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Thursday, March 01, 2007

On the Politicization of Russia's Lawyers

It was only a matter of time. Gazeta.ru has reports on the Kremlinization of the legal profession (Robert Amsterdam has been documenting the crude manner in which the Kremlin has sought to crush the Khodorkhovsky legal team, and apparently now the circle is widening). The translation comes through Xignite.

Sergey Stepashin, the chairman of the Russian Jurists Association, intends to carry out a purge of the ranks. The businessman Dmitriy Shumkov, the secretary of the commission for legal culture and promoting law, has become the first candidate for departure. He is accused of using the association as a headquarters for presidential candidate Dmitriy Medvedev.

The Russian Jurists Association [AYuR] back in the autumn of last year declared itself a community, which will, possibly, support First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev in the elections in 2008. Gazeta.Ru wrote that the founding conference of the AYuR in its current incarnation took place on 15 November and sources in the association's leadership back then told Gazeta.Ru that it might become a prototype electoral headquarters for "the successor" Medvedev. At the same time the AYuR, whose head at the time was Oleg Kutafin - who twice initiated Vladimir Putin's nomination as president - announced plans to open a network of organizations in the Russian regions offering legal assistance to the population. This, the experts noted, would enable almost the entire territory of Russia to be enveloped by Medvedev's "emissaries" under election conditions. By the end of January this year, the AYuR had already manifestly taken Medvedev's side. The "successor" visited a session of the AYuR presidium, where he declared that a special legal television channel for citizens would be set up - Pravo-TV - which was also regarded as an addition to "the successor's" media assets.

However, on Monday [19 February] a flaw appeared in the harmonious picture of relations between the AYuR and Dmitriy Medvedev. Sergey Stepashin, the current chairman of the AYuR (elected in January 2007) as well as the head of the Comptroller's Office, suggested carrying out a purge of the AYuR ranks. Anyone seen using the association's resources for political or commercial purposes should be stripped of their membership. The first candidate for departure is businessman and professor of the Civil Service Academy Dmitriy Shumkov, who is close to Medvedev.

"We have decided to clean out our ranks. We have, in particular, a certain Dmitriy Shumkov who declares everywhere that he is creating an election headquarters for Dmitriy Medvedev - some public receptions. And he has now even got as far as Sochi, has engaged in Olympic matters," Stepashin stated on Monday. "In short, we must look very seriously at who is in association with us today."

Stepashin added that a re-organization of the ranks was already in full swing: "We have decided to strengthen the association's board, Pavel Krasheninnikov has been elected its chairman, he heads one of the most complicated committees in the State Duma, on legislation. A program has been adopted, which we have approved at the presidium, so a great deal of very serious work lies ahead."

From today's statement by Stepashin, it follows that he has little idea of which Shumkov he is talking about, otherwise he would not call him a "certain" head of the AYuR. Dmitriy Shumkov occupied quite a prominent position in the reform of the AYuR. Thus, at the same presidium sitting in January at which Stepashin was elected head of the association, an AYuR commission for legal culture and promoting law was founded and its members included Deputy Prosecutor-Generals Aleksandr Bastrykin, Aleksandr Zvyagintsev, Yevgeniy Zabarchuk, FSB [Federal Security Service] Deputy Director Yuriy Gorbunov, Deputy Interior Minister Oleg Safonov, Senator Lyudmila Narusova, Deputy Aleksandr Khinshteyn and others. Shumkov became executive secretary of the commission and was responsible in the first instance for the creation of the legal centers. Moreover, as Krasheninnikov said in an interview to the Kommersant newspaper after the January session, Medvedev even praised Shumkov for his work in developing the network of 24,000 free legal consultation offices.

However, even last week Stepashin had started to hint that he did not like some politicized figures in the association. The head of the Comptroller's Office started to speak for the first time about unscrupulous members of the AYuR, admittedly without mentioning names, at the conference "Notaries, State Power and Civil Society" which took place in Moscow on 15-16 February. Talking about the legal centers project, Stepashin stated: "I would like to take advantage of the situation to say that, unfortunately, someone in our ranks has tried to use this aspect of our work. Legal Ostap Benders [REFERENCE to the hero of the Russian novel Dvenadtsat Stulyev] have appeared who have nothing to do with the Jurists Association. They are trying to present such centers as the headquarters for one of the candidates for the post of president, although there are not yet any candidates."

We were unable to get any comment on Stepashin's speech in the AYuR. Deputy Aleksandr Khinshteyn, a member of the commission for legal culture and promoting law, for the moment refuses to given any comments on the "purge" of the association's ranks. Shumkov himself is not accessible for comments either.

In the opinion of Aleksey Mukhin, the director of the Center for Political Information, the entire situation looks like a "misunderstanding". "It looks like a provocation both on the part of Shumkov and on the part of Stepashin," he explained to Gazeta.Ru. The expert does not rule out that Shumkov could have been misunderstood. In actual fact, this is quite possible since there are no clear assertions by AYuR officials in the press that the network of legal centers being created are Medvedev's campaign headquarters.

If you take into account the fact that the topic of lawyers as part of the political battle is not being raised for the first time, it cannot be ruled out that the chairman of the association has himself decided to start a political battle. "This may mean that Stepashin has joined in the political battle on the side of another successor candidate," Mukhin thinks. Taking into account the fact that Sergey Ivanov, the new first deputy prime mister, is now another identifiable candidate, the head of the AYuR is coming out on his side. Nevertheless, the expert thinks that we need to wait for new explanations from the association.

Dmitriy Shumkov is a professor at the Civil Service Academy and is considered a member of Medvedev's entourage. Moreover, he heads a legal company, "Shumkov and Partners", the Pravokom group of companies and the Allure Foundation. It was as head of the foundation that Shumkov acted as partner of the bid committee for the holding of the Olympics in Sochi in 2014. Reports appeared last week that the Allure Foundation had acquired 50 percent of the shares in the French company Lacroix Luxe Sport, which produces skis. The owners of the company intended to invest around 300 million dollars in Sochi, together with representatives of the Russian state structures. However, on Sunday Skis Lacroix denied the reports in the Russian media about the sale of a share holding to the Russian entrepreneur.

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