Russian Ex- Corrections Head Arrested for $1.8 Million in Kickbacks

February 25, 2016
Former Federal Corrections Head Aleksandr Reymer. Photo by Gennady Gulyayev/Kommersant

LIVE UPDATES: Russian Finance Minister Siluanov says there isn’t enough money left in the budget to support the anti-crisis plan, and proposes reducing it.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.

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Russian Police Want to Expand Their Powers

Last year, the State Duma or Russian parliament proposed amendments to the law to increase police powers, just as they had with the Federal Security Service.

Now the Interior Ministry is lobbying openly for them, according to a report by Novaya Gazeta, citing TASS.

Igor Zubov, deputy Interior Ministry, speaking at a meeting of the Public Council of his ministry, said the amendment must be passed to the Law on the Police because otherwise, Soviet-era standards remain in effect (translation by The Interpreter):

“Life changes. And in each fact of the use of arms, the evaluation is very harash by the prosecutor’s office and the investigative agencies. An evaluation is made according to the principles of necessary defense and extreme need,” Zubov explains. In his opinion, the norms on the use of weapons have to be changed.

The Duma’s amendments, filed last year but not yet passed in the third reading, would involving permission to the police to shoot to kill in extreme cases, including women. Currently, Russian law, typically protective of women, does not allow police to shoot them at all under any circumstances. The new powers would also enable police to open and search cars during emergencies or mass disorders. Under the law for the FSB, officers may now come into residences or private land in the event of mass disorders.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Ex-Head of Federal Corrections Service Reimer Charged with Taking $1.8 Million in Kickbacks

Aleksander Reimar, the former head of the Russian Corrections Service, has been been charged with embezzlement and abuse of office in taking 140 million rubles in kickbacks ($1.8 million), Kommersant reports.

The charges relate to deals worth 2.7 billion ruble ($35 million) involving the sale of electronic ankle bracelets required for monitoring people under house arrest.

According to sources in the investigation, in June 2010, Reimar and a group of people worked out a complicated hidden scheme with the bracelets using two dummy corporations that would “look legal at first glance.”

This enabled the conspirators to issue contracts to those corporations without open bids. The $1.8 million Reimar received in his office was 10% of one such deal, and given to him by Nikolai Martynov, also charged, who cooperated with investigators and is now expected to get a minimal sentence.

Reimar’s lawyer says that the charges against his client were based on “unreliable analysis” and that he will be able to show Reimar was not involved in the scheme.

Like other former Russian prisoners, Natalya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot, who spent more than two years as a prisoner under Reimar’s management, couldn’t resist some schadenfreud about what he was experiencing:

Translation: Reimer is arrested and is going in the police van to prison. There they will strip him and conduct a full search. Well what of it, those are the rules.

Translation: Former FCS head Reimar now in a cage at the Presenensky Court in Moscow, in a dark sweater, hands covering his face.

Gruppa Voina (War Group), an artists’ performance group led by Pyotr Verzilov, Tolokonnikova’s husband, also joked about Reimar:

Translation: Mediazone: Prisoners complained about price hikes at the stores in the Moscow detention center. Reimar is now lowering the prices.

Reimar as mystery shopper!

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Domodedovo Owner Kamenshcik Under House Arrest – Moscow Times Feature

Peter Hobson has a detailed background article on the life of Domodedovo Airport’s owner, billionaire Dmitry Kamenshchik, in The Moscow Times.

Kamenshchik was arrested last week on charges of negligence for the 2011 terrorist attack on Domodedovo in which 37 people were killed. He was subsequently placed under house arrest, and there was much speculation that the charges against him — unique among Russia’s many cases of terrorism — were contrived to wrest his property from him.

Some called to mind similarities to the cases of former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky who served 10 years in prison and Vladimir Yevtushenkov, head of Sistema and former owner of shares in Bashneft, which was privatized by the Kremlin in late 2014.

The difference is that unlike Khodorkovsky, Kamenshchik has not been involved in opposition politics, and unlike Yevtushenkov, he has not been described as close to the Kremlin.

Indeed, it appears as if his fierce decades-long struggle to hang on to his investment as an individual entrepreneur has pitted him against the Russian government’s desire to control lucrative transportation hubs.

“He is devoid of emotion, feelings and personal connections,” says Sergei Kapchuk, a former Russian state official who knew him in the 1990s. “His business is everything. He is a machine for making money.”

When Kapchuk met him in 1992, Kamenshchik had just quit a philosophy course and was helping run an airline tour company, working out of a three-room apartment in southwest Moscow that he shared with his girlfriend and her young son.

