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In divorces, the odds are stacked against women

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Among the many side effects the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have had on Europe is a particularly shameful one: skyrocketing domestic abuse. France – with its deeply embedded chauvinism – has stood out in particular, as calls to the government hotline for abused women rose 400 percent during the lockdown.

At the same time, leaving these relationships is not easy. For legally married women, a divorce would be a logical step, but not all women are willing or even able to make that move. The reasons behind that are manifold, yet one of the most common ones is one of the most frequently overlooked as well: the fact that women are commonly disadvantaged in divorce settlements that are leaving women in economic and social hardship more often than men.

Women get the short stick

This fact is surprisingly uniform across the globe, which is why it’s even more of a shock that women continue to find the odds stacked against them in highly developed regions with a strong women’s rights and equality agenda, such as Europe. A 2018 study assessing the gender differences in the consequences of divorce, using data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (1984-2015), found that “women were strongly disadvantaged in terms of losses in household income and associated increases in the risk of poverty”. Worse, these losses were permanent and substantial, without significant changes over time.

Even when a settlement results in a 50/50 division of assets, women often feel disadvantaged due to lower earning power caused by childcare responsibilities and reduced hours available to work, or make strategic career choices. Furthermore, women are frequently left indebted by the legal costs of divorce proceedings because their lower savings levels mean they have to rely on eye-watering loans. Women’s financial positions rarely recover enough to reach pre-divorce levels, while men’s incomes tend to rise by 25 percent on average following the split.

 

Rich or poor, you lose

While these problems are common occurrences across different cultures around the world, they’re also independent of the social class. It may seem obvious that these problems are exclusive to the middle class rather than the wealthiest members of society. However, women divorcing rich husbands face the same hurdles and adverse prospects. Indeed, if there’s one common factor that unites women across all social strata, it’s how they have to fight disproportionally harder than their