Russian Officials Pay Surprise Visit to FOI Group

25 March 2013

Russian government officials on March 21 conducted a surprise visit to the St. Petersburg office of the Foundation for Information Freedom.

Arriving at the office about noon, the four officials — an assistant district prosecutor, two police officers, and a tax inspector – stayed for an hour and a half and left a long list of questions.

Under protest, FIF has prepared five big binders of documents in response.

FIF Chairman Ivan Pavlov asked the officials for the justification of the investigation and was told that inspectors wanted to understand “what we’re doing,” according to a FIF statement. Many other nongovernmental organizations are being similarly targeted recently.

Pavlov said in a later email to FreedomInfo.Info.org:

The visitors expressed a wish to see on work places (includ. computers) our staff members and interview them, but failed to explain me what are the grounds for them to do so. The assistant of the prosecutor said that he would call for the police but later gave up this idea, requesting instead a statement of written objections I provided to him. Finally  they left, having delivered a request for information (dated by March 21, the very day of the visit, and requiring the large volume of documentation up to March 26) containing by itself no legal reasons for such an inspection.

The full list of their requirements can be seen scanned (in Russian) at our website. Among others, they requested statutory documents, list of events we held, fiscal documents (not always stating clearly what period to cover), information on funding sources and on results of inspections held by other government bodies. It seems symbolic that the detailed list of 22 items numbered by Russian letters is concluded by the final non-numbered item “other necessary documents” without any explanation what documents should those be.

His statement goes on to say that the organization has nothing to hide, but that he found the audit excessive and illegal.

The FIF said it will provide the information and has “nothing to hide from the government.”

The unexplained rationale for the investigation, the group noted, contrasts with active cooperating with the authorities on open government. The government’s inquiry lacks legal basis and is a distraction from the group’s efforts to protect the rights of citizens guaranteed by Russian law.

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