Putin’s Rating Sags; Sberbank Lowers Interest; ‘Acoustic Cannons’ to be Used on Protesters

April 26, 2016
Russian border guards near Russian-Ukrainian border in Rostov. Stock photo by Dmitry Rogulin

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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 Foreign Minister Lavrov Has Invented A Version Of History To Meet His Needs
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Aurangzeb, Putin, Realism and a Lesson from History
Why the World Should Care About the Assassination of Boris Nemtsov

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Part of the Funds Stolen in the Magnitsky Affair Discovered in Offshore Tied to Putin’s Cellist Friend

Part of the $230 million involved in the fraud case which Sergei Magitsky blew the whistle on has been found in the same offshore company linked to President Vladimir Putin’s cellist friend Sergei Rodulgin, according to the latest revelation to come from the Panama Papers, the Organized Crime and Corruption Report Project (OCCRP) and TV Rain report.

The OCCRP discovered the trail leading from corrupt Russian law-enforcers and the Magnitsky case from the Panama Papers, an enormous trove of documents about offshore havens leaked from the Panama lawfirm Mossack Fonseca and published by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung

Banking records obtained by the OCCRP show that cellist Sergei Roldugin, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s old friend, received money from an offshore company at about the same time it was being used to steal money from the Russian government in the notorious Sergei Magnitsky case.

After the money was fraudulently taken from the Russian treasury, it disappeared into a series of paper companies in early 2008. Two of those companies were the Moldovan-registered Elenast-Com SRL, located in a Communist-era block of flats, and Bunicon-Impex SRL, which claimed headquarters in an abandoned building in Chisinau.

Elenast and Bunicon sent a share of the stolen money in February 2008 to a BVI company, Vanterey Union Inc., which then wired funds to Roberta Transit LLP, a UK- based company. Roberta Transit, in turn, sent that money along with money from other related companies (US$ 2 million in all) to Delco. The payments flowed in quick succession, all of them reaching Delco in the same month.

Besides Vanterey, three other companies used in the Magnitsky case–Protectron Company Inc., Wagnest Ltd., and Zarina Group Inc.–also sent funds to Roberta Transit. Like Vanterey, Zarina Group also received money from the two Moldovan paper companies in February 2008.

Two months later, Delco purchased the Rosneft shares from Roldugin, sending the cellist’s company US$ 800,000 in May, 2008.

Sergei Magnitsky was arrested for exposing the scheme and died from torture in Russian prison. Since then Bill Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital, has campaigned for justice on his behalf. The Magnitsky Act was passed in the US, sanctioning a number of the individuals responsible for the death of Magnitsky, subsequent cover-up, and theft of the funds as well as other severe human rights violations.
As the OCCRP notes, the two Moldovan companies, Elenas and Bunicon, were also involved in a number of other Magnitsky-related transfers.
Michael Weiss, editor-in-chief of The Interpreter, broke the story for the Daily Beast on the connection between the Russian mob and the Panama Papers and the Magnitsky story.

TV Rain noted that Magnitsky appealed to the Investigative Committe back in 2008 saying that several companies had been seized from Hermitage Capital, and that funds stolen from the Russian budget using a scheme of returning overpaid VAT were showing up on the accounts of the stolen companies.

Magnitsky himself was then arrested, beaten, and refused medical treatment and died in custody. The official cause of death was “heart attack.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russian Border Guards in Rostov Region Shoot at Driver Attempting to Cross into Ukraine
Russian border guards in the Rostov Region shot at a driver in a jeep trying to cross the Ukrainian border, Novaya Gazeta reported, citing TASS.
According to the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Rostov Region, which commands the border guards, the incident took place on the western outskirts of the Russian town of Donetsk. A border guard unit saw a Niva car racing toward Ukrainian territory. Said a border guard (translation by The Interpreter):

“When just a few meters remained before the border line, border guards tried to stop him [the driver]. Although the perpetrator did not react and aimed his all-terrain vehicle toward the border guards blocking his path. The border guards were forced to use weapons.”

The driver was detained and a case has been opened against him on administrative charges, and authorities are weighing whether they should open a criminal case on charges of “use of force related to a representative of authority,” which would be punishable by up to five years in prison.

It is not known if the FSB made any contact with Ukrainian authorities. Russia essentially controls the border in this area and for the last two years has allowed tanks and troops to cross into Ukraine to wage war in the Donbass. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission has access to only a few areas along the Russian-Ukrainian land border of some 2,000 kilometers.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

AM News: Putin’s Rating Sags; Sberbank Lowers Interest; ‘Acoustic Cannons’ to be Used on Protesters

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2016-04-26 04:35:22

The rate of the ruble to the dollar is 66.66, and to the euro is 75.01; Brent crude is at $44.60 per barrel.

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— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick