Plus, a crime boss is sprung early in Kyrgyzstan and a high-profile opposition figure alleges massive corruption in Russia's Olympics preparations.by S. Adam Cardais, Ioana Caloianu, and Molly Jane Zuckerman 31 May 2013
On 30 May, the Yugoslav war-crimes tribunal at The Hague acquitted two former Serbian intelligence officers of commanding death squads during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, AFP reports.
Serbia’s government hailed the verdict as fostering "conditions for reconciliation, peace, and stability in the Balkans."
The court found that Jovica Stanisic, Slobodan Milosevic's intelligence head, and Stanisic’s deputy, Franko Simatovic, trained and aided infamous Serb paramilitary units that attacked Croatian and Bosnian towns – terrorizing local populations – but that they were not part of a criminal enterprise alongside Milosevic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to commit ethnic cleansing.
Judge Alphons Orie said he and his colleagues could not “conclude that … he (Stanisic) shared the intent to further the common criminal purpose of forcibly and permanently removing the majority of non-Serbs … through murder, deportation, forcible transfer, and persecution,” Global Post reports.
Instead, the judge said, the assistance was aimed at helping the Serbs maintain control over certain areas. One judge dissented, Balkan Insight reports.
The court ordered the men's immediate release. Stanisic's lawyer described his client as “in shock from happiness.”
Arrested in 2003, each man faced five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Both pleaded not guilty. Advocates for war-crimes victims in Bosnia condemned the verdict as political.
While the verdict follows a series of Hague acquittals, a day earlier the tribunal convicted six former Bosnian Croat separatist leaders of war crimes.
A controversial new Russian law that might force economic research centers to register as “foreign agents” could have dire economic ramifications, according to a group of Russian economists, Radio Free Europe reports.
In a letter published by a leading Russian business daily 30 May, the economists said their funding and cooperation with the state is threatened by the law, passed last year, requiring think tanks, rights groups, and other politically involved civic organizations that receive funding from abroad to register as foreign agents, which connotes “spy” to most Russians.
Critics say the law is President Vladimir Putin's answer to the public protests that erupted after Russia's controversial December 2011 parliamentary elections, Reuters points out. Recently, investigators have cited the legislation in a series of raids at watchdogs like Russian election monitor Golos, which alleged fraud after the 2011 polls.
Led by Yevsey Gurvich, head of a think tank that advises the Finance Ministry, the group of economists said the legislation “will lead to the closure of analytical centers, a drop in the quality of economic analysis and expertise, and the removal of mechanisms to support and keep up standards in the profession,” Reuters reports.
The economists, many of whom are government advisers, also warned of a return to the days of Soviet central planning.
“There has already been a period in our history when economic science and economic analysis was fully controlled by the state. As a result ... incompetent decisions were taken on economic policy. It is well-known how it turned out for the Soviet economy,” they wrote, according to Reuters.
The letter came the same day as the Levada Center, an independent Russian pollster, said it would no longer work on internationally commissioned research projects due to the law, RIA Novosti reports.
The early release from a Kyrgyzstani prison of an ethnic Chechen crime boss has sparked allegations of corruption, Radio Free Europe reports.
Since 2006, Aziz Batukaev had been serving a sentence of more than 16 years for crimes that included drug trafficking and the murder of a member of Kyrgyzstan’s parliament and three others.
But Batukaev walked out of prison in April after providing documents showing that he was suffering from acute leukemia and needed treatment. RFE writes that Batukaev flew to Chechnya after his release.
The case sparked a parliamentary debate on 29 May, when lawmakers examined evidence of Batukaev's actual health condition, such as photos of him in prison, smoking next to a table laden with food and alcohol. The deliberation ended on 30 May, when parliament called for the resignation of officials connected with Batukaev's release on the grounds that the case damaged Kyrgyzstan's democratic credentials and “the dignity of our country,” according to lawmaker Kanybek Imanaliev.
There has been speculation that Batukaev was released due to his connections to former President Kurmanbek Bakiev or thanks to bribes that Batukaev or Chechen authorities paid to Kyrgyzstani politicians, RFE writes.
Authorities in Kyrgyzstan launched a nationwide campaign against corruption and graft last year, which saw the arrest of some high-profile public figures, a move rarely before seen in the country.
4. Russian opposition figure alleges massive Olympics-related graft
An estimated $30 billion has been embezzled from the funds for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, according to a report by Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister of Russia, RFE reports.
A comparison of the initial $12 billion cost estimate for the games with the current $51 billion estimate, accounting for typical overruns at past Olympics, led Nemtsov to conclude that graft on a massive scale had taken place, RFE reports.
Nemtsov blamed the loss on “friends” of President Vladimir Putin.
The opposition Republican Party of Russia-People's Freedom Party led by Nemtsov has requested an independent, declassified investigation of the purported embezzlement, according to RFE.
“We believe that it is our duty to bring the most scandalous instances of the embezzlement in connection with the Sochi Olympics to court,” he told RFE.
Russian government auditors had previously recommended that prosecutors examine some of the seemingly endless added costs to the budget.
President of the Russian Olympic Committee Alexander Zhukov said auditors and prosecutors have closely monitored the budget. He blamed the additional costs on unexpected construction needed in Sochi, the Associated Press reports.
In addition to building the Olympic stadium, village, and games venues, Sochi required an overall upgrade to existing infrastructure to prepare for the influx of spectators in 2014, he said. The result will be the most expensive games in the history of the Olympics, according to the AP.
International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams told the AP that IOC funds, which are separate from Russian government spending, were in order. He said Moscow seems to be taking Olympics-related corruption seriously.
Czech climbers Marek Holecek and Zdenek Hruby have kicked off their Never Stop Exploring project by becoming the first to ascend the “virgin” Talung peak in the eastern Himalayas, the Czech News Agency (CTK) reports, citing a Czech daily.
Adding even more drama, the Czechs ascended without building base camps or the help of Sherpa guides. Czech daily Lidove noviny called the feat arguably the most significant achievement of Czech mountaineers in the Himalayas in 20 years, CTK notes.
In a message to the newspaper, the men said they climbed the 7,349-meter (24,111-foot) peak alone for seven days, sleeping on the mountainside each night. Their Never Stop Exploring project will take them on three other expeditions this year.
This summer, the adventurers will take on Pakistan's Gasherbrum I, the world's ninth-tallest peak. They would be the first to summit it, and a 2009 attempt almost ended in tragedy when Hruby burst a stomach ulcer at 7,500 meters. But Holecek brought him down the mountain to safety.
Holecek unsuccessfully tried to climb Talung a few years ago, CTK notes.