and BP nationalisation cases, that they will be offered fair compensation and will have a clear explanation of what constitutes strategically important resources. IHS Global Insight Daily Analysis, Russian Prime Minister Seeks Foreign Investors’ Advice to Improve Investment Law, by Lilit Gevorgyan, 23 December, 2009

Indeed, with Sechin as Russia’s Vice Premier for Industry and Energy, the risk of corporate raiding by government officials remains high and President Medvedev’s talk of ending legal nihilism, will be just that, talk.

Free Platon Lebedev

December 23, 2009 Leave a comment

On the heels of the Moscow Times op-ed, “A Year of Increased Graft and Deadly Disasters,” the Russian Supreme Court found the 2003 arrest of Platon Lebedev illegal on procedural grounds.

Before his politically motivated arrest on July 2, 2003 as part of a case against former Yukos owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Lebedev was director of Group MENATEP, a holding company with diversified assets of $20 billion. Group MENATEP was the majority shareholder of Yukos.

Lebedev’s arrest and prosecution were widely perceived to have been a warning to Khodorkovsky, as well as a means for the government to facilitate the re-nationalization of Russia’s oil and gas industry. Lebedev’s ordeal has been replete with violations of the most basic human rights.

After his arrest in his hospital bed in July 2003, the denial of independent medical attention during the trial, and his sentence at a work camp in Russia’s inhospitable Arctic, this ruling will hopefully bring an end to Lebedev’s six year legal farce.

Now President Medvedev needs to make good on his talk of ending legal nihilism, battling corruption and respecting the rule of law by setting Platon Lebedev free.

Why Is the Rusal IPO Worrying Goldman Sachs and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange?

November 30, 2009 Leave a comment

According to the WSJ’s article, “Rusal Listing Delay Won’t Derail IPO,” the various hurdles to Rusal’s IPO are just bumps on the road to the first Russian listing in Hong Kong. Rusal is the world’s largest aluminum producer and is expected to raise about $2.5 billion in the IPO.

But an exchange not known for onerous listing requirements has requested more information from Rusal and Goldman Sachs was dropped as a book runner “after the investment bank expressed reservations about sponsoring the deal.”

The proceeds from the Rusal IPO would go to repay part of its $4.5 billion loan largely held by the Russian state-run VEB bank, also Rusal’s biggest single creditor. It seems like Goldman Sachs and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange are having second thoughts about facilitating a deal that would line the pockets of an oligopolistic petrostate.

NEWS: Mounting Russian Investment Risks Highlighted by Death and False Imprisonment of Leading Businessmen

November 20, 2009 Leave a comment

Transparency International released its 2009 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) and again Russia’s low ranking, 146th out of 180 countries, demonstrates it needs to do more to reign in corruption and strengthen its legal system.

This annual survey shows that concern among business people and analysts over state corruption and legal abuse deters direct foreign investment and harms Russia’s economic health. President Medvedev himself has repeatedly stated his commitment to ending “legal nihilism” and spurring a new era of foreign investment.

Yet, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s most successful businessman, remains in jail on a second round of fabricated charges, further eroding business confidence. Mr. Khodorkovsky recently passed the six-year mark of his imprisonment and faces another 22 years in Siberia if convicted in this second trial. This is taking place as capital outflows totaled over $169 billion, approximately 10% of Russia’s 2008 GDP, between October 2008 and March 2009 according to U.S. State Department statistics. Multinational companies, such as IKEA and Carrefour, have announced plans to withdraw or reduce investment in Russia due to extortion and lack of judicial independence.

Pressure on business is building following the recent death while in custody of leading Russian corporate counsel Sergei Magnitsky, 37, a key witness in another absurd legal battle over alleged tax fraud between the Kremlin and Hermitage Capital, once Russia’s top investment fund. The International Bar Association and the U.K. Law Society decried Magnitsky’s death as did Firestone Duncan Managing Partner Jamison Firestone who said the government ignored calls by business and legal leaders to release his former colleague.

“There is no law in Russia at the highest level,” Firestone said. “The higher you go the less there is law. Any lawyer who tells you he can protect you in Russia is a liar.”

Risks to the financial system mount as Russian President Vladimir Putin backs energy deals with German and Italian corporations and moves for the state to take a stake in the controversial initial public offering of the embattled aluminum giant UC Rusal. As Finance Minister Aleksei L. Kudrin seeks government bond financing from London bankers, the Kremlin Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov warns Russia risks collapsing into chaos if officials try to fix the political system by adopting liberal reforms.