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Lithuanian Pork Banned in Swine Fever Worries, Russia Warns Against Bitcoins

Plus, a Russian billionaire unloads his assets to concentrate on politics, and Mongolian eco-activists face 21 years in prison.

by Ky Krauthamer, Karlo Marinovic, and Aliona Kachkan 29 January 2014

1. Lithuania to slaughter wild boars to stop spread of lethal pig disease


Lithuania’s neighbors and the EU are taking steps to stop the spread of African swine fever after two infected wild boars were found near the country’s border with Belarus.


The European Commission announced a restricted zone to control the disease, which is lethal to pigs but harmless to humans, the Lithuania Tribune reports, and Latvia on 28 January banned the import of animal feed and pig reproductive material, “including pig embryos, egg cells, and sperm” from the affected Lithuanian regions, according to the Baltic Course.


Earlier this week Belarus stopped imports and transit of Lithuanian pork, BelTA reports. Russia said 27 January it was considering a ban on EU pork imports. In Lithuania, the Food and Veterinary Service said 90 percent of the country’s 60,000 wild boars would have to be culled to stop the virus from spreading, the Baltic Times reports.


Lithuanian officials suspect the disease may have originated in Belarus, where an outbreak of African swine fever occurred last summer about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the border, the Lithuania Tribune wrote 24 January.


Last year the European Commission rejected Lithuania’s request to pay for a fence to stop wild boars from Belarus crossing the border.


2. Mongolian environmentalists hit with lengthy prison sentences


Tsetsegee MunkhbayarTsetsegee Munkhbayar
After a Mongolian court sentenced environmental activist Tsetsegee Munkhbayar to 21 years for “acts of terrorism,” his supporters say his often provocative actions are justified.


On 21 January the court sentenced Munkhbayar and three other activists to prison terms of 21.6 years each. Another defendant received a two-year sentence and two more were acquitted, reports.


Munkhbayar, a 2007 recipient of the $150,000 Goldman Environmental Prize for his campaign against water pollution by Mongolian miners, was arrested in September at a protest where a firearm was discharged, Time magazine writes. Authorities also claimed to have found an explosive device nearby.


In November the Goldman prize website said a rifle brought to the protest likely went off accidentally. Munkhbayar’s United Movement of Mongolian Rivers and Lakes and 11 other nongovernmental groups staged the protest at the Mongolian parliament against the government’s attempts to weaken a ban on mining in some waterways and forests.


Munkhbayar has used controversial tactics against miners in the past. In 2010 he fired shots at equipment owned by foreign mining companies that were operating in prohibited areas, Eugene Simonov of the environmental group Rivers Without Boundaries told Asian Correspondent.


3. Washington lobbyist spread negative stories on Albania’s Rama: Balkan Insight


An investigation by Balkan Insight and other reports shed light on the big money top lobbyists earn to represent Albania, one of Europe’s poorest countries.


Edi RamaEdi Rama
U.S. Justice Department records obtained by Balkan Insight indicate that the Podesta Group, a Washington lobbying firm hired by the Albanian government on a $60,000 monthly contract during the administration of Sali Berisha, “appears to have been behind three negative articles” about Socialist Party leader Edi Rama that appeared on the conservative Daily Caller news website in May and June 2013. Rama unseated Berisha in the 23 June election to become prime minister.


Rama “arranged a $10,000 contribution to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in order to set up a photo opportunity” with Obama in October 2012, the Daily Caller reported 6 June.


On 18 June the website said a Republican member of Congress from California, Dana Rohrabacher, charged that the Albanian Socialist Party might have been guilty of a “conspiracy to circumvent U.S. election laws” by compelling Albanian-American businessman Bilal Shehu to make the donation in order get around a prohibition on foreigners donating to U.S. political campaigns.


Shehu and his wife, Aida, contributed nearly $80,000 to the Democratic Party in the two months before Obama’s re-election in November 2012, Balkan Insight reports.


At the time the stories appeared, Justice Department records indicate “intensive contacts” between Podesta and the Daily Caller’s founder, Tucker Carlson, and reporter Patrick Howley, according to the Balkan Insight story.


Shehu did not respond to Balkan Insight’s request for comment. Rohrabacher called on the U.S. Federal Election Commission to investigate Rama’s alleged donations but never filed an official complaint.


Both sides in the hard-fought election campaign engaged top-flight lobbyists, a USA Today columnist wrote in June 2013. Rama turned to the firm of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair – who earlier made a promotional video for Kazakhstani leader Nursultan Nazarbaev – and said Blair would continue to work for him after the election.


As Albania’s Top Channel reported in January 2013, the Berisha government also commissioned lobbying work from the Washington law firm Patton Boggs. Although the value of the deal was not known, Top Channel thought it might have been similar to the Podesta contract, meaning that the government was paying each firm $900,000 to $1 million annually.


4. Russian billionaire Fetisov bets heavily on political future


Gleb FetisovGleb Fetisov
Another Russian billionaire is pouring money into a new political movement, The Moscow Times reports.


Gleb Fetisov said he has sold his business assets in order to concentrate on politics. He has merged his Green Alliance-People’s Party with the Social Democrats, founded by Gennady Gudkov, a former lawmaker for the opposition Just Russia party who was expelled in 2012 in what he called a political move.


The resulting organization is called the People's Political Party Green and Social Democratic Alliance.


Fetisov plans to sink at least 700 million rubles ($20 million) of his estimated $1.9 billion fortune into the party over the next three years, the Russian edition of Forbes writes.


Fetisov told journalists he sold his minority stake in the telecoms investment group Altimo and his share in a Chinese investment fund he founded, My Decker Capital, Forbes reports. He started disposing of his assets in November when he sold the small Moy Bank, The Moscow Times writes.


Fetisov follows the lead of Mikhail Prokhorov, a billionaire Russian industrialist who entered politics in 2011 and finished a distant third in the presidential election the following year.


Albeit on a smaller scale, Fetisov’s political forays have not fared much better, The Moscow Times notes. His party won a few seats in regional legislatures in September, but he failed to make the ballot in the Moscow mayoral race, and came in third with 11 percent of the vote in the Tomsk mayoral election a month later.


Those results were “not bad for a candidate who runs for the first time and in an unfamiliar region” but “not so good for a billionaire with ambitions,” Alexei Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies think tank told The Moscow Times.


5. Russia warns of legal hassles for Bitcoin users


Russian users of Bitcoin and other virtual currencies could be prosecuted for money laundering and financial terrorism, the Russian central bank said 27 January, Bloomberg reports.


The warning came days after Sberbank chief and former Economy Minister German Gref urged that restrictions on the use of virtual currencies be lifted. Government-owned Sberbank, Russia’s biggest lender, was considering entering the virtual currency market itself, Gref said in December.


The central bank’s warning came two weeks after lawmakers began considering measures to limit online money transfers to some $450 per person per month and ban anonymous online money transfers completely.


The Russian financial authority's move echoes bans on Bitcoin use in Denmark and China and a similar warning by the European Banking Authority in December.


Elsewhere, Bitcoin is gaining ground. The operator of a Bitcoin ATM in Bratislava, Slovakia, claims his is the first such machine in Europe, and a Romanian entrepreneur recently launched a platform to trade between Bitcoins and Romanian currency, Romania Insider reports.

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL. Karlo Marinovic and Aliona Kachkan are TOL editorial interns.
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