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8 Dec, 2011 21:28

Emails expose watchdog's dollar deals

Russian news website Life News has published emails it claims show correspondence between the US State Dept. and the Russian election watchdog Golos discussing payments for work done to discredit the results of Russia’s parliamentary vote.

Life News says it has come into the possession of 60 megabytes of Golos' private online correspondence. According to Life News, they are letters sent and received by Golos Executive Chief Lilya Shibanova and her deputy Grigory Melkonyants. Judging by the documents published on the site, the group which claimed to be independent was actually funded in order to defend the interests of US State Department.In one of the letters Yulia Kostkina, a financial analyst for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) sends Melkonyants a list of remarks and guidelines considering Golos' activities. She also writes:“The list of the lacking documents we are expecting from you: Policy and procedures of applying currency rates to Golos accountance and finance reporting;Procurement activities;Procedures of property management considering the procedures, existing in USAID,”with several more similar paragraphs in that letter.

USAID has a clear goal of supporting the US foreign policy and is not making secret of that, while Golos has been proclaiming its “independent monitoring of the election and defense of voters' rights.”

And judging by the letters in question, there seems to be a certain “price” Golos paid activists for any report on election violations. Here is a letter by activist Andrey Suvorov to Melkonyants:“Hello,I just wanted to discuss the conditions of our work once again.Like we have defined it, it is piece-rated. What will be the sum for one full appeal based on a violation report?What will be the sum for the detected incorrect report about a violation?Waiting for your answer.If necessary, I will come up with my suggestions.Best regards, Andrey.”Shibanova explained the letters discussing rates for violations reports by the fact that Suvorov is a lawyer who really was "piece-paid” for checking such messages. She also told Life News, “this correspondence was attained illegally.”“It was withdrawn from the mailbox of my deputy, Grigory Melkonyants; he often sent emails from his account by my orders. Cracking a mailbox is unlawful, and we will apply to the court,” she said.

Golos mission

Golos has pointed out violations it allegedly spotted during Sunday's parliamentary election in Russia. Earlier, a couple days before the vote, Shibanova was held by Russian customs officers at a Moscow airport until she handed over her laptop for inspection when she was returning from an EU-Russia Civil Society forum. Just a day before the incident, “Golos” had been fined around $1,000 by a Moscow court for publishing “election-related opinion polls and research” between Tuesday and Wednesday, as in Russia publication of such information is forbidden within five days of elections.On a separate occasion, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner said Washington would provide greater support to non-governmental organizations in Russia for “greater transparency” during next year’s presidential election.Despite America’s budget breakdown, millions of dollars of taxpayer money have been allocated for the purpose of “improving” Russian elections.“We have, I know, spent more than $9 million to support free and transparent processes for Russia’s upcoming elections,” Toner said, before singling out Golos.”Our interest is to support these NGOs that support the process, not necessarily to support… any given political party,” he went on. "And Golos, by the way, is just one of many nongovernmental organizations in Russia that receive this kind of assistance.”

The publication came as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin suggested that anti-election activists in Russia acted after a prompt from the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who criticized the Duma elections an OSCE meeting on Tuesday.“I watched our American colleagues' first reaction. The first thing the Secretary of State did was to give an assessment of the elections, saying that they were unjust and unfair – even though she had no materials from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. She gave a tune-in for some activists in our country and she gave them a signal. They heard the signal and started to take action with the support of the US State Department.”Putin also suggested tougher punishment for those who influence Russian politics on orders from abroad. “We must protect our sovereignty and we should think about improving the laws around toughening penalties for those who execute the tasks of a foreign state to influence our internal political processes,” he said.