Russia Update: Searches Under Way of Open Russia Employees Related to 2003 Khodorkovsky Case

December 22, 2015
Mikhail Khodorkovsky at Chatham House, February 26, 2015

This morning searches are under way of employees of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia in Moscow and St. Petersburg in connection with the 2003 Apatit shares case.

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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Bolotnaya Demonstrator Ivan Nepomnyashchy Sentenced to 2.5 Years of Labor Colony

Earlier today we published a long list of cases of intimidation or prosecution of the opposition — and now news comes of yet another case.

Today Zamoskvoretsky District Court in Moscow sentenced Ivan Nepomnyashchy, age 24, to 2.5 years of standard-regimen labor colony, pronouncing him guilty of “mass disorders” and “use of force against representatives of the government.” He was taken under custody directly from the court room.

As we wrote in February, authorities waited three years before they arrested Nempomnyashchy for the May 6, 2012 protest on Bolotnaya Square against Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency.

This suggested that the Kremlin’s case was weak, as it was with other Bolotnaya Square defendants.

Nepomnyashchy went to the demonstration on May 12 together with his father, and in fact both men were detained that day along with other protesters. His father was released after being fined 500 rubles for “failure to obey the lawful demands of a police officer” and Ivan was charged in August 2012 but the judge returned the case to police for removal of the violations.

At the time,  despite prior agreement with the demonstration’s organizers, police unexpectedly blocked pedestrian passage on to Bolotnaya Square, causing a crush of people which led to clashes.
Both Ivan and his father deny using force against police. Ivan was charged with delivering “one blow with his left hand to the left hand of the police, and then at least one blow with a folded umbrella to the head of another policemen, and also to his arms.”
The prosecutor originally asked for 3.5 years of imprisonment. Nepomnyashchy pled not guilty, refused to participate in the trial and refused to give his final statement allowed under Russian law, in protest against the injustice of the trial. 
Ivan is from the town of Sergiyev Posad, and worked as an architectural engineer for the company Rodina. He has been under house arrest since February.
More than 400 people were detained during the Bolotnaya protest, and ultimately 18 people were convicted to terms ranging from 3 to 4 years of labor colony; 2 were handed suspended sentences, and several were eventually amnestied.

The Russian authorities pursued the protesters long after the day of the demonstration.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Russia’s Lower House of Parliament Approves Draft Law Enabling FSB to Shoot at Crowds to Fight Terrorism

The State Duma, or Russia’s lower house of parliament, has approved, in the third and final reading, a draft law that would enable the Federal Security Service (FSB) or domestic intelligence agency to shoot at crowds, including of women and children, Moscow News reported.

As we reported, the draft law was launched last July at a time when authorities appeared to be responding to opposition demonstrations against the war in Ukraine and the economic crisis, which they feared may grown into protests like Ukraine’s Maidan.

Moscow Times writes:

The bill proposes to give officers the power to use firearms against crowds of people to prevent acts of terror, including taking hostages and armed attacks on governmental buildings.

The amendments also allow FSB officers to shoot at women, children and disabled people in cases of a terror act or armed attack on civilians and law enforcers.

Moreover, the security service officers are handed the right to enter private property to “maintain public security in emergency situations and during mass civil unrests”.

The draft law still remains to be passed in the Federation Council or upper house of parliament and must be signed by the president. But since the measure could not come this far without President Vladimir Putin’s approval, it seems likely to pass.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Investigative Committee Announces Searches of Open Russia In Connection to 2003 Case; Activists Find It Absurd

As we reported earlier, employees of Open Russia, the organization founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky to promote democracy in Russia, were searched this morning in connection with a 2003 case involving shares of a fertilizer company called Apatit which Khodorkovsky had purchased.

The Investigative Committee has published a notice on its web site saying that it is investigating the lawfulness of the acquisition of YUKOS’ shares and a criminal case regarding the former main stockholders and directors of YUKOS on the grounds of theft of oil from affiliate oil extraction enterprises:

Today, December 22, for the purposes of checking information about the legalization in the Russian Federation of cash received from the legalization of previously stolen property, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation in cooperation with divisions of the Russian Interior Ministry are conducting searches in the residents and workplaces of individual entrepreneurs or other persons financed from abroad from the accounts of organizations in the past, and possibly currently under the control  of Mikhail Khodrokovsky, Leonid Nevzlin and other members of the group headed by them.

As the individuals searched did not appear to have any connection to YUKOS, the searches appeared design to intimidate them and collect data for possible other cases. 

Translation: In our office now.

The OMON are riot police of the Interior Ministry.

Translation: The privatization of Apatit, JSO was in 1994 (!). The criminal case was opened in 2003. Searches 21 years later! A Guinness Record.

Open Russia published more details about the searches, taken from social media reports from employees.

None of them had any connection to Khodorkovsky’s business, many of them were young children at the time, and there didn’t seem to be any logic to searching them under this pretext. Investigators took materials about current opposition activity, suggesting they were casting a net wider beyond the Apatit case.

The employees of Open Russia joked about the absurdity of the situation:

Translation: Time now to come with searches of possible future employees of Open Russia.
Translation: Retweet, if after school, you ran with Khodorkovsky to steal oil, let’s see how many of us there are.
Translation: the Apatit, JSO shares were taken in 1993. Andrei @brewerov was 11 years old; Natasha @nataliagraz was 4; Misha @Roskin was 2. You should all get the belt for this!
Translation: The searches at Open Russia are being conducted in connection with the investigation of the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby in 1932. Nothing is forgotten, no one is forgotten!
Translation: The Apatit case was in 1993. I want to confess in advance: I also shot at the White House from a tank.
Translation: it has been established that an officer of Open Russia with criminal intent as accomplice in the theft of shares, falsified notes in his school workbook.
Translation: The employees of Open Russia are honest and professional people. The searches look like revenge for their activity with Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Open Russia’s office at 30 Pokrovka Street in Moscow was also searched. Khodorkovsky commented in an interview with Ekho Moskvy (translation by The Interpreter):

 “I think this is fairly funny, especially given that not a single one of the current employees and activists of Open Russia worked at YUKOS. Some of them were in fact quite young in 1993. The senility is in its final stages. We were all familiar with this in the Brezhnev times; I mean the older generation. It’s nothing new. 

All of the people who collaborate with Open Russia are perfectly aware and were aware from the start that such pressure is not only possible but inevitable. The logic of development of any authoritarian regime, generally did not leave any grounds to doubt this. Thus as we have been working so we will go on working.”

Translation: The search lasted 3 hours. They overturned EVERYTHING, even the car. The confiscated a huge box of everything.

Translation: printed-out articles from Internet media, campaign material from the 2014 elections, personal diaries. 

Activists are concerned about the searches because of a past pattern where they often have culminated in criminal trials and imprisonment.

Translation: Rays of support to the guys at Open Russia. The Investigative Committee is going along the traditional pattern: 1) Search under some odd case; 2) Leak to LifeNews; 3) Opening a case (optional).

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

A Russian Crackdown On Dissent Is Already Underway

As we have been reporting below, armed Russian police have stormed offices — and homes — of employees of Open Russia, a Russian opposition political organization. The reason for the search: a 2003 legal case concerning the privatization of the Apatit mining and fertilizer company.

It should be noted that Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the founder of Open Russia, was arrested in 2003 for allegedly not paying taxe,s and his oil conglomerate, Yukos, was then nationalized. That same year, his partner, Planton Lebedev, was arrested for allegedly illegally privatizing the state-owned Apatit company.

In other words, not only is the case that is sparking today’s raids more than twelve years old, it has also been thoroughly investigated and prosecuted.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky is also being charged in connection to the 1998 murder of Neftegansk Mayor Vladimir Petukhov for which Alexey Pichugin, the former security chief of his YUKOS oil company, was sentenced to life imprisonment.

