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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – Dec. 24, 2007

241207.jpgToday: Gunvor denies links with Putin; Fifth State Duma opens; Medvedev to begin presidential campaigning; Zubkov initiates wage hike for public sector; Khodorkovsky lawyers apply for case dismissal; corruption; Badri Patarkatsishvili assassination plot. The oil company Gunvor has spoken out about its alleged links with Vladimir Putin, denying that the Russian president was the company’s “beneficiary” owner but admitting that he was a friend of its founder. “None of the shares of this organisation are held by President Putin or anyone allied by him,” Tornqvist wrote in a letter published in today’s Guardian.

Putin has signed a decree officially sanctioning the relocation of Russia’s Constitutional Court to St. Petersburg. The Fifth State Duma has opened its first sitting, attended by 427 of 450 legislators. Sunday was the deadline for submitting applications to run in the presidential elections – six candidates will run. A full list of candidates can be found here. Dmitri Medvedev is to begin his presidential campaign touring next month. Konstantin Kosachyov, a United Russia deputy, has challenged the Council of Europe for even suggesting that the Duma elections should have been fair. Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov held the first session of the government’s permanent Council on Forest Industry Development. Zubkov told newly elected parliament members to raise wages for public sector workers to compensate for rising inflation. The State Duma has re-elected Boris Gryzlov as speaker.Having completed a study of the documents of the second criminal case brought against them, the defence counsels of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev have “applied for the dismissal of the case, because of the innocence of the defendants.” An article in The Times today says that corruption in Russia is down to the fact that “those who wield power in Russia live beyond the law”, and the general lack of transparency in major cities including Paris and London hampers global economic process. A second banker at Russia’s state-run VTB bank has died in unexplained circumstances in less than a month. Alexander Funin, a mid-level manager, had been found shot dead in his bathroom, holding a pistol. It is being reported that an assassination attempt is being prepared against Georgian presidential candidate Badri Patarkatsishvili, who is also business partner to Boris Berezovsky. The oligarch “amassed a £6bn fortune from the privatisation of state industries in Russia in the 1990s”.(PHOTO: Boris Gryzlov arrives for the first parliament session in Moscow December 24, 2007. The new State Duma, or lower house of parliament, elected Gryzlov its parliamentary speaker on Monday. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin (RUSSIA))