By Stelios Orphanides
Days after the US added more names to the Magnitsky sanctions list, Russian officials are stepping up pressure against Cyprus and the EU with public interventions.
On Sunday, Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov complained that his country’s cooperation with Cyprus in legal matters was the target of a media campaign.
Lavrov referred in an interview with Simerini to the case of Hermitage Capital founder Bill Browder that “some Cypriot media launched a campaign, which appears to have been caused or devised, in an attempt to defame the cooperation between our countries in the area of legal assistance in criminal and civil cases”.
The Russian chief diplomat dismissed the notion that his country’s request for legal assistance in a probe against investor-turned-activist Browder was politically motivated and that the cooperation had gone beyond the boundaries of “prevailing international legal practices”.
Lavrov said that Browder and the unspecified circles supporting him, aim at politicising the investigation against him and added that Cypriot judicial authorities have provided appropriate explanations.
Browder resorted to a Cypriot court in September seeking an emergency injunction barring the state from cooperating with Russian authorities in their probe against him on the grounds that it is politically motivated. Bowder said it came in response to his campaign for justice for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died eight years ago in a Russian prison after exposing a $230m (€194m) tax theft. The Russian officials Magnitsky implicated in the case arrested him, subjected him to torture and denied him access to medical treatment.
As a result of Browder’s campaign, several countries, including the US, passed legislation targeting individuals and entities involved in this case as well other cases of human rights abuses, while the Council of Europe asked its members not to cooperate with Russia in its case against Browder. Interpol has so far rejected five arrest warrants issued by Russia against Browder.
In October, the Cypriot government froze the cooperation with Russia temporarily pending the outcome of Browder’s application. This angered Moscow and its ambassador to Nicosia, Stanislav Osadchiy, said the decision – which came days before President Nicos Anastasiades’s visit to Moscow – had hurt bilateral ties.
The second Russian official who made a public intervention in relation to Browder’s case was prosecutor general Yuri Chaika. According to the Russia Today (RT) website, Chaika complained to European Parliament chairman Antonio Tajani about a letter sent by 17 of its members to President Anastasiades two months ago, in which they criticised Cyprus for cooperating with Russia and not doing enough to crack down on money laundering.
The Russian prosecutor general, whose son Artem Chaika was among the 15 individuals on whom the US imposed sanctions on December 12, said that the 17 members of the European parliament (MEP) acted “shamelessly” by attempting to “illegally” influence Cypriot judicial authorities.
With their letter, which the Russian prosecutor general described as “astonishing in its blatant legal nihilism,” the MEPs “are interfering shamelessly in the competence of others, imposing arrogantly and disrespectfully their illegal and unfounded position on a sovereign state,” according to RT.
Chaika also dismissed the claims of the 17 MEPs that Cyprus’s cooperation with Russia in the investigation against Browder was in violation of the island’s obligations under the rule of law as the cooperation was compliant to the European Convention of Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters of 1959 and other bilateral agreements or international treaties.
Transparency International, a Germany-based anti-corruption watchdog, ranked Russia at 131 on its corruption perception index which included 176 countries last year, together with Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Nepal and Iran.
Pressuring judicial authorities of sovereign states in any form “significantly undermines the authority of the European Parliament,” the Russian prosecutor general said, according to RT.
Chaika’s comments came almost a month after it emerged from leaked emailed correspondence that Cypriot attorney Elena Loizidou offered Russia favours and requested favours in exchange.
On Friday, Nicosia District Court judge Ioannis Ioannides gave Browder’s lawyer a January 22 deadline to file a supplementary affidavit to respond to the objection filed by the Attorney-general’s office against the issue of an injunction citing the court’s lack of capacity to decide on the matter.