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Sunday, October 31, 2004


MOSCOW, December 23 (RIA Novosti) - Russian President Putin believes the mass media in Russia are as free as those are in other countries. Responding to the question if there were problems with freedom of speech in Russia and, if they were, where they were gravest - in Moscow or in the provinces, Mr. Putin during the news conference at the Kremlin cited a one-liner from a movie: "A true man should always try and a true lady should always resist." President Putin suggested the media act in line with the above principle: "The authorities have always tried to avoid criticism while the media have always tried to unearth everything they can to draw the authorities' attention to their errors." "We are neither better, nor worse than other countries," Mr. Putin said. He believes that the problem faced by the Russian state lies in the economy, rather than politics. Mr. Putin suggested the government make its work a bit less open for the media. "The government enabled you [reporters] to watch it working as much as you wish. I do not think the decision is all that sound. Working in the limelight is hard enough," he said. "When one faces a camera, one wants to look good, but this distracts one from his or her job. I hope the government will hold some of its weekly meetings in private. This is not because there are some secrets they would like to keep from the public, rather, this is to make the government even more outspoken in their decision-making, conversations and disputes," Mr. Putin added. Mr. Putin believes that information dissemination via the Internet should not be restricted. "I would not like freedom of disseminating information by means of the Internet curbed under the pretext of fighting crime," the president stated. According to Mr. Putin, the Internet is the most democratic mean of spreading information. "I would be very circumspect about restricting information dissemination on the Internet," the head of the Russian state added.

Campaign Against the Oligarchs

21.12.2004 17:23 MSK
A group of Russia’s top businessmen formed close ties with the country’s leadership in the 1990s, gaining significant influence with the Presidential Administration and President Boris Yeltsin himself. When Vladimir Putin assumed office in 2000, the destiny of most of these influential tycoons turned to disfavor.

Vladimir Gusinsky: The Trials of a Media Baron
One of the first to suffer President Putin’s wrath was Vladimir Gusinsky, owner of a media empire famous for financing printed and broadcasting media outlets â€” among them the popular Ekho Moskvy radio station and the NTV television channel â€” often openly critical of Russia’s authorities and government policies. In May 2000 the headquarters of Gusinsky’s Media-Most Group were raided by armed and masked federal agents who identified themselves as officers of the tax police. In June 2000 Gusinsky was arrested on charges of stealing state property valued at $10 million. After three days of detention he was released under a travel ban.
Meanwhile, NTV shareholder, the partly state-owned Gazprom gas company, and various state-controlled lending institutions demanded that Media-Most repay loans totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. Gusinsky resolved the conflict by signing a secret protocol with press minister Mikhail Lesin and head of Gazprom’s media arm Alfred Kokh, who dropped all charges against Gusinsky on the condition that he sell his controlling stake in Media-Most to Gazprom. With the criminal case against him closed, Gusinsky left Russia but soon announced that he had been forced to sign the protocol “under the barrel of a gun”, refusing to sell the stake.
Gazprom sued Media-Most for breach of contract, and the Prosecutor General opened a new criminal case, this time related to alleged illegal transfers of assets abroad by Gusinsky and other Media-Most executives.
In December 2000, Gusinsky was arrested in Spain on an Interpol warrant filed by Russian prosecutors. He was later released on bail. Some of his newspapers were shut down, Gazprom became the owner of several media outlets belonging to Most Group, the NTV board was replaced, its key staff leaving the channel. In August 2003, Gusinsky was arrested once again, this time in Greece under a treaty with Russia but released soon afterwards.
In May, 2004 Vladimir Gusinsky won a case against the Russian government in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the judges deciding unanimously in favour of the exiled tycoon, and ruling that Russia’s authorities had violated Article 5 and 18 (the said articles dealing with freedom and security) of the European Convention for Human Rights in relation to Gusinsky.

Potanin, et al
In July 2000 another oligarch, the head of the InterRos investment company Vladimir Potanin received a letter from the deputy prosecutor general with demand to pay $140 million to the state as compensation for the cheap purchase of the controlling stake in Norilsk Nickel. The case was soon dropped. At the same time, the head of Lukoil Oil Company Vagit Alekperov was charged with tax fraud.

Boris Berezovsky: The Fall of the Kremlin’s Grey Cardinal
During the Yeltsin-era the name of Boris Berezovsky â€” media, car and airline tycoon â€” was virtually synonymous to shady behind-the-scenes influence and covert power. One of the closest members of President Yeltsin’s inner-circle, in the mid-1990s Berezovsky openly entered politics and was appointed secretary of Russia’s National Security Council and head of the Executive Committee of the CIS. He was behind the creation of the pro-Kremlin Unity party that came second (after the Communists) in the 1999 parliamentary elections, as well as being chief negotiator of the peace treaty that ended the first Chechen war in 1996.
On July 8, 2000, Vladimir Putin announced in his address that Russia would no longer tolerate ’’shady groups’’ that divert money abroad, establish their own ’’dubious’’ security services, and block the development of a liberal market economy. Soon after Berezovsky voiced his plans to create an opposition party led by regional governors and other influential figures threatened by Putin’s drive for power. At the end of the year the prosecution declared Berezovsky the main suspect in the misappropriation of large sums from Aeroflot â€” Russia’s national airline in which he owned large stakes. A similar case against Berezovsky dealt with large-scale fraud in his Logovaz car company.
Berezovsky left Russia at the end of 2000. In March 2003, he was arrested in London but released on bail. In October of the same year he received political asylum in the United Kingdom. His stake in Russia’s major television company ORT (now First Channel) was sold, and his own TV6 channel was closed by a ruling of the Russian Arbitration Court. Still an active critic of President Putin, Boris Berezovsky is now living under the name of Platon Yelenin.

The Yukos Case
The latest and most talked-about case of the Kremlin’s fight against the oligarchs began in July 2003 when one of the major shareholders of Russia’s oil giant Yukos Platon Lebedev was arrested on charges of illegally acquiring a stake in the state-owned fertilizer plant Apatite. On October 25, Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, known for his funding of liberal opposition parties and open criticism of President Putin’s rule, was arrested at gunpoint by a special squad of FSB agents. Khodorkovsky was charged with tax fraud and evasion, with several bail requests denied by the courts.
Once in custody, Mikhail Khodorkovsky resigned as Yukos CEO. Several other core Yukos shareholders, including Khodorkovsky’s close friend and former rector of the Yukos-sponsored Russian State University for the Humanities Leonid Nevzlin, left Russia and were placed on the international wanted list by Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office. The “Yukos case” received wide publicity and was denounced by various human rights groups as being politically motivated.
In March 2004 Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s open letter titled The Crisis of Liberalism in Russia was published by Russian business daily Vedomosti. In it Khodorkovsky called on Russia’s top businessmen to face up to the fact that most major privatizations in the country were conducted with a disregard for the interests of its people and to ’’recognize the legitimacy of President Vladimir Putin“. Khodorkovsky later stated that the letter was in fact a result of a ”collective authorship“ but that he agreed with its content and admitted responsibility as the person who agreed to put his name under it. Soon afterwards Leonid Nevzlin, now living in Israel, announced his withdrawal from politics and the end of his funding of the liberal opposition in Russia, namely Irina Khakamada, saying that he regarded Khodorkovsky’s letter as a request and even an order to leave the political scene.
After an appeal from Platon Lebedev’s lawyers, the criminal cases of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were joined into one, with the two Yukos shareholders currently awaiting trial, set for July 12, 2004.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Bank Crisis of 2004

22.10.2004 10:56 Mosnews.com

May 13, 2004 â€” Central Bank announces that it is recalling the general banking license from Sodbiznesbank. The bank is charged with money laundering and sponsorship of terrorism. CB appoints temporary administration, but the bank’s management prevents the state officials from entering the office.
May 17, 2004 â€” head of the Federal Financial Monitoring Service, Viktor Zubkov, announces that his agency suspects another ten Russian banks of engaging in money laundering activities.
May 18, 2004 â€” hundreds of Sodbiznesbank’s clients unsuccessfully try to storm the bank’s office in order to withdraw their deposits.
May 24, 2004 â€” the head office of Sodbiznesbank is stormed with the help of police and court bailiffs. The temporary administration finally begins its work.
End of May, 2004 â€” a number of “blacklists” begin circulating the banking community as the bankers try to guess which banks are suspected by Financial Monitoring Service of money laundering and may be closed anytime soon.
May 29, 2004 â€” a small privately owned Novocherkassk City Bank in the southern Rostov region loses its banking license. Central Bank accuses the bank of numerous violations of the anti-money laundering law and of failing to comply with a number of other laws which regulate banking activities.
June 3, 2004 â€” head of Financial Monitoring Service officially announces that his agency has no “blacklist” of bad banks. However, the banking community is too much involved in the guessing game to take his words seriously.
June 4, 2004 â€” CreditTrust bank, rumored to have the same owners as the under-fire Sodbiznesbank, faces an acute shortage of liquidity as its clients begin to pull out their deposits and other banks decline to provide the bank with necessary cash through the inter-bank loan market. CreditTrust management announces its decision to liquidate the bank.
June 7, 2004 â€” CreditTrust changes its mind and announces that it will resume its normal operations in full no later than June 10.
June 8, 2004 â€” CreditTrust changes its mind once again and sends a petition to the Central Bank authorities announcing the bank’s voluntary liquidation.
June 9, 2004 â€” inter-bank loan market is hit by a serious liquidity crisis. The banks are suspicious of each other, awaiting the news of one another’s liquidation. As a result the banks don’t want to loan each other money and the interest rates on inter-bank loan market soar to a level of 80 percent. Even at these rates no one wants to part with cash and it is virtually impossible, especially for small- and medium-sized banks to secure loans to combat the liquidity shortage.
June 11, 2004 â€” Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Central Bank Chairman. Putin says that there is a definite need to bring order to the banking system, but asks the financial authorities to act with caution. There is no need to “purge” the banking system, says Putin.
June 18, 2004 â€” Sergei Ignatyev, Chairman of the Central Bank, holds a press conference. Ignatyev tells reporters that the situation with ruble liquidity on the Russian inter-bank loan market is stabilizing and that a banking crisis in Russia is highly unlikely.
June 21, 2004 â€” National Association of Stock Market Participants (NAUFOR) discontinues its rating of Paveletsky bank, referring to numerous complaints from the bank’s counteragents who accuse Paveletsky of delaying payments. Central Bank orders the bank to freeze all of its operations, and Paveletsky puts a ban on all payments and deposit withdrawals, and fails to pay its shareholders more than 3 million rubles ($100,000) in dividends for 2003.
Small-sized Commercial Savings Bank ceases all of its operations and fires 95 percent of its staff.
June 23, 2004 â€” medium-sized Dialog-Optim bank limits payouts on personal deposits to 10,000 rubles ($345) a day irregardless of the total sum of deposit. Payments to and for the legal entities and organizations and processed with delays. The bank’s press service denies any liquidity problems.
June 24, 2004 â€” Sodbiznesbank is officially liquidated by the decision of Moscow Arbitration Court. Central Bank an official announcement that it is recalling the general banking license from CreditTrust.
Promeximbank stops all payments which gives a serious reason for worry to the whole banking community. This bank’s bill of collection were quite popular on the inter-bank loan market and now many Russian banks find themselves with hands full of these obligations and no way to claim the money back.
July 2, 2004 â€” president of Dialog-Optim bank announces that the bank has sold all of its liquid assets and fears that the Central Bank may recall its license.
July 5, 2004 â€” clients of Guta Bank begin having problems withdrawing the money from personal deposits.
July 6, 2004 â€” Guta Bank officially announces that it is incapable of making current payments on transactions and of paying out deposits to personal clients. The market is permeated by rumors that Alfa Bank, one of Russia’s top five, is also having problems as the clients are unable to withdraw cash from some of the banks ATMs.
In the evening Alfa Bank’s management releases an official statement claiming that the bank is working in a normal regime and has no problems with liquidity, payments or refinancing.
July 7, 2004 â€” Sergei Ignatyev, Chairman of the Central Bank visits the lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, to talk to the deputies about the current situation in the banking sector. Ignatyev tells deputies of a bill prepared by CB experts aimed to guarantee the safety of all personal deposits. The bill makes a provision that if a license is recalled from a commercial bank that is not a member of the account insurance system, the clients would receive compensation up to 100,000 rubles, which will be paid from the Central Bank’s means. CB Chairman also tells the deputies that the measures currently taken by the Central Bank are sufficient to resolve the crisis and once again reiterates that there is no official “blacklist” of bad banks.
Ignatyev makes an announcement that state-owned Foreign Trade Bank (Vneshtorgbank) may buy Guta Bank and will receive a credit to cover Guta’s liabilities to its clients if the negotiations are successful. He also says that an unnamed commercial bank wants to buy Dialog-Optim bank in order to “solve its problems”.
Alexander Gafin, vice-president of Alfa Bank, holds a press conference to make the announcement that his bank fell victim to a premeditated attack. “We have fallen victim to a well-prepared scheme. And we even know who did this and by what means,” the banker says.
A crowd of Alfa Bank’s clients, having heard in the news of impending banking crisis, gather outside the bank’s office. The clients want to withdraw the money from their deposits and to close their accounts.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Lots of Hot Air About Hydrogen

Joseph J. Romm LA Times
Earlier this month, the South Coast Air Quality Management District approved a $4-million program to "put a mustache on the Mona Lisa" at least that's how it seems to me. What the agency actually did was approve spending millions to take 35 or so of the greenest, most energy-efficient sedans ever...
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All Roads From Hell and Back Lead to Fidel

 Myriam Marquez  Orlando Sentinel
All the anniversaries and cosmic combinations have aligned into one bloody March and a political snakepit for President Bush. Bush talked tough Friday to mark the first anniversary of the start of the U.S. war in Iraq. He's straining to keep the coalition of the willing together now that...
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