By Stelios Orphanides
Contrary to what was announced just one day prior, Cyprus’s ministry of justice and Russia’s prosecutor general’s office did not sign a memorandum of cooperation in Moscow on Tuesday.
The development comes only days after Russia expressed its displeasure over Cyprus’s decision to freeze an investigation against Hermitage Capital founder Bill Browder, a government source said.
The source who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the reason behind the failure to sign the memorandum was that Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Yakovlevich Chaika “could not make it” to the signing ceremony on Tuesday, the second day of President Nicos Anastasiades’s working visit to Moscow.
“There was nobody else authorised” to sign the memorandum on his behalf “which set out general principles of cooperation,” the source added.
On Wednesday, the Cyprus News Agency (CNA) reported that Russia’s president Vladimir Putin raised the Browder issue in his meeting with Anastasiades and briefed his Cypriot counterpart about the case.
Russia launched an investigation against Browder in response to the campaign seeking justice for lawyer Sergei Magnitsky initiated by the investor-turned-activist, the CNA reported without saying how it got the information. Putin added that while he absolutely understands Cyprus’s legal framework, his country looks forward to a satisfactory decision which will allow the two countries to cooperate.
The Russian president also expressed his satisfaction for the so-far excellent cooperation in the area of justice, the CNA reported.
The Republic of Cyprus froze cooperation with Russia earlier this month. The step followed Browder’s application for an emergency injunction to a Cypriot court in September requesting the termination of a joint probe against the sale of Gazprom shares by subsidiaries of Hermitage Capital roughly a decade ago. The ministry of justice said that the freeze would apply until the conclusion of the court proceedings.
Cyprus’s decision angered Russia, and the Russian ministry of foreign affairs issued a statement on October 10, expressing its surprise. Days later, Russian ambassador Stanislav Osadchiy said bilateral ties had been hurt.
Magnitsky died in prison tortured and deprived access to medical care eight years ago after police officers he implicated in a $230m (€196m) tax fraud case arrested him. The attempts by Russian authorities to have Browder extradited to Russia have failed as the US, Canada and other European Union countries consider the case politically motivated, and passed legislation targeting individuals deemed responsible for Magnitsky’s death. In 2014, the Council of Europe asked member states to follow the example of the US. Interpol rejects any cooperation with Russia against Browder.
The CNA reported that Anastasiades responded with references to Cyprus’s legal framework and the current court proceedings.
The Cypriot president also raised the Browder issue with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in their meeting on Monday, according to the CNA.
On October 4, the Nicosia District Court gave the ministry of justice time until November 6 to decide whether it would file a complementary objection to Browder’s application.
The ministry of justice was not immediately available for comment.
On Tuesday, Cyprus and Russia signed two agreements for cooperation in merchant shipping, international road transport, maritime transport, communications and information technology, according to the Press and Information Office. The two sides also signed an agreement on “the modernisation of the economies” and a joint action plan.