Plus, Serbian suspects are acquitted in a five-year anti-Muslim trial, and Armenia vows to rein in wayward local officials.by S. Adam Cardais, Vladimir Matan, and Molly Jane Zuckerman 19 July 2013
Thousands of Russians took to the streets the evening of 18 July to protest the embezzlement conviction of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny in a trial that many called political.
Police cordoned off a square in central Moscow and arrested dozens as demonstrators chanted “Freedom!” and “Putin is a thief,” Radio Free Europe reports. Demonstrators also gathered around a parliamentary building, even climbing up to occupy its second-floor ledges, and at one point flooded onto the street leading to the Kremlin.
“I am here because it's disgusting,” one young protester told RIA Novosti. “I'd never have cared for politics if there was order. But there is none, and they [the authorities] have been stealing all our money.”
Police put the crowd at 2,500, though activists said it was closer to 10,000. St. Petersburg and several other cities also saw protests 18 July.
The unsanctioned demonstrations began after a provincial Russian court sentenced Navalny to five years in prison on charges that he embezzled $500,000 while advising a timber company in Kirov, where the trial was held. A day earlier, election officials accepted Navalny’s bid to run in September's mayoral elections, but after the verdict his campaign said he would withdraw from the race, RIA Novosti reports.
If the ruling is upheld on appeal, Navalny will be barred from holding public office for life.
In recent years, the 37-year-old lawyer and anti-corruption blogger has become a strident critic of President Vladimir Putin. He was a key figure in the wave of protests that swept Russia after controversial parliamentary elections in December 2011 and insists his legal troubles are Putin's revenge. Navalny faces several other indictments.
Throughout the embezzlement trial, Navalny was active on Twitter. He was handcuffed and taken into custody immediately after the verdict, but as the solidarity protests spread Thursday evening, his wife, Yulia, reportedly tweeted, “Thank you all. It’s a crazy feeling when you realize you’re not alone!”
The companies blame lower energy prices in place since March and a new method for paying for renewable energy, the news agency writes.
Austria’s EVN is in the most dire shape, according to information aired by a committee of parliament, with losses of nearly 300 million leva ($200 million). In addition, the Czech Republic’s CEZ faces losses of $134 million and Energy Pro, also a Czech company, will be looking at a $100 million shortfall by the end of the year, Novinite reports.
The companies blame price cuts, but an EVN executive also pointed the finger at a new system for purchasing renewable energy that requires them to shoulder more of the risk in calculating necessary future supply. Previously, the heavily indebted state energy company had reimbursed the firms for their purchases of power from renewable sources but now the state company pays according to forecasts, leaving the private firms holding the bag for any surplus.
An Energo Pro executive said the company had cut back on investments and had not paid bonuses to employees.
A Bulgarian requirement that energy companies make renewable sources a priority has angered workers in the country’s coal and nuclear industries, who fear that production cuts would target their jobs first, Novinite reports.
The three power distributors are already under investigation by the Bulgarian anti-monopoly watchdog for allegedly making illegal agreements making it difficult for consumers to switch distributors, Reuters reported in March.
After a five-year trial, a Belgrade court has acquitted 10 men of burning down a local mosque in 2004 in the wake of the worst interethnic violence in the Balkans since the 1998-1999 Kosovo conflict, Balkan Insight reports.
However, three of the men received four-month sentences for participating in related riots.
In March 2004, attackers burned Belgrade's 17th-century Bajrakli mosque and an Islamic library that held a 400-year-old Koran. Twenty police officers were injured in two days of rioting that accompanied the vandalism.
The judge suggested that the trial, which began in 2008, was focused more on the attacks against police than the mosque burning, B92 reports.
A mosque in Nis was also burned in March 2004, and a related trial a year later ended in two acquittals and eight minor prison sentences, according to Balkan Insight.
The anti-Muslim unrest erupted in Serbia after attacks that month in Kosovo against the ethnic Serb population that left 19 dead and scores of homes and Orthodox religious sites damaged or destroyed.
Picking up on local media reports, Armenianow writes that Vardan Ghukasian, former mayor of the western city of Gyumri, allegedly stormed a courtroom with a large group of men. The reports say they shouted obscenities and that Ghukasian beat up the father of a man on trial for the 2012 murder of Ghukasian’s daughter’s fiancé. A prosecutor told local media 18 July that criminal charges against Ghukasian in connection with the beating were “being prepared.”
Ghukasian is one of two powerful regional officials to resign in the past year in what may be a signal that Yerevan is gearing up to fight corruption in their ranks, EurasiaNet.org reports.
Ghukasian resigned in October amid a scandal implicating his son in a gunfight. The former mayor himself was a suspect in another shooting in April, but Ghukasian’s nephew later confessed to the crime, EurasiaNet.org notes.
More recently, Surik Khachatrian, former governor of the Syunik region, resigned in June amid a shooting scandal that led to murder charges for Khachatrian’s son and bodyguard. In 2011, a businesswoman accused Khachatrian of hitting her in the face after she accused him of theft, and three years earlier he was the target of an inquiry over accusations that he had beaten up a teenager, Radio Free Europe reported in 2011.
EurasiaNet.org reports that President Serzh Sargsyan, elected for his second term in February, has pledged to bring lawless local officials to book.
“We will be the first to condemn the faults and speak about theft and crimes … since this is the price we have to pay to appear on the right path,” Sargsyan said, EurasiaNet.org writes. The president appoints all 10 of the country’s regional governors, the website notes.
But Artur Sakunts, a prominent human rights defender in Armenia, was skeptical that anything has changed. He noted that the men had resigned rather than being fired.
Regional officials in Armenia are known for collecting votes for Sargsyan’s Republican Party of Armenia, EurasiaNet.org notes, and the president’s loss of Gyumri by a wide margin in this year’s election could be down to Ghukasyan’s absence.
Yervand Bozoian, an independent political analyst, said Sargsyan’s decision to hold officials responsible for corruption could present the president with a dilemma.
“On the one hand, he [Sargsyan] punishes these people and loses their support because they were providing votes for him. [But] if he does not punish them, the state is decaying little by little,” Bozoian told EurasiaNet.org.
Romania's National History Museum has found evidence that a local woman incinerated paintings by Picasso and others stolen from the Netherlands last year, the Associated Press reports.
Forensic experts have found ash containing paint, canvas, and nails in a stove owned by Olga Dogaru, whose son Radu was arrested in January as one of three Romanian suspects in the biggest art heist in the Netherlands in over a decade. She told authorities that after initially hiding the paintings to protect her son, she burned them in February after police began searching her village in southeastern Romania.
According to earlier reports, Dutch prosecutors doubted her account, but the findings seem to support it. A museum official said prosecutors would receive the results of the experts' analysis next week.
Thieves broke into Rotterdam's Kunsthal gallery on 16 October 2012 and fled with seven paintings worth tens of millions of dollars by Picasso, Matisse, Monet and others, leaving little behind for police to go on.
At the time, a retired Scotland Yard detective speculated that the culprits were professionals looking to pay off a debt.
“The volume suggests that whoever stole it owes somebody a lot of money, and it's got to be a major-league villain,” Charles Hill told The New York Times. “My best guess is that someone doesn't have the cash to repay a loan."
But art market experts point out that such well-known paintings are difficult to sell at their auction value.
The three suspects remain in custody while the investigation continues.