Justice Ministry refuses to conduct a check into foreign financing of Golos

26 February 2013 

Sourcee: HRO.org (info
The Russian Ministry of Justice has refused to conduct a check into the Golos Association of Independent Election Observers and the Levada Centre sociological research organisation with regard to the foreign funding of these organisations, said Lenta.ru on 25 February, citing RIA Novosti.

Deputy head of the department for non-profit organisations at the Justice Ministry, Tatyana Vaghina said that in recent days 120 requests had appeared on the Ministry of Justice website that Golos be ruled to be a foreign agent. A further 350 similar requests had been received about the Levada Centre.

Tatyana Vaghina put the refusal of the Justice Ministry to conduct a review of Golos and the Levada Centre down to the fact that reviews are only conducted if there is both evidence of foreign funding and signs of extremism in an organisation's activities. "Therefore it is not possible for someone just walking past the Justice Ministry and thinking about sending in this type of request to initiate an investigation of a non-commercial organisation," Ms Vaghina concluded.

In addition, she said that "there are reasons to believe that these complaints have been orchestrated," since they were sent in by email without any contact details of the sender. The official added that so far not one complaint about these organisations had been sent in by either the federal authorities or local government agencies.

It was reported on 22 February that State Duma deputy Vladimir Ovsyannikov from the LDPR party had asked the Investigative Committee and the General Prosecutor's Office to review the activities of the Golos Association. Ovsyannikov said the organisation receives foreign funding but has not declared itself to be a "foreign agent," thereby contravening the law on NGOs.

According to information in his possession, Golos received money from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the European Commission and the British embassy. Commenting on the accusation of receiving foreign funding, executive director of Golos Lilia Shibanova said that in 2012 her organisation did receive a grant from the British embassy, but since then they had not received any further funding from abroad.

The law on NGOs came into force in November 2012. Under this law, all organisations that receive foreign funding and are engaged in political activities should voluntarily register as "foreign agents." Leading Russian human rights NGOs are boycotting the law.

Meanwhile, Tatyana Vaghina says the Justice Ministry has so far not carried out any unplanned inspections of non-commercial organisations. She said that the only inspections being conducted were scheduled ones. She added that if there was any evidence of foreign funding the Ministry of Justice would issue a warning to the organisation, after which the courts would decide whether or not the organisation was a "foreign agent."