MOSCOW, January 10 (RIA Novosti)
Swiss Prosecutors Investigate Magnitsky Case
Swiss federal prosecutors have frozen local bank accounts in connection with a money laundering case against Russian officials, the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper reported.
The Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office has ordered an investigation of money flows into these accounts after new facts came to light during the probe, Office spokeswoman Jeannette Balmer told Vedomosti. The investigation was launched on March 7, 2011 when the law firm Brown Rudnick complained to the Money Laundering Reporting Office on behalf of their client, the Hermitage Capital Management investment fund.
Hermitage Capital Management maintains that part of the 5.4 billion rubles ($177 million at current rates) allegedly stolen by the Russian tax officials exposed by Sergei Magnitsky was transferred into Swiss bank accounts. One of the banks that has frozen suspicious accounts is Credit Suisse, the newspaper said. In 2011, Swiss authorities froze accounts belonging to Vladlen Stepanov, former husband of Russian tax official Olga Stepanova, who approved numerous illegal tax refunds, according to Hermitage Capital.
In an official statement, Credit Suisse said its policy is to strictly abide by laws and regulations, but they gave no further details.
UBS bank is also involved in the probe, Novaya Gazeta wrote earlier. A source familiar with the investigation confirmed that some UBS accounts had been seized.
The exposure of corrupt Russian officials started by Magnitsky, which ultimately cost him his life, is widening, a Hermitage representative said. The case is now being investigated by foreign authorities as well. Investigators are certain to find and freeze the stolen money in the accounts owned by the corrupt Russian elite, he added.
In Russia Magnitsky was accused of helping Hermitage Capital avoid paying taxes. He was put into custody and died in 2009 in a Moscow pre-trial detention center. In late December, a court in Moscow acquitted Dmitry Kratov, the former deputy chief of the prison, who was accused of negligence which led to the death of Magnitsky. The state prosecutor urged the court to acquit Kratov, claiming there was no causal link between Kratov's actions and Magnitsky's death.
The Russian Presidential Council on Human Rights, which also studied the circumstances of the lawyer’s death in 2011, resolved that the charges against Magnitsky and his arrest were unjustified. Yet he was kept in custody and his jailors used handcuffs and rubber batons on him during the last hours of his life. Valery Borshchev, a council member, told Vedomosti that Magnitsky was severely beaten, probably by several people, and that this could have caused his death.
Putin Moves to Tighten Registration Rules
President Vladimir Putin has introduced a bill intended to clamp down on abuses involving contract-free lease or hire of housing and “ghost” registrations. The proposed punishments include heavy fines and criminal proceedings.
The president's move is aimed at increasing the liability for violating the registration rules. There are thousands of “rubber houses” across the country with officially registered ghost populations running into hundreds of thousands. In 2011, for example, 6,400 addresses were identified where 300,000 people allegedly lived.
This is interfering with the normal functioning of numerous government agencies, including the tax service, the migration service, the courts, the police, the military enlistment offices, and others. According to the president, one of the reasons for these outrages is “dishonest leaseholders (owners) of housing abusing their rights.”
To remedy this situation, it has been proposed that the 1993 freedom-of-movement law be amended to include a new concept, “fictitious registration,” covering the registration of Russian nationals on the basis of knowingly false information or documents, registration without intending to live in one or another living quarters, and the registration of a Russian national without a leaseholder intending to let the said person live (reside) at this or that accommodation.
The changes to the Criminal Code punish the fictitious registration of Russian citizens, foreign nationals and stateless persons, or the fictitious registration of Russian citizens, foreigners or stateless people (a fine of about $3,300 to $5,000 or up to three years in prison). Both dishonest officials and owners (leaseholders) of housing could fall under the new provision.
The Code of Administrative Offenses will also be amended in order to punish Russian citizens who do not have a passport or have an invalid passport. The proposal is to increase administrative fines from the current $50-$83 to $63-$100 (and to $100-$167 in Moscow and St. Petersburg).
But the big question remains: how will the new registration rules be enforced and by whom, the paper says in conclusion.
A Letter to Gerard Depardieu
On learning that Gerard Depardieu had become a Russian national, Maxim Galkin, a popular comedian and one of our columnists, wrote him a letter to warn him about some realities of Russian life.
Dear Gerard, I am Maxim Galkin, a comedian and TV host. We are not acquainted, but I have met some of your compatriots: Pierre Richard and Patricia Kaas have been guests of my evening show; I have interviewed Alain Delon and I once saw Belmondo in Cannes. Just show them my photograph and they will say: “Yes, I’ve seen this guy somewhere.”
Speaking for myself and many other Russians, I’d like to say: We are very glad that you’ve decided to join us! If Brigitte Bardot comes along too – there is a rumor to that effect – it will really be a cause for celebration!
Unlike in France, we have a fantastic tax system – 13%. And it’s only 6% if you have grounds to use the simplified system, but you are likely to run into problems if you decide to set up an open-ended joint stock company or something similar. But you don’t need to do that, because you are a self-employed man just like me. So we don’t have to worry about taxes. But we do have other concerns, so here's a little friendly advice about living in Russia.
First, don’t start eating Russian-made products immediately. I know that you are rich enough to shop at expensive stores, but unlike in France, price is no guarantee of quality here – this may come as a surprise to you. So to start with have your food delivered from France, especially meat, cheese and eggs.
Second, our governors will be eager to have a drink with you. I know that you like a drink or two, but this is entirely different – the drinks and the governors could be a big surprise. So leave the parties a bit sooner than appropriate, for example, because you are due to meet with Putin to discuss Brigitte’s Russian passport.
Third, never drive after such parties. Unlike in France, the driving limit in Russia is zero parts per thousand. You could lose your driving license even if you haven't drunk anything but only eaten some salted herring and cucumbers. But you can always come to an arrangement with our policemen (another surprise).
Fourth, never go hunting with our officials, who like to shoot endangered animals from a helicopter. If Brigitte hears about this, she will never agree to keep you company, and you may be lonely.
Fifth, you will probably take on roles in the movies and on TV. Just remember that it is mostly cold in our pavilions in winter, hot in summer and stuffy all year round. And toilets leave a lot to be desired, so take along a detachable toilet seat.
Overall, it’s impossible to cram everything into this letter, so come over and we can deal with problems as they arise. Welcome to our tax haven!
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