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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Kremlin Begins Khodorkovskizing NGOs and Investors

The Moscow Times reports that the Kremlin has begun a tax attack on foreign NGOs seeking to drive them out of the country just as it did against Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Will the world stand idly by and watch it happen?

The Center for Assistance in International Defense, a nongovernmental organization headed by one of Mikhail Khodorkovsky's lawyers, has been slapped with a bill for back taxes that could force it to close its doors.

The Federal Tax Service has ordered the NGO to pay more than 4.5 million rubles ($167,000) in back taxes and penalties for failing to pay income tax on grants it received from 2002 to 2004, the center's deputy director, Valentin Moiseyev, said Tuesday.

The center, founded by lawyer Karina Moskalenko, a member of Khodorkovsky's Moscow-based legal team, helps Russians file claims in the European Court of Human Rights when they have exhausted their legal options in this country.

Under the federal Tax Code, grants received for educational, analytical and research purposes are not taxed, Moiseyev said, adding that he hoped the back tax bill was a mistake that could be resolved without going to court.

Moiseyev said he could not rule out the possibility that the bill was an attempt to pressure the center to stop its work. The center, he said, cannot afford to pay the bill.

"Our organization and the lawyers who work with us have more than 250 cases in the European Court," Moiseyev said. "Rulings have already been handed down in favor of many of our clients. The authorities can't possibly look favorably on these sorts of claims against the state."

A spokesman for the Federal Tax Service declined to comment immediately Tuesday.

Yelena Zhemkova, executive director of the rights group Memorial, said tax authorities frequently accused NGOs of breaking rules that are inapplicable to their work. For example, tax inspectors often take NGOs to task for failing to pay taxes on labor performed by volunteers, she said.

Zhemkova also said she knew of several small NGOs in the regions that were planning to shut down after being overwhelmed with paperwork from the tax service.

The Mercury News reports, relying on Kommersant, that the Kremlin has pursued a similar line against Chevron. seeking to undermine the company's role in the Caspian Sea pipeline. In other words, there is no such thing as private property in Russia, and the Kremlin doesn't care who knows it. So much for the idea of foreign investment in Russia or the country being any kind of reliable partner for any civilized nation.

Meanwhile, the Lukashenko dictatorship is resorting to more direct means, simply making activists disappear, as Belarus blog reports.

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