Kapchuk said that one day, two men broke into the apartment. They put a grenade to the boy’s head and said, “hand over your cash or we all die.” Losing the money would have meant the end of Kamenshchik’s business. Without a word, Kamenshchik threw himself across the room, wrested the grenade from the hands of the bandits and bundled them out.

“He’s practically autistic,” says Anton Bakov, a businessman and politician who gave him his first job in the aviation business in the early 1990s. Bakov, like everyone who has met him, agrees that Kamenshchik is a business genius.

Read more at Moscow Times

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Duma Seeks to Equate News Aggregators with Media; Introduce Heavy Fines for ‘Unreliable Information’
The State Duma is proposing an amendment to the current law on information that would equate news aggregators such as Yandex and Google to media, forcing them to comply with strict media laws in Russia, RBC and Kommersant reported.
And the Duma would like to make such aggregators responsible for publishing “reliable” information, and impose a fine of 400,000 ($5,258) for physical persons and up to 5 million rubles ($5,631) for legal persons if the services don’t remove content at the demand of Roskomnadzor, the state censor.
The draft amendment to the Law on Information, Information Technologies and Protection of Information — better known as the “Bloggers’ Law” — was submitted yesterday.
Aleksei Kazakov of Just Russia, one of the authors of the amendment said it is required “to fill the legal vacuum” (translation by The Interpreter):

“In their influence, aggregators exceed media. But we don’t want to create uncomfortable conditions for their work; therefore we provide for only relevant agencies to appeal to Roskomnadzor, not citizens [in making complaints].”

Leonid Levin, head of the Duma’s committee on information policy, said he wasn’t familiar with all the details of the proposed amendments but considered regulation of this area “relevant”:

“Today it is not important where a report appears, what’s important is who distributes it. The aggregators of news information play a serious role, this is difficult not to be noticed, including by regulators.”

Ochip Mandzhikov, head of Yandex’s press service told RBC that if the draft law is passed, then Yandex could not go on existing in its present form. Each day, Yandex indexes more than 100,000 news items from more than 7,000 sources; it does not edit them and does not publish their full texts:

“Yandex News is objectively limited in the capacity to check the legality and reliability of news information prepared by third parties and cannot bear responsibility for such information.”

Ivan Zasursky of the Association of Internet Publishers told Kommersant that “pressuring aggregation is pointless; you generally can’t reach it on social networks.” He said that rather than news about how law-makers are going to strangle information, he expects to hear about how the Internet can be developed.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

AM Headlines: Ex- Corrections Head Arrested for Kickbacks; Duma Adds Fine for News Aggregators’ ‘Unreliable’ Info

Here are some of the Russian media’s top headlines this morning, taken from RBC, 7:40 na Perrone, Currenttime TV, Kommersant, Novaya Gazeta, Interfax and Grani.

Brent at $34.23 a Barrel; Ruble at 76.24 to Dollar

–  Ex-Head of Federal Corrections Service Reimer Charged with Taking $1.8 Million in Kickbacks on Electronic Ankle Monitors

– State Duma Propose Amendment to Information Technology Law Mandating News Aggregators Google and Yandex Verify Reliability of Information Disseminated; Equates News Aggregators with Media; Yandex Says It Cannot Take Such Responsibility

Violators face fines up to $65,750 if found publishing “unreliable” information.

Vostok Battalion Commander Khodakovsky: ‘In Case of My Murder Bystanders Should Not Suffer’

– Political Prisoners Sentsov and Kolchenko in Poor Conditions in Chelyabisnk Prison

Moscow Reacts Critically to US ‘Plan B’ of Russia and Assad Do Not Observe Ceasefire

– Jewish Teacher Tried for ‘Extremism’ For Describing Judaism as Oldest Religion

US Calls on Major Banks to Refrain from Buying Russian Bonds

– Russian Journalist Fired from Inter TV, Expelled from Ukraine Over Vulgar Comment About Maidan Victims

Orenberg Authorities Raze Home Where Renowned Ukrainian Poet and Thinker Taras Shevchenko Lived in Exile in 1849

– Level of Depression in Russian Single-Industry Towns Up to 60%

– Bomb Threat Called into Parnas Office During Report Presentation Came from Chechnya

Prosecutor General Finds lack of Medications to Treat HIV in Labor Colonies

Gazprom Announces New Pipeline Across Black Sea Bed

RBC Investigates Sources of Income and Expenses of Russian Orthodox Church

RBC Photo Essay on Businessmen Who Fund Russian Orthodox Church

– Investigative Committee Says Chukotka Apartment Building Explosion Due to Overheated Boiler; Woman Injured

– Omsk Regional Court Declares Slavo-Aryan Vedas to Be ‘Extremist’

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick