Bogus Crimes? Khodorkovsky Case At Crossroads, As Russian Politics Heats Up

A presidential committee studying Mikhail Khodorkovsy's second conviction found no evidence of a crime by the onetime billionaire oil baron and Vladimir Putin opponent. With a touch of absurdism, experts ask if someone can be convicted for someth

Mikhail Khodorkovsky being led into court during his second trial.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky being led into court during his second trial.
Natalia Gorodetskaya and Nikolai Sergeev

MOSCOW - The criminal case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed former head oil giant Yukos, is again stirring Russia's legal and political establishment. The Presidential Civil Society and Human Rights Council released a strongly worded opinion this week that undermines the onetime billionaire's second conviction, declaring that it found no evidence that Khodorkovsky committed a crime, and plenty of signs of prosecutorial misconduct.

This, of course, is not just a criminal matter -- but also a very political one.

The verdict against Khodorkovsky and his business partner and co-defendant, Platon Lebedev, "was a mistake," declared council member Tamara Morshakova. Khodorkovsky was sentenced to 14 years of prison, including time served, in December 2010 for money laundering and the embezzlement of 200 million tons of gas from the company he ran, Yukos Oil. His sentence was reduced by one year in May. But last January, the Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights became interested in the case, and suggested to President Dimitry Medvedev that they should investigate. Perhaps surprisingly for what many consider a very political case, Medvedev agreed.

According to Morshakova, the council reviewed only the court documents, such as transcripts and testimony, that are available to the public. Based on those documents, the council concluded that everything that was used against the former head of Yukos - such as the vertical structure of the company, under which everything was controlled by a central command, signing non-specific business agreements, changing the companies holdings from one part of the company to another - were indeed all legal actions.

"In this case, they were punished for legal actions," Morshakova said.

Rector of the New Economic School, Sergei Guriev, added that "the company's actions do not have any relationship to any illegal action." Professor Otto Luhterhandt, from the University of Hamburg and Professor Anotoly Naumov, from the Russian Prosecutors' Academy, argued that the gas was not embezzled since it is impossible for the head of Yukos to illegally acquire something that he already owned.

According to the report's authors, Khodorkovsky's conviction goes against Russian law and its constitution, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights, which Russia has signed.

Official misconduct?

In addition, the council's investigation noted that a large number of prosecutorial rules where broken in the course of the trial. "The presumption of innocence was obviously violated, since defense evidence were not even examined by the court," said Morshakova. "Experts examined the text of the verdict and the indictment papers, and found that out of the 700 page verdict, more than 600 pages correspond to the text of the indictment."

In Morshakova's view, the most egregious misconduct was that the court refused to drop even those charges that the prosecutors had dropped themselves.

The presidential council plans to protest the verdict, in hopes of replacing the sentence with probation, while the Investigative Committee of Russia has suggested re-opening and re-investigating the case.

Despite the latest twist, Khodorkovsky's defense lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant didn't seem especially excited. "We have been talking about probation for a year now," he said. "But the prosecutors took part in the attack on Khodorkovsky. It is useless to remind the public prosecutor that he should follow the law."

Klyuvgant did see something worth pursuing in one part of the Investigative Committee's recommendations: "What if people are convicted for things that are not crimes? In that case, you should investigate how that happened."

In addition to its recommendation regarding Khodorkovsky's case, the council also suggested that any similar cases currently being prosecuted should be abandoned. The council likewise recommended that the President "make a decision regarding amnesty for individuals who have been tried for economic crimes." The council also recommended establishing a protocol to handle amnesty petitions.

Anna Usacheva, spokesperson for the Moscow city courts, where Khodorkovsky was tried and convicted, said that the council's conclusions were premature. "Verifying the legality of a court's decision is only possible within the framework of established legal procedures, based on the case material," she said. "The report said that it was only the opinion of private individuals. The legality of the decision in this case has not yet been verified by all of the necessary levels."

The political scientist Yevgeny Minchenko is convinced, however, that the current presidential candidate Vladimir Putin, in contrast to the current president Dmitry Medvedev, could use the subject of Khodorkovsky to his advantage. "Khodorkovsky has no desire to plead guilty - he has already served so much time," he said. "Putin could grant him a pardon as a way to improve relations with the West, or he could declare amnesty after the elections. Especially because Putin is seriously fighting for votes from entrepreneurs and from the middle class in major cities."

In fact, just recently, Putin announced that he would review a petition for amnesty from Khodorkovsky, if he were to give him one.

Read the original article in Russian


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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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