OCCRP Weekly News Roundup

By Matt Sarnecki

In Russia (and the U.S.), the Magnitsky saga continues.

 On Thursday, the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee approved the “Magnitsky Bill,” despite threats of retaliation from Russian authorities.

But the Russians are not the only ones concerned. US business interests have called the bill “seriously  flawed,” citing fears that its passage will threaten business deals with Russia. The White House has also expressed anxiety over the bill’s passage due to its potential consequences on the Obama Administration’s “reset policy.” Back in March, US Ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul said he does not support legislation that goes beyond visa bans.

Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer imprisoned after accusing officials of tax fraud, only to have charges of tax evasion leveled back at him. He died in jail in 2009 under dubious circumstances. The Magnitsky bill would deny U.S. visas to Russian officials with ties to human rights abuses and freeze their assets

The bill still needs passage by two more House committees before the full House will vote.  One has to wonder why there is so much political grappling over the fates of some corrupt Russian tax officials.  Is it the precedent it sets for other corruption cases?  Or is that the Magnitsky case goes further than we think.

In Bulgaria: an initiative, a warrant and two victories.

In Bulgaria, officials are dealing with the increased presence of cybercrime by launching a 10-month campaign to raise public awareness and increase coordination between law enforcement agencies. The campaign includes training courses, seminars to exchange data and methods of avoiding becoming a victim.

But Bulgarian authorities could use more training dealing with organized crime.

Authorities failed to jail the notorious “Galevi Brothers” – Angel Hristov and Plamen Galev – before they slipped out of the country in early May, supposedly with a large pile of cash. On Thursday, Interpol put out a “Red Notice” for their arrest. The brothers are notorious mafia bosses who had been sentenced to jail for criminal activity associated with organized crime.

Bulgaria did manage to snag a few criminals. On Friday, six members of an organized crime group in Sofia were detained on allegations of human trafficking, tax crimes and money laundering. And Bulgarian authorities have arrested two men in connection with the murder of Yordan Dinov, an alleged illegal bookmaker who was shot in downtown Sofia on April 4, 2012. Bulgarian officials have said that the motive may involve a lot of money that was owed to Dinov.

Ukrainian Soccer, Boycotted, Kind of…

 The Euro 2012 soccer tournament commenced Friday, though some officials are observing an unofficial boycott over the treatment of jailed Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

The British Foreign Office said that it would not send any ministers to the group-stage matches of the tournament in Ukraine. However, in a bit of hypocrisy, the government said it would “review” the boycott if England advances to the latter stages of the tournament.

In Ukraine, President Viktor Yanukovich urged Ukrainians on Thursday “to show full hospitality, sincerity and friendliness” to visiting guests. There have been concerns about animosity between fans and locals due to reports of racism, price gauging and the treatment of Tymoshenko.

On Friday, in a bid to quell the tension, Mykola Azarov, Ukraine’s current premier, said that “Tymoshenko is not a political prisoner,” and apparently procured evidence from a US court outlining her involvement in a corrupt gas deal with Russia in 2009. The statement and evidence is unlikely to mollify criticism of Ukraine’s treatment of Tymoshenko.

Transparency International’s Report Details Europe’s Opacity

Anti-corruption group Transparency International released a comprehensive report on Wednesday assessing Europe’s capacity to handle corruption. The report, titled Money, Politics, Power: Corruption Risks in Europe, focused on EU member states and warned that the “close relationship between business and government has enabled corruption and undermined economic stability in Europe.”

Perhaps surprisingly, much attention was not placed on the EU newcomers, but on the countries of southern Europe like Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal that “are shown to have serious deficits in public sector accountability and deep-rooted problems of inefficiency, malpractice and corruption, which are neither sufficiently controlled nor sanctioned.”

And as many news sources have noted, the report highlights an interesting correlation between the current European fiscal crisis and lax anti-corruption laws.  "Countries with weak anti-corruption safeguards are often the ones with most problems in their public debt at the moment," said Finn Heinrich, research director at Transparency International.

Not that the Eastern European newcomers escaped admonition, “Of the new EU member states, it is Bulgaria and Romania that continue to raise most cause for concern regarding the anti-corruption framework,” the report reads.