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Scandal Brings Down Hungarian President, Kadyrov Linked to Dissident Death Plot

Plus, fallout from Russian TV’s ambush of U.S. ambassador and Albanian libel charges attract international attention.

by Jeremy Druker, Joshua Boissevain, Ioana Caloianu, and Anna Shamanska 2 April 2012

1. Hungarian president resigns over plagiarized dissertation


Hungarian President Pal Schmitt resigned on 2 April, amid a plagiarism scandal that saw a Budapest university strip him of his doctorate last week, the Associated Press reports.


Pal Schmitt
On the heels of German President Christian Wulff in February, Schmitt becomes the second European head of state this year to step down over ethical misbehavior.


After first remaining defiant over the issue, Schmitt said at the start of a session of parliament that he would give up the presidency because his “personal issue” was dividing the country.


Schmitt lost his doctorate on 29 March after a committee from Budapest's Semmelweis University concluded that 180 pages of Schmitt’s 215-page thesis on the Olympic movement were “partially identical” to a French-language work, while another 17 pages had been copied from a different study. The committee, however, absolved Schmitt of some of the guilt, saying that his paper met the format standards of the time and that the university itself should have noted the problems.


“I wrote my thesis to the best of my abilities. It was an honest piece of work,” Schmitt said on national television on 30 March, as reported by AFP. “I accept that I have been stripped of my diploma, but I complied with the rules of 20 years ago.”


While the right-wing daily Magyar Nemzet had called on Schmitt to step down, the conservative governing Fidesz party had said after the release of the committee’s report that the matter was “closed.”


The 69-year-old Schmitt has been president since 2010 when the Fidesz-dominated parliament elected him to the post. The party has said that it will urge parliamentarians to pick a successor as soon as possible, AP reported.


2. London warns of plot to kill Chechen dissident Zakayev


The British internal security service MI5 claims to have uncovered a plot to kill Chechen exile and dissident politician Akhmed Zakayev, according to The Sunday Telegraph.

MI5 reportedly believes the assassination plot is connected to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and that Zakayev is one of many on Kadyrov’s death list. A spokesman for Kadyrov, however, rejected the accusations, saying that Zakayev was not of any interest to Russia, according to the Vestnik Kavkaza website.


News of the alleged plot comes on the heels of the recent attempted murder of Russian banker German Gorbuntsov, which was seen as payback for testimony he gave to police regarding an attempt to kill another Russian banker in 2009. Some Londoners are concerned that the city, home to a number of political exiles and many wealthy business people from Russia, is quickly becoming an arena where Russian feuds are settled.


The man believed to be behind the plot on Zakayev, referred to only as E1 in British court records, is a 45-year-old Russian national and Chechen refugee who has been living in the United Kingdom since 2003. E1’s refugee status was revoked in 2010, and MI5 said they believed he was involved in three other assassinations, including the murder of another vocal critic of Kadyrov in Vienna in 2009. He’s been fighting to remain in the country, and last week a British appeals court allowed him to stay in the country while he fights his exclusion case, according to The Sunday Telegraph.


3. Washington concerned over safety of ambassador in Moscow after clash with NTV


The recent spat between the U.S. ambassador to Russia and a Russian television crew apparently led the U.S. State Department to formally express its worries on 30 March about the security of Ambassador Michael McFaul, The New York Times reports. A day earlier, McFaul had been on his way to visit a human-rights organization when he was confronted by a journalist from the state-controlled NTV station.


During the exchange, aired on NTV’s website, McFaul becomes increasingly irritated with the line of questioning, which included queries about the purpose of his meeting, and he asked how the station had heard about the unpublicized meeting. McFaul also complained about being followed around. “It looks like I am in a barbarian country. This is abnormal. It never happens in my country, in England, Germany, or China. It happens only here and only with you,” he said, as reported by Interfax.


mcfaul_350Michael McFaul


McFaul, an avid user of Twitter, then tweeted: “Everywhere I go NTV is there. Wonder who gives them my calendar? They wouldn’t tell me. Wonder what the laws are here for such things?” and “I respect press right to go anywhere & ask any question. But do they have a right to read my email and listen to my phone?”


NTV dismissed the hacking accusation, with a spokeswoman saying: “The ubiquity of NTV can be explained by its broad network of informants, which is well known to every public figure in this country,” The New York Times reported.


McFaul has been a target of attacks from state-controlled television from the moment he arrived in January, with assertions that he was on orders to foment revolution and that Washington has been behind anti-government demonstrations.


4. Albanian journalist faces criminal charge over 'spy row' article


Calls are increasing for the Albanian authorities to accelerate the decriminalization of libel. The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO) expressed concern on 31 March over the recent criminal defamation charges filed against Albanian reporter Lindita Cela.


In October, Cela, a crime reporter for the Shekulli newspaper, published an article about a row between Albanian officials accusing each other of being former spies. In the article, Cela cited a secret document leaked by Shaban Memia, the former head of Albania’s urbanization agency, which supposedly revealed several officials as having connections to the communist-era secret police, according to Balkan Insight. In February, Gjovalin Prenga, head of the government’s communications office and one of the officials cited in Cela’s article, brought criminal defamation charges against her for calling him a spy. The charges could result in a two-year prison sentence and a fine for the reporter, Balkan Insight reports.


Since taking office in 2005, Prime Minister Sali Berisha has vowed to reform the country’s defamation laws, and in late February and early March parliament voted in amendments to its civil and criminal defamation codes. In the SEEMO statement, the organization’s secretary general, Oliver Vujovic, is quoted as approving the move. However, Vujovic said he was concerned that criminal charges were filed against a journalist less than a month later. “I call on Albania’s authorities to keep their promises and implement the laws they have passed,” he is quoted as saying.


5. As Euro 2012 approaches, Polish police stage a terrorist train takeover


Soccer fans lucky enough to have scored tickets to Euro 2012 matches in Poland and Ukraine should have no fears for their security, given how well-prepared the Polish police appear to be for dealing with crisis situations such as terrorist attacks. On 31 March, police from the southeastern Polish town of Zamosc practiced storming a hijacked train to release fans being held hostage, The Telegraph reports.


The action was part of an international training exercise organized by German and Spanish police forces for their Polish counterparts ahead of the European Football Championships. The exercise involved 250 police and border-guard officers.  


The tournament kicks off 8 June with co-hosts Poland facing Greece at the National Stadium in Warsaw.



Meanwhile, the Krakow Post reports that all football fans arriving in Krakow for the tournament will be required to take a basic Polish-language test in order to distinguish between “hard core football hooligans visiting the city solely to cause trouble, and legitimate fans who are willing to learn a few words in a foreign tongue.” In addition to knowing simple greetings, fans will need to know how to count backwards in Polish from 10. TOL has used its extensive journalism knowledge to ascertain that the Post’s report is in all likelihood an April Fool’s joke.
Jeremy Druker is TOL’s executive director and editor in chief.  Ioana Caloianu and Joshua Boissevain are TOL editorial assistants. Anna Shamanska is a TOL editorial intern.
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