OCCRP Weekly News Roundup: From Tainted Soccer to Government Fraud

05 June 2012


By Matt Sarnecki
Tainted Soccer

As the world gears up for the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, pressure builds on Ukraine over embattled former premier Yulia Tymoshenko. On Wednesday, Ukraine’s general prosecutor named Tymoshenko a witness in the murder case of Yevgen Shcherban, the Ukrainian parliament member who was shot and killed in 1996. Authorities are preparing to bring charges against Tymoshenko for the murder, which could extend her sentence to 2023.

Tymoshenko’s imprisonment, along with concerns over violent racism in Ukraine, have provoked calls by some European officials and intellectuals to consider boycotting the games, which will be co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland starting next week.

Keeping with soccer. In Bulgaria, Grisha Ganchev, a wealthy businessman and owner of the soccer club Litex Lovech, was charged Tuesday with running an organized crime group that orchestrated tax evasion amounting to over US$125,000 and threatening to kill the Director of the National Revenue Agency, Krasimir Stefanov.

Ganchev has denied the charges, calling them a plot against him.

The Chicago Tribune stated that the crackdown on organized crime is part of Bulgaria’s bid to join the EU’s passport-free travel Schengen zone.


Russian Ire

In Russia, government officials warned that they would retaliate if the US Congress passes the “Magnitsky Bill,” a law that would deny U.S. visas to Russian officials with ties to human rights abuses and freeze their assets. Italy is considering similar legislation.

 It is unclear what retaliatory measures Russia would take. “If the new anti-Russian Magnitsky bill is passed, it would require some response from us,” said Yury Ushakov, an aide to President Vladimir Putin.

Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer imprisoned after accusing officials of tax fraud, only to have the charges of tax evasion leveled back at him. He died in jail in 2009 under dubious circumstances.

The Magnitsky list, which US officials have not released, is a contentious issue in the US as well. The Obama administration is resisting the legislation introduced by Senate Democrat of Maryland Benjamin L. Cardin over concerns that it is too provocative. The House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee is expected to vote on the bill on Thursday. The legislation is expected to pass in the House.

Also concerning Russia, US Attorney General Eric Holder suggested that there is a possibility of sending Victor Bout back to Russia. Bout, who was extradited to the United States from Thailand in 2010 over arms smuggling charges, is currently serving a 25 year sentence. Russia wants Bout to serve his sentence back at home.


Tajikistan Cracks Down

Al Jazeera has produced a video on Tajikistan’s efforts to stifle drug traffickers and the booming heroin trade, including the use of cute dogs that detect narcotics in cars and trucks en route to European markets.

And on the human front, a lawyer to jailed former oligarch Nizomhhom Juraev has been arrested on corruption and forgery charges. The allegations include helping his clients bribe prosecutors. Juraev, one of Tajikistan’s wealthiest men, is currently in jail on charges of racketeering and embezzlement.

A Damning Report

Finally, coming as no surprise, an Ernst and Young Global Fraud Survey that analyzed fraud, bribery and corruption around the world, pointed to Eastern Europe as a problematic region to do business.

 As Romania Business Insider drew attention to, “Only 14% of respondents think that national regulators were willing and effective in securing convictions. Of those who think the authorities were not willing to prosecute, 48% feel that this is due to bribery and corruption being too widespread.”

And that’s within the European Union.  In its eastern neighborhood, corruption, and perceptions of it, continue damaging foreign direct investment as well as home grown businesses.