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U.S. Charges Russians in Hacking Conspiracy, A Blow to Khodorkovsky?

Plus, opponents attack a Montenegrin pride parade and a European Capital of Culture builds a wall against the Roma.

by S. Adam Cardais, Ioana Caloianu, and Vladimir Matan 26 July 2013

1. Though flawed, Khodorkovsky case was not political, European court says


Russia had legitimate grounds to try imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner for alleged tax fraud, a European court ruled 25 July, while noting that aspects of the trial were unfair.


The European Court of Human Rights' ruling flew in the face of accusations by Khodorkovsky, former partner Platon Lebedev, and many others that the notorious case was purely political, Reuters reports. Still, the court said the 2004-2005 trial was flawed for various reasons, including violations of lawyer-client confidentiality, and that the men's sentencing to a penal colony far away from their families was unjust.


The court ordered Moscow to pay Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, 10,000 euros ($13,000) in damages.


The former head of the Yukos oil company, Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 on tax evasion charges and sentenced alongside Lebedev. They are both scheduled for release in 2014.


Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev. Photo from


Many saw the case as revenge for Khodorkovsky's vocal criticism of President Vladimir Putin and nascent political ambitions. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev filed a series of related complaints with the European court, but the ruling said the accusations against them had a “healthy core” and “corresponded to a common-sense understanding of tax evasion,” Radio Free Europe reports.


Lawyers for the men faulted the ruling while maintaining that it proved their clients did not receive a fair trial. The Russian Presidential Council on Human Rights said that while the ruling deemed a retrial unnecessary, a Russian court would have to evaluate the cited violations.


2. Russians, Ukrainian charged in 'cutting edge' global hacking scheme


Four Russians and a Ukrainian have been charged in what U.S. officials call the largest hacking attack in the country's history, RIA Novosti reports.


Released 25 July, the indictment accuses the suspects of a conspiracy that included the theft of more than 160 million credit card numbers. After allegedly stealing the numbers and other data, or “dumps,” from payment-processing and other companies, the suspects sold them to “dumps resellers,” who then sold them online or to other individuals, according to Bloomberg.


The “dumps” were encoded into magnetic strips on blank plastic cards used to withdraw money or make credit-card purchases, resulting in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said in a statement to journalists.


“This type of crime is cutting edge,” he said. “Those who have the expertise and the inclination to break into our computer networks threaten our economic well-being, our privacy, and our national security.”


JCPenney, JetBlue, and French retailer Carrefour were among the companies targeted.


The suspects are charged with conspiracy to commit computer hacking and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Two are in custody, Fishman said.


Authorities in New York also indicted one of the five suspects and another Russian for hacking 800,000 bank accounts, according to Bloomberg.


3. Montenegro's first gay-pride event attacked


Shouting “kill the gays,” hundreds of people attacked Montenegro's first gay pride event 24 July, the Associated Press reports.


The mob threw rocks, bottles, and other items at the gay activists, who yelled back “Kiss the gays,” in the coastal town of Budva. Also hit by the objects, police quickly intervened to allow the march to proceed before again clashing with anti-gay protesters later in the day as the activists fled town for security reasons.


Several injuries were reported, with roughly 20 people detained.


Before the event, some local newspapers published mock obituaries of prominent gay activists. Zdravko Cimbaljevic, who became the first person in Montenegro to come out publicly, in 2010, suggested that the violence revealed something darker than the country's oft-cited conservatism.


“I expected opposition, but this attack is actually the real image of Montenegro,” he told the AP.


After the march, an Orthodox priest consecrated part of Budva to prevent “the disease spreading,” Balkan Insight reports.


“We [the church] strongly condemn this parade of shame and disease, and we are praying to God to repel this disease and the devil's attack on Budva and Montenegro,” priest Boris Radovic said, according to Balkan Insight.


Earlier efforts to organize gay pride events in Montenegro foundered on threats of violence. On 24 July, Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, who is trying to steer Montenegro toward European Union membership, urged tolerance.


In Central and Eastern Europe, anti-gay sentiment is widespread. Recently, pride events have been attacked or canceled after threats in Serbia, Georgia, Russia, and Moldova.


4. Europe’s culture capital builds segregation wall


The Slovak city of Kosice, one of Europe’s 2013 Capitals of Culture, is building a wall to segregate its Roma community, The Economist writes, noting a trend to justify walling off the Roma by identifying them as a security threat.


The magazine writes that officials in one of the city’s administrative divisions spent approximately 5,000 euros to build the barrier. Previously, they had cut off water to the neighborhood over unpaid bills.


An apartment house in Lunik IX, a Kosice neighborhood with a large Roma population. Photo by sylvia/flickr.


Other Slovak towns with Roma communities are making similar moves. Since 2008 some 14 walls and fences have been erected in the country, according to the magazine.


Although the walls are ostensibly meant to fight the perceived criminality that comes with a Roma community, a mayor of one town where a wall was erected two years ago told The Economist, “The situation in the village is worse and the walls, which were built two years ago, didn’t solve the problems.”


Recently, an anti-Roma rally turned violent in neighboring Czech Republic.  Discrimination and violence against Roma people is still widespread throughout Central Europe. In Hungary and the Czech Republic, Roma have had their houses set afire or been evicted en masse.


5. Huge industrial park plans worry locals near Minsk

Local residents are worried about the environmental impact of a huge industrial park planned for the outskirts of Minsk, Radio Free Europe reports.


Construction of the joint Chinese-Belarusian venture, which will cover 80 square kilometers east of the capital, is set to start in December, and locals worry that it will ruin one of the last green spaces near the Belarusian capital.


The area is an attractive summer destination for city dwellers, thanks to its forests, summer cottages, and the Pyatrovitsky reservoir, which doubles as a bathing spot for hundreds of people on hot days, RFE reports.


Aksana Zelyaneiskaya, a member of a local community association, said owners of cottages in the area oppose the construction of what they see as an “environmental catastrophe.” “Many share this view, including government officials involved in this project. But as always, they say they are afraid of voicing their opinion publicly,” Zelyaneiskaya told RFE.


But another local resident told the news agency that he supports the project, as it includes a road for the local residents who had previously paid out of their pockets for roadwork.


Zelyaneiskaya also blamed the general discontent on the lack of official information about the park. Although authorities organized a public discussion, it was set for a time when most people would be at work, RFE writes.


The project, which is supposed to be one of its kind in Europe, will be built in two stages, the first one to be completed by 2020 and the second a decade later. Faced with a contracting economy and increasingly isolated from the international community due to its human rights record, Belarus has been looking to China for investment. Belarusian authorities, including President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, are keen on the project.


One cottage owner said logging to make way for the complex has already begun, and that officials have already told people “that they would flee the place themselves. That’s how the authorities speak with the population.”

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Vladimir Matan is a TOL editorial intern.

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