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Tatar-Bashkir Report: July 22, 2003

22 July 2003
Tatarstan Seeks To Diversify And Expand Cooperation With Germany
Meeting with German Ambassador to Russia Friedrich von Pletz on 15 July, Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev said that "if we review the amount of cooperation between Germany and Russia, in my opinion, Tatarstan's share is not sufficient," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the next day. He explained the dwindling cooperation by Tatarstan's failure to overcome the domination of oil products in its exports to Germany. According to Tatarstan's Ministry of Trade and Economic Cooperation, Germany was the republic's number one foreign trade partner in 1995-2000. In 2001, it moved to second place and, in 2002, to third place. In 2003, mutual trade reached $276.7 million, which was 32.5 percent lower than in the previous year. Shaimiev said that Tatarstan intends to use its potential in the machine industry and oil processing to boost the bilateral cooperation.

Muslim Leader Pledges Support For Putin's Policies
Rawyl Gaynetdin, chairman of the Moscow-based Council of Russian Muftis and the head of the Muslim Religious Board of the European part of Russia, issued a public statement on 15 July pledging support for the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the council's press service reported the same day. Gaynetdin praised a 15 July statement of the Russian leader, who spoke of the need to consolidate Russian society and promote an "integrated vision of Russia's development perspectives."

Russian Supreme Court Rules That Tatar Vote Should Be Reconsidered
The Russian Supreme Court on 11 July overruled the 23 April resolution of the Tatar Supreme Court, which said that the acknowledgement of violations in December 1999 elections by the republic's election commission did not mean the vote should be reconsidered, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 15 July, citing the press service of the Tatar parliament. The case in the Supreme Court was filed by the opposition Equality and Legality movement from Tatarstan. The Russian court's verdict obliges the Tatar Supreme Court to revise its December 1999 and March, April 2000 rulings, which authorized the election of 49 members of the Tatar State Council as parliamentary deputies. The deputies had already served as republican government officials and, under federal laws, elected deputies are prohibited from combining their duties with work in other branches of government. Meeting with reporters on 12 July, Tatar parliamentary speaker Farid Mukhametshin said that it was possible that the State Council would dispute the Russian Supreme Court's verdict, "because the matter had already been settled by the Russian Constitutional Court." He was referring to a January 2002 verdict of the court, which ruled that although Tatar election laws are inconsistent with federal legislation, the results of the December 1999 elections were not subject to change.

Muslim Women Asked For Official Documents Proving Religious Beliefs
Although the Russian Interior Ministry is allowing Muslim women to have their passport photographs taken while wearing traditional headscarves, passport applicants are being asked to present documents proving that they are Muslims, the "Vechernyaya Kazan" daily wrote on 15 July (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report" 16 May, 3 June 2003). Mansur Khezret, the head of the Kazan Muslim community, confirmed that Muslim women applying for a Russian passport have been given documents which confirm that the bearer is a Muslim. The document carries the stamp of the local Muslim community as well as the signature of a local Muslim cleric, the daily reported.

Tatar State Council Refuses Offer Of Early Elections
The Tatar State Council on 17 July rejected the suggestion of Aleksandr Shtanin (Equality and Legality movement), who called for early parliamentary elections and the dissolution of the Central Election Commission based on the 11 July resolution of the Russian Constitutional Court, which ruled that the December 1999 election was not in line with federal law, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 15 July 2003). The Tatar court had previously ruled that the election of 49 Tatar State Council deputies, who had already served as republican government officials, was lawful. Under federal law, elected deputies are prohibited from combining their duties with work in other branches of government.

Constitutional Court Confirms President's Power To Shape System Of Government
The Tatar Constitutional Court on 17 July issued a ruling, which confirmed that the president has the power to choose the cabinet and the system of government, Intertat reported the same day. On 4 June, the Tatar Cabinet of Ministers filed a query asking the court to explain Article 94 of the constitution, which says that "the president forms the cabinet of ministers and the system of executive bodies of state authority according to the law." According to the Tatar government, the term "to form" involves a wide range of powers including both the right to appoint ministers and shape the system of government. Federal legislation requires that the cabinet's work be regulated by the Tatar Constitution and special republican laws. However, due to the absence of such a law, the work of the republican government is controlled by the constitution and presidential decrees.

Constitutional Court Prohibits Other Courts To Consider Suits Against Regional Constitutions
The Russian Constitutional Court on 18 July issued a ruling prohibiting general, not constitutional courts from hearing suits against constitutions and charters of federation subjects, "Kommersant" reported on 19 July. The parliaments of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan appealed to the Russian Constitutional Court contesting the right of prosecutors to file suits in general courts to declare constitutions and charters of federation entities in contradiction of federal legislation. Currently, prosecutors are contesting in the Tatar Supreme Court 19 provisions of the amended Tatar Constitution as contradicting federal law and demanding that another 18 of its provisions be declared invalid. The Constitutional Court added, however, that the ruling does not question earlier verdicts issued by general courts regarding regional constitutions and charters. At the same time, it said, those verdicts can be contested in the Constitutional Court. Tatar Supreme Court member Roman Gafarov, who was one of applicants to the Constitutional Court, commented that he is completely satisfied with the verdict.

