Plus, Russia mulls criminal charges against potash magnate Baumgertner, and new research underlines Eastern Europe’s bad air quality.by Ioana Caloianu and Ky Krauthamer 16 October 2013
Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny will not serve a prison term for his embezzlement conviction, an appeals court in the city of Kirov ruled today.
The court upheld Navalny’s conviction but suspended the five-year sentence he was given in July, Itar-Tass reports. Co-defendant Petr Ofitserov, found guilty as an accessory in the embezzlement scheme, also had his sentence suspended.
Navalny ran for mayor of Moscow in last month’s elections, doing better than polls and many analysts predicted, and has spoken of running for president in the future. His conviction will probably bar him from running, the BBC reports.
Navalny’s lawyer, Olga Mikhailova, told the appeals court the judge who presided over the first trial hewed too closely to the prosecution’s side when sentencing him.
“Some of the pages in the sentence are the same as in the indictment. Even the witnesses’ statements except for the first five. It turns out that the court simply copied the indictment and called it [a] sentence,” Itar-Tass quotes her as saying.
Navalny has filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights claiming violations of his right to a defense and a fair trial, Mikhailova added.
2. Orthodox patriarch urges Serbs to vote in Kosovo elections
The question of whether Kosovo’s Serbs should take part in next month’s elections continues to vex Serbian conservatives. Balkan Insight reports on criticism of the Serbian Orthodox Church leader from two right-wing groups angry over his recent statement encouraging Serbs to vote.
In a letter to Patriarch Irinej, the far-right group SNP Nasi criticized his attitude as “an act unworthy of a Serbian patriarch” and urged him to “decide whether you are the Serbian patriarch or obedient to the party in power” and to leave his position if he doesn’t feel in touch with the current situation.
During a visit to the Orthodox Patriarchate in Peja (Pec), Kosovo, Irinej urged Serbs to vote in the local elections in Kosovo scheduled for 3 November, especially in regions where they are the majority population, InSerbia writes. He added that Serbs going to the polls should “vote for the best among them, for the men of renown and authority, whose word will mean something.”
In April, Kosovo and Serbia reached an agreement to give Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo the right to form community associations in areas that have been administered by alternative institutions funded by Belgrade. The agreement angered Serbian nationalists such as the far-right Dveri party, which saw it as a "violation of the constitution of Serbia, and the surrender and betrayal of Kosovo and Metohija,” Balkan Insight writes. Dveri joined SNP Nasi in criticizing the patriarch’s attitude.
The deal also divided the leaders of the Serbian Orthodox Church. However, Irinej distanced himself from nationalist statements made by some of his peers.
Russia’s Investigative Committee announced 14 October it will open a criminal case against powerful executive Vladimir Baumgertner and request his extradition from Belarus in what The Wall Street Journal sees as a step by Russia “toward defusing a trade war.”
Baumgertner, the chief executive of the Uralkali potash producer, was arrested in Minsk on abuse of power charges 26 August, a month after Uralkali withdrew from a joint venture, the Belarusian Potash Company. Uralkali said its Belarusian partner, Belaruskali, was selling potash outside the terms of their agreement. Belaruskali, one of Belarus’ biggest earners of hard currency, was potentially a major loser, along with the Belarusian national budget: According to Mining.com, the joint company controlled about 40 percent of the global market in potash, a mineral widely used in fertilizers, and potash sales make up 12 percent of Belarusian state revenues.
The Kremlin and Uralkali protested his arrest, but tempers cooled slightly a month later when Belarusian authorities moved him from jail to house arrest.
The Investigative Committee said a former Belarusian Potash deputy chief executive and several others were also under investigation, The Moscow Times reports.
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has said Minsk would extradite the executive provided Russia opened a case against him. Some analysts are wondering if Russian prosecutors will take his case seriously. One analyst at Moscow-based VTB Capital told Bloomberg, "All is going as planned: Russia needs to open the case to get the CEO home and release him there after confirming that he is not guilty.”
“This seems like a face-saving solution all around, at least at the governmental level,” Timothy Ash of Standard Bank told The Wall Street Journal.
Most of the EU’s urban dwellers are at risk of breathing dangerously dirty air, and some of the worst air is found in the east of the bloc, according to a new study from the European Environment Agency.
Nearly all – 96 percent – of city residents were exposed to the smallest, and most harmful particulate matter in concentrations exceeding World Health Organization guidelines, the study found. Particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter can enter the bloodstream and contribute to respiratory, cardiovascular, and other problems.
The research, covering the years 2002 to 2011, found that virtually all the union’s urban residents were exposed to ozone levels above WHO guidelines.
Urban areas in countries such as Bulgaria and Poland have some of the dirtiest air in the EU. The 10 EU cities with highest levels of particulates were all in those two countries, according to The New York Times, citing EEA data not found in the study. Pernik, Bulgaria, where particulate levels exceeded EU targets half of the time, heads the list, followed by Plovdiv and Krakow, according to The Times. All six Polish cities on the list are in the southern coal and steel belt including Krakow and Katowice.
Bulgaria and Poland also lead the list of countries with the dirtiest air overall, as measured by particulate level. Next came Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia, followed by Greece, Cyprus, and Italy.
“Bulgaria has a history of Soviet-era industrialization with scant attention paid to environmental issues,” Novinite writes, quoting The New York Times.
“A 2011 report from the United Nations found that Bulgaria, along with Armenia and Romania, ‘lead the world in deaths from outdoor air pollution.’ ”
The study underlines the transnational nature of air pollution, noting that, “For many European countries, less than 50 percent of the [smallest particulate] concentrations derive from their own emissions. ... Many air pollutants are transported over long distances.”
Spain’s Telefonica is ready to sell its Czech subsidiary and may well take a loss on its eight-year venture in the country, Bloomberg Businessweek is reporting.
Telefonica Czech is the country’s largest landline operator and its mobile operations are second to Germany’s T-Mobile. Sales have been falling at both companies, and Telefonica Czech has been cutting its work force, which fell 11 percent in the year ending in June, according to Businessweek.
The Spanish parent paid $4.7 billion in 2005 to acquire the former state-owned Cesky Telecom and now owns a 69 percent stake. Telefonica Czech’s market value is around $3.9 billion now.
The Czech financial group PPF is the most likely buyer, the financial wires are saying. PPF, owned by multibillionaire Petr Kellner, has fingers in many pies, from retail to mining to media.
The Czech Press Agency cites a source close to PPF as saying talks with Telefonica were at an advanced stage, although an unnamed company source suggested that might be overstating the case. PPF spokesman Radek Stavel would not comment on the “speculation” surrounding the deal.
“Telefonica is trying to cut its debt by selling assets – among them its Irish operations, which were sold in June for 850 million euros ($1.1 billion) – and it's expected to continue with the sale of non-strategic operations such as those in the Czech Republic,” EFE Dow Jones writes.