The irony of it all


October 26, 2013 by AK

Greenpeace’s Russian lawyers unearthed a curious court ruling dating back to 2009. The Gazprom unit which owns the Prirazlomnaya platform was involved in a dispute with the tax authorities over value added tax (VAT) reimbursement. To get the VAT back, Gazprom had to prove that the platform was not a ship but a stationary installation. The arbitration court agreed and Gazprom won the case.

How inconvenient.


  1. How much does precedent count in Russian courts? It’s a civil law system.

  2. Alexei K. says:

    Good question. Russian courts don’t make law. As a rule, their interpretations of law are not binding on other courts. Only the Supreme Court and the Supreme Arbitration Court can tell lower courts how to construe and apply laws or regulations.

    But a court’s findings of fact can be binding on other courts. I wrote about Russian prosecutors getting advantage of this questionable comity here.

    Suppose a Pussy Riot double filmed a music video in the Kazan cathedral in St. Petersburg and were put on trial for that. The St. Pete court would not have to rely on the Moscow court’s unorthodox interpretation of hooliganism. Assuming identical circumstances and testimony, the court could rule, in theory, that it was not an act of hooliganism and clear the defendants of the charge (unless by then, the Supreme Court had broadened the scope of hooliganism). It could also say another article from the criminal code applied, say the infamous article 282 banning “extremist” speech.

    Now let’s imagine a different case: a fourth PR member is accused of helping the PR Three to film in the Moscow cathedral. The prosecutors would not have to prove that PR’s actions in the cathedral were hooliganism. It would be considered proven. The prosecutors would only have to expose the extent of the fourth woman’s involvement.

    I have no idea whether the arbitration court’s conclusion that the platform is not a ship is a finding of fact, and whether criminal courts should defer to it. I think the issue is moot now that Russia is dropping the piracy charges.

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