Sodbiznesbank Heads Detained In Kidnapping Investigation
Tatar police detained Moscow's Sodbiznesbank Chairman Sergei Reusov and the bank's chief accountant, Svetlana Khokhlova, in the course of investigating the kidnapping of KamAZ-Metallurgiya General Director Viktor Faber (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 4 and 6 June 2003), "Kommersant" reported on 19 July. On 17 July, investigators seized from Sodbiznesbank documents that may be connected to money paid as ransom for Faber, "Kommersant" reported on 18 July. Faber was kidnapped after he left Chally for a business trip to Kazan on 27 May. According to the daily, the kidnappers initially demanded 15 million rubles ($493,000), and then 30 million rubles for Faber's release. Calling his friends, Faber urged them to transfer the money to accounts of three firms in Sodbiznesbank. However, he was not released even after the money was transferred.

Several days earlier, Tatar investigators arrested between six and 11 persons in the case, according to different reports. Several persons were announced wanted. All are natives of Chally and are members of the local organized crime group allegedly led by Chally businessman Eduard Tagiryanov. Members of the same criminal group are accused of the recent kidnapping of another Chally businessman, Bulat Bayazitov.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Bashneft Minority Shareholders Complain To Federal Securities Commission
The Federal Securities Commission is considering a complaint by Bashneft oil company minority shareholders, a group of offshore companies comprising UFGIS Trading Limited, Hagstromer & Qviberg Fondkomission AB, and Rolfing Limited representing Vostok Nafta and Basic Element Holding investment funds, which were prevented from placing their representatives on the company's board of directors despite owning 10 percent of Bashneft's shares, "Vedomosti" reported on 16 July. The daily said that the move took place on the eve of Bashneft's privatization and before that minority shareholders were not even admitted to the annual shareholders meeting.

The republic-owned Bashkir Fuel Company holds a majority 63.7 percent share in Bashneft, with another 10 percent to 15 percent sold freely on the stock market, and the rest reportedly controlled by Bashkortostan's cabinet and Bashneft's management.

Over the last decade, Bashneft's output has fallen from 17.7 million tons in 1995 to 12 million in 2002. The company's income was 31.9 billion rubles ($1.049 billion) in 2002, with profits reported at 3.9 billion rubles ($128.2 million).

Tax Ministry Bills Bashkir Oil Refineries
Russian Deputy Tax Minister Rinat Dosmukhamedov told a press conference in Moscow on 16 July that his ministry had offered Bashkortostan's Novoufimskii, Ufimskii, and "Ufa-neftekhim" oil-processing plants the option to voluntarily pay off their tax debt, which was a result of their attempt to evade taxes by registering their facilities in Baikonur offshore zone in Kazakhstan, RosBalt reported the same day.

Dosmukhamedov said that the total debt including fines had risen to 12.018 billion rubles ($395.3 million). He said the revealing of the "Baikonur scheme" by the Russian and Kazakh tax services had already forced out Baikonur's mayor, who authorized the illegal practice.

Tax Minister Issues Official Complaint On Pressure From Bashkir Authorities
Bashkir Tax Minister Aleksandr Veremeenko filed a complaint with the republican Prosecutor's Office and the federal Prosecutor-General's Office, objecting to the pressure of Bashkir authorities who opposed his recent appointment, reported on 15 July (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 9 July 2003). According to the agency, soon after Veremeenko's appointment the Tax Ministry's office experienced a water cutoff on 4 July and on 9 July fire inspectors halted the ministry's work even though the previous day's checkup failed to find any violations of fire safety in the building. A 10 July inspection by Bashenergonadzor to monitor compliance with technical regulations on electricity networks also failed to discover any violations besides the unauthorized presence of an electric light in the guard's cabin. Following the Bashkir parliament's 11 July session, which approved an appeal to President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov demanding Veremeenko's dismissal, on 12 July Bashenergonadzor cut off electricity supplies to the Tax Ministry's building, thus freezing the process of tax collection across the entire republic.

Rakhimov Appoints New Cabinet
Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov has formally appointed his cabinet of ministers, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 14 July. The new ministers are: Finance Minister Ayrat Geskerov, Industry Minister Sergei Yefremov, Culture and Ethnic Policies Minister Khalyaf Ishmoratov, and Shamil Vakhitov is the new head of the state committee on land resources. According to Article 87 of the Bashkir Constitution, adopted in late 2002, the president has the power to appoint and head the cabinet.

Bashkir Oil Refineries Said To Object The Tax Ministry's Claim
According to "Vremya novostei" on 17 July, the "Baikonur schemes" used by Bashkortostan's oil refineries for tax evasion were also used by many Russian oil companies, but after the very first claims by Russian tax collectors they paid off all back taxes (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report" 17 July 2003). The paper wrote that "Bashkir industries, controlled by the republic's leader, did not acknowledge their debts." It also speculated that the Tax Ministry's offer to repay the debt would be contested by the Bashkir oil refineries in court. If the ministry wins the suit but the refineries refuse to pay, the Tax Ministry will be able to begin bankruptcy procedures. The 17 July issue of "Kommersant" said that "the struggle between the Tax Ministry and Bashkir authorities reached its peak," as Ufa authorities cut off electricity to the local Tax Ministry's office and the ministry raised the issue of unpaid taxes owed by Bashkir oil refineries.