It’s also important to remember that Russia authorities initially questioned Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s 82 year-old father, Boris, in connection with the murder case, as Mikhail is not living in Russia.

So what are the chances that Russian authorities have unearthed new evidence about a twelve-year-old privatization case and a seventeen-year-old-murder case in the same month?

Instead, some point to a few reasons why the Kremlin might be cracking down on the opposition. Mikhail Khodorkovsky has published a 415-page indictment of Russian officials and organized crime figures which links the Prosecutor General Yury Chaika and Former First Deputy Prosecutor General Alexander Bastrykin to criminal networks — networks that may be linked to the poisoning death of FSB defector Alexander Litvinenko and the related death of Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison.

On December 4, opposition leader Alexey Navalny released a film accusing the Prosecutor General of corruption.  Facing new, likely-politically-motivated, legal charges, possibly the result of his new investigation, Khodorkovsky has called for a non-violent revolution in Russia.

Oil prices are at historic lows, as is the value of the ruble, and it’s unclear whether Russia’s adventures in Ukraine and Syria will bear fruit. Add to this the fact that it is the holiday season so fewer are watching the news, and there is a renewed interest by some parties in working with Russia to resolve international problems, and now may seem like the perfect time to conduct a domestic crackdown.

Skeptics of the Kremlin’s motivations have plenty of evidence to prove that, just in the last month, an apparent crackdown on the Russian press and the Russian opposition is underway. Here is a very brief excerpted summary of just some of the stories we have covered:

December 21: A man was beaten in the infamous mafia terror town of Kushchevskaya for trying to organize a showing of a film made by Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny which accuses Prosecutor General Yury Chaika and his two sons, Artyom and Igor Chaika, of corruption.

December 21: The Investigative Committee announced it was investigating whether a satirical tweet made by opposition leader Alexey Navalny about the judge in his criminal case that included a historical painting was libelous.

December 15: Putin permits Russia’s Constitutional Court to ignore decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights. This allows Russian courts to ignore international law, and cases like the aforementioned nationalization of the Yukos oil company after the jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. International law has repeatedly found that this seizure was illegal, and as a result the Permanent Court of Arbitration says Russia owes Yukos stockholders more than $50 billion while the European Court of Human Rights has ordered Russia to pay Yukos’ former owners $2.5 billion.

December 14: Opposition leader Alexey Navalny briefly detained during his investigation of an official profiled by his latest film expose.

December 14: Aleksandr Ryklin, the editor of Yezhednevny Zhurnal (Daily Journal), a website banned by the Russian censor, was arrested during a demonstration in Pushkin Square to support the constitution – a Soviet-era dissident tradition resumed in recent years with the appearance of political prisoners.

December 11: Prosecutors formally announce murder charges, described above, against Mikhal Khodorkovsky.

December 8: US non-governmental organization Russian Foundation for Economic Advancement and Rule of Law is declared “undesirable” and its director was banned from Russia.

December 8: A 76-year-old protester, Vladimir Ionov, was given a three-year suspended sentence for unsanctioned protests. He fled to Ukraine on December 21.

December 8: Prosecutors notify Mikhail Khodorkovsky of upcoming murder charges. 

December 8: Conservative Russian State Duma Deputy Aleksei Zhuravlyov asks the Prosecutor General to investigate the funding of TV Rain, Moscow’s last independent TV station.

December 7: Prosecutors announce investigation of TV Rain for violations of supporting extremism and violating labor laws (two seemingly unrelated topics, surely).

December 7: Kuban activist Darya Polyvudova sentenced to three and a half years in a labor colony on charges that she advocated separatism. 

December 7: Ildar Dadin was sentenced to three years in a labor colony for holding unauthorized protests.

November 30: Russian Prosecutor General declares Soros Foundations “undesirable.”

November 23: Yevgeny Vistishko, an environmental activist who was arrested in the leadup to the Sochi Olympics, was due to be released from prison, but prosecutors intervened to hold him longer. He began a hunger strike following the news and reports from early December suggested that he was near death. Ultimately, he canceled the strike due to poor health but his case is still not resolved.

All of that also excludes Russia’s foreign policy. In the last month Russian-Ukrainian tensions have been increasing as power and supplies have been cut to Crimea, fighting is getting worse in the Donbass, Russia has started to block imports from Ukraine, and the Minsk deadline is approaching with little signs of progress. Furthermore, since a Russian jet was shot down on November 24 tensions in Syria are also building:

With the Russian economy and foreign policy in crisis, history has taught us to expect more aggressive Kremlin moves both at home and abroad. As we see from the brief list above, there’s plenty of evidence that this is already underway.

(Note: The Interpreter is a project of the Institute for Modern Russia which is funded by Pavel Khodorkovsky, the son of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.)

James Miller

Further on Searches of Open Russia Employees in Connection with Khodorkovsky’s 2003 Apatit Case

The searches under way now in Russia of employees of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia are not in relationship to the murder case opened against him last week, says Russian lawyer Pavel Chikov, but the 2003 case involving the privatization of a fertilizer firm called Apatit.

Translation: @adagamov clarification – [searches] in the 2003 case on shares in Apatit, not in the murder [case].

Translation: The statute of limitations on one of the articles in that case under which searches of Open Russia are now being conducted expired in 2005, and on another, in 2013.

Translation: I remember well that the episode with Apatit was excluded from the appeal in Khodorkovsky’s first case due to the expiration of the statute of limitations (back in 2005).

Not all the employees of Open Russia have been searched. 

Translation: A bunch of people from Open Russia are being searched now in the YUKOS case of 2003. I’m OK. They haven’t come to my house.

The searches related to an expired case of people who appear to be unrelated to the case is likely an attempt to intimidate those working for Khodorkovsky’s organization.

Translation: This morning the police came to search my relatives’ homes. Due to Open Russia. They were looking for some kind of documents.

Translation: In 2003, I was 12 years old, if it comes to that.

Marina Baranova of Open Russia has posted a statement on her Facebook page (translation by The Interpreter).

Good morning, Kulle Pispanen and a number of other people from Open Russia are being searched. The topic is the big YUKOS case of 2003 vintage.

(If it comes to this, none of the people whose apartments are being searched who live in Moscow and St. Petersburg are in YUKOS.)

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Searches Under Way in Russia of Open Russia Employees
This morning Moscow time there are social media reports of searches under way of associates of Open Russia, the organization founded by businessman and former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Translation: Since early this morning the Main Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee has been conducting searches in the apartments of employees of Open Russia and of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s press secretary Kulle Pispanen.

Translation: The police have come to my home, they say there’s a search.

Gryaznevich works for Open Russia in St. Petersburg. 

Translation: 3 people are being searched in the case of Khodorkovsky.

Translation: oh, already 7.

Translation: Searches today at everyone’s home who works with Open Russia.

Pelevina, a member of the Parnas opposition party, was searched herself last year.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, Jr., program director for Open Russia who returned to Russia recently after rehabilitation following his poisoning, wrote on his Facebook that he spoke in St. Petersburg today on the radio:

Translation: On the air on St. Petersburg’s Ekho show “Separate Opinion,” discussed Open Russia’s plans for the coming elections, the investigation regarding Chaika, my statement to the Investigative Committee regarding the attempt on my life, the eternal quesiton of unification of the democrats and Putin’s “[gunslinger] gait.”

UPDATE: According to a post on Open Russia, the searches are connected to “Khodorkovsky’s case.”

Apparently this is not the investigation of Khodorkovsky in absentia in Russia, related to the 1998 murder case of Nefteyugansk Mayor Vladimir Petukhov, but another criminal case about Apetit’s shares.

Translation: Clarification: in the 2003 case of Apatit shares, not the murder.

(Note: The Interpreter is a project of the Institute for Modern Russia which is funded by Pavel Khodorkovsky, the son of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.)

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick