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Russia Goes Online to Hire Lawyers for Strasbourg

The Russian government posted online tenders for lawyers to defend it at the ECHR, which is housed in the Human Rights Building in Strasbourg, France, pictured here. Conseil de l'Europe

Wanted: A high-powered lawyer to work on Russian cases in the European Court of Human Rights; Yukos case possibly included.

Employer: The Russian government.

Compensation: Up to 7.5 million rubles ($238,000) for a six-month contract.

The Justice Ministry has turned to an online state tender as it goes to new lengths to fend off a wave of Russia-related complaints in the court in Strasbourg, France.

The European court has already created a headache for the Russian authorities, not the least for accepting a $98 billion case filed by Yukos investors and recently upholding Latvia's conviction of a Soviet veteran for war crimes.

As it fights back, the Justice Ministry has extended two lucrative short-term contracts to lawyers ready to represent the Russian authorities in Strasbourg, according to a tender notice published on Zakupki.gov.ru, an online clearing house for state purchases.

Winning contracts for the tender, which closed Monday, are to be signed this month and to expire Dec. 20.

The ministry decided to look for lawyers through the web site because of a government anti-corruption drive that requires all federal orders to go through Zakupki.gov.ru by July.

But Anna Stavitskaya, a prominent lawyer who has worked in the European Court of Human Rights, said she could not recall the authorities ever hiring lawyers this way.

Only a few high-profile Russian lawyers have worked in the court, and they might be attracted by the job offer, Stavitskaya said, adding that she herself had no serious plans to apply.

But the tender also confirms that the state cannot handle the Strasbourg complaints on its own and raises questions about the state's use of resources, she said. "It is unreasonable for the government to spend large sums on lawyers acting against Russian citizens instead of using the money for the prevention of human rights violations," she said.

Russians account for about a third of all complaints filed in Strasbourg, Grigory Matyushkin, Russia's envoy in the European Court, said last year.

The court's last annual report said that 33,550 pending cases (28.1 percent of all cases) against Russia were preliminarily accepted for consideration on Dec. 31.

Most complaints deal with abductions in the North Caucasus, a lack of health care in pretrial detention facilities and abuse of power by law enforcement agencies.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Ministry said last week that she knew nothing about the tender on Zakupki.gov.ru. Calls to her office went unanswered Monday.

This year, the court accepted a complaint by former Yukos management against Russia for the government's forced bankruptcy of the oil company, once the country's largest, in 2006.

Russia already has a large legal team headed by a British lawyer in the Yukos case, but the new lawyers might also take part in the trial, said Yelena Liptser, a lawyer for former Yukos co-owner Platon Lebedev who also works in the European court.

But the newcomers are more likely to work on other cases, she said.

The new lawyers will prepare official replies on behalf of the Russian government concerning cases presented in Strasbourg, Kommersant reported.

Russia has lost a number of cases in recent years, fueling anger within the government. The European Court of Human Rights faced loud criticism from State Duma deputies and Mayor Yury Luzhkov last month after it upheld the conviction of Vasily Kononov, 87, a Soviet partisan found guilty of ordering the deaths of nine civilians in Nazi-occupied Latvia in 1944. Luzhkov has promised to cover Kononov's legal fees of 5 million rubles ($160,000).

Kononov's lawyer, Mikhail Joffe, met United Russia officials last week and told them that the ruling was politically motivated, the party said in a statement. Joffe said the Duma should use the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to force all 14 judges in the case to resign, the statement said.

It is unclear whether United Russia supported the proposal.

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