Rakhimov Comments On Meeting With Putin
In an interview with the State Television and Radio Company Bashkortostan on 17 July, Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov commented on his meeting a day earlier with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Novo-Ogarevo, saying that the two discussed the republic's social and economic development. Rakhimov said Putin praised Bashkortostan's contribution to the strengthening Russian economy. During the talks, Rakhimov criticized the activities of Russian Tax Minister Genadii Bukaev who has accused the republic of evading taxes. Rakhimov said that Putin had ordered prosecutors not to conduct needless checks in the republic. Commenting on Putin's decree annulling some 60 billion rubles ($2 million) worth of fines in the agro-industrial sector, Rakhimov said the move is very important as the sum is unbearable for agricultural manufacturers. Rakhimov also said he was satisfied with his meeting with Russian Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov who praised the activities of the republic's Interior Ministry.

Opposition To Rakhimov Forms Within Bashkir Nationalist Movement
An RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 20 July about an emerging split within the Bashkir nationalist movement, specifically within the Bashkir Youth Union. A campaign against the union's former ideologist, Airat Dilmokhemmetov, was launched in the republic's state and independent media last week; Bashkir Youth Union leaders appeared on state television and accused Dilmokhemmetov of betraying the Bashkir people. In an interview with RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service on 20 July, Dilmokhemmetov said that he heads a group of Bashkirs dissatisfied with the ruling powers, which, he says, have discredited the idea of sovereignty and turned Bashkirs into "slaves."

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Marii El Has Second-Highest Suicide Rate In Europe
The republic of Marii El has the second-highest suicide rate in Europe after Hungary, MariNews reported on 18 July. According to the republic's Interior Ministry, six to seven residents a week commit suicide in the republic. Thirty-five percent of them are alcoholics. The population of Marii El is 763,000.

Zhirinovskii Promotes Merger of Komi Republic, Perm, Arkhangelsk Oblasts
On 21 July, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii suggested that the Komi Republic be merged with the Perm and Arkhangelsk oblasts, Komiinform reported the same day. Zhirinovskii, at a meeting in Syktyvkar with Ivan Kulakov, the State Council chairman of the Komi Republic, said it is necessary to merge federation subjects and to accumulate money in order to connect the Komi and Arkhangelsk railway networks -- that is necessary, he said, to make the transfer of goods from the Urals to Arkhangelsk easier. The Arkhangelsk-Syktyvkar-Perm railway (Belkomur) has been under construction since 1996. Its northern section (between Komi and Arkhangelsk oblasts) and southern section (between Komi Oblast, Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug, and Perm Oblast) have not been built due to inadequate funding. Zhirinovskii called for a centralized state that would unite between 15 and 20 guberniyas.

Former Military Commissioner Convicted In Perm Oblast
A court on 16 July sentenced Yevgenii Danilov, the former military commissioner of Perm Oblast, to four years of imprisonment, with a conditional period of three years probation, Novyi Region (Perm) reported on 17 July, citing Perm Oblast military prosecutor Vitalii Pereshein. Danilov was convicted of accepting bribes, abuse of power, forgery, and embezzlement. He was also deprived of the right to occupy official posts for two years.

Housing-Municipal Sector Workers Stage Hunger Strike In Sverdlovsk Oblast
Seventeen employees of the housing and municipal department in the village of Uralets in the Sverdlovsk Oblast began a hunger strike on 21 July to demand that they receive unpaid back wages, Novyi Region reported the same day. Eighty workers have not been paid for two months and are owed a total of 350,000 rubles ($11,506). The strikers pitched a tent in front of the department's building and said they wouldn't leave until they received their money.

Bomb Materials Found In Ulyanovsk
Head of the Russian Interior Ministry's Information Directorate Yurii Shuvalov told ITAR-TASS on 19 July that 60 people are being investigated in connection with explosives found on 17 July at an Ulyanovsk market. All suspects are migrants, Shuvalov said. A box containing 1.2 kilograms of TNT, grenades, electrical detonator, and nails and screws was found.

Prosecutors' Office Contests Results Of Noyabrsk Mayoral Elections
The Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug prosecutors' office is contesting the recent election of the Noyabrsk mayor, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 July. In the May mayoral elections, the incumbent, Yurii Link, was announced the winner with a margin of 400 votes more than his major rival, Noyabrskelektrosetstroi director Anatolii Kudryashov. The city's election commission annulled the results in four electoral districts after reporting numerous violations. Kudryashov appealed to the city court but withdrew his lawsuit, saying that it was impossible to defend himself in a court run by the city administration. He then appealed to higher bodies. The move came in the wake of an inspection carried out by the Ural Department of the Russian Prosecutor General's Office after the Russian Central Election Commission raised questions about the election results. According to a press release issued on 18 July as a result of the inspection, "violations of legality committed by the [city] election commission in favor of one of the candidates were ignored by the city court."

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova