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Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

No law for the poor

Russian Constitutional Court
Rule of law is a big issue for investors in Russia, and President Dmitry Medvedev sought to calm their fears ­ and stop capital flight ­ at a legal forum in St. Petersburg on Friday.

Examples of tycoons facing pressure from corrupt law enforcement officers, or unfair competition from powerful state competitors, are legion in the Western and Russian business media. From Khodorkovsky to Bill Browder or Alexander Lebedev to BP, their stories are told sympathetically day in, day out.

In the vast majority of cases, the pro-liberal media reporting the stories honestly believe that they are upholding fairness and justice. Once they have identified the "good guy" in the story (usually the private business tycoon) and the "bad guy" (usually the Kremlin or a state-connected rival), however, they to overlook any misdemeanours by the "good guy".

What if Khodorkovsky obtained Yukos for a song through a fraudulent "loans for shares" scheme in the 1990s, and that Khodorkovsky was just as ruthless as his fellow oligarchs? Or does it matter that Bill Browder's Hermitage Capital profited hugely from buying Yukos, Gazprom and Surgutneftegaz shares before he turned against the Kremlin?

These troubling difficulties tend to be airbrushed out of the story, and far too many times yesterday's ruthless, money-grubbing tycoon is presented as today's haloed hero.

The problem with the rule of law goes beyond disputes being amicably settled between rival robber barons. In a dog-eat-dog society, the rich and powerful get what they want by fair means or foul. And whatever legal problems big business faces here, they pale in comparison to the nightmare faced by millions of ordinary people living in Russia.

For them, there is no constant chorus from the pro-business liberal media.

For war veterans seeking housing, or residents being forcibly rehoused by powerful developers, or workers fired by large corporations who count on bribing corrupt courts, far too often it is one law for the rich, but no legal protection for the poor.

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