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5 Apr, 2022 14:25

Russian bailiffs target US tech giant

Moscow seeks to forcibly recover $24mn fine from Facebook owner Meta
Russian bailiffs target US tech giant

Russian bailiffs are seeking to forcibly recover a 2 billion ruble fine (approximately $24 million) from the American company Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram and is designated by Moscow as an extremist organization.

According to the Federal Bailiffs Service (FSSP) database, the enforcement proceedings were launched on March 24 in accordance with a decision by the capital's Tagansky District Court. Meta’s “systematic failure to delete prohibited information” was listed as the reason for issuing a fine of 1,990,984,950.05 rubles.

On February 15, the Tagansky district court in Moscow upheld the fine for Meta, which was imposed in December 2021. Minimum turnover fines on the company and another American tech giant, Google, in the amount of 5% of their 2020 revenue, were issued for their multiple refusals to remove information considered illegal in Russia. The fine for Meta exceeded 1.99 billion rubles, the penalty for Google – 7.2 billion rubles (more than $86 million). Meta appealed the decision but the bid was unsuccessful.

On March 21, the Tverskoy district court in Moscow, backed by the Federal Security Service, banned Meta’s social media platforms Facebook and Instagram as extremist organizations. The decision was taken on the same grounds: According to the case correspondence, the platforms ignored thousands of demands to remove calls for illegal protests and what the Russian authorities considered to be false information about Moscow’s “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Meta’s lawyers unsuccessfully tried to persuade the judge to drop or to postpone the proceedings. They argued that the lawsuit shouldn’t be handled by a Russian court as Meta is registered in the US. The defense also complained that it wasn’t given enough time to properly prepare for the case, which was filed just several days before the decision was announced. It also insisted that Meta has “changed its policy after public discussions and now declares that Russophobia and calls for violence against Russian citizens are unacceptable.

The cases taken against the Meta-owned social networks has apparently been part of a wider crackdown on “fake news,” which significantly intensified after the launch of the Russian offensive in Ukraine. Google and its YouTube service are now the focus of Russian authorities, which have already called the video streaming platform “a weapon in the anti-Russia information war.”

Newly adopted Russian laws could see those found guilty of disseminating “knowingly false” information about Moscow’s military offensive, as well as about the work of Russian organizations abroad, imprisoned for up to 15 years. Over the last few weeks, the media regulator Roskomnadzor blocked access to several foreign media outlets, to Google News, as well as to domestic operators such as Ekho Moskvy radio and the Dozhd TV channel. 

Russia launched its offensive following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements signed in 2014, and Russia’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics in Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French brokered protocols had been designed to regularize the status of those regions within the Ukrainian state.

Russia has now demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force. 

The West responded to Russia’s attack on Ukraine by imposing hard-hitting sanctions on Moscow. Belarus has also been sanctioned for its alleged support of its neighbor’s actions.