Censoring Common Knowledge: Legal Action Taken Against Sokolova and Eksmo Will not Stop the Actual Contents of the Book from Spreading

A police seizure of more than 3,500 copies of a new book on corruption in the Moscow Region has pit the Governor of Moscow Region Boris Gromov and his deputy Igor Parkhomenko against a local Forbes.ru reporter and her book's publisher, Eksmo. Yet much of the information to be released in the upcoming book had already been published in Forbes magazine, the author admitted, leaving some to wonder why such a book was confiscated in the first place.

"Slanderous opinions about me, about members of the government of Moscow Region and about the governor of Moscow Region are contained in the given literary work," reads an official letter signed by Deputy Governor Igor Parkhomenko, which set off what seems to have been an elaborate operation to seize more than half of the first edition print run of "Corporation Moscow Region: How Russia's Richest Region Was Bankrupted" by Anna Sokolova. "It would be hard to imagine a logical reason for confiscating 3,400 books to look for signs of slander in all of them. I think that one would suffice for that," said Leonid Bershidsky, the director of Eksmo, the book's publisher.

The legal team at Eksmo reviewed the book without finding any "legal threats," said Bershidsky, and the majority of the materials for the book have already been published on Forbes.ru and in other magazines. "In fact, this book is an attempt to tell a continuous story, rather than having to find a stream of articles written years ago. She basically put all the material together, and that's the added value in the book. She tells it in a simple language and there's not much else that is new besides that," Bershidsky said.

This may be the source of the threat for Moscow Region's top politicians. Gromov is widely unpopular in Moscow Region and within his own party as well: last month in conversations with Russia Profile, analysts put him on a shortlist of governors who may be in danger of losing their jobs. Gromov's reputation is extremely poor in connection with corruption scandals, yet that may have the unexpected consequence of mitigating the damaging effects of the book for him. "You have to understand that already for a long time, people aren't really surprised by these corruption scandals, and that's the scariest thing," said Kirill Kabanov, the chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Committee. "They aren't surprised, and they aren't too bothered by them, either."

­The seizure of the books is an attempt by the government both to prevent their further distribution and to put pressure on the publisher, said Kabanov. Despite the fact that much of the information contained in the book has already been published, "you have to understand that for many government bureaucrats, they believe that any negative information put out about them eats away at their authority," he said.

Other options for the publisher to release the book are being explored. An electronic version of the book is currently being sold online, and a free chapter has also been uploaded onto the Forbes.ru Web site. Yet this could change if the government opens and successfully prosecutes a libel case. Despite Bershidsky's optimism that the book will be justified in court, Kabanov was less optimistic, noting that "the courts, first and foremost, serve the government." If civil suits for personal defamation raised by government officials are anything to go by, then the author and publisher will be fighting an uphill battle in court.

Nonetheless, since a portion of the books has already been sold at local retail stores, any legal case will be more about punishing Sokolova and Eksmo than about preventing the distribution of the text. "I don't know what they're going to do about the 1,500 copies that have already been sold. Since the whole scandal broke out, the stores have all sold out their stock of these books. And they could be anywhere by now," said Bershidsky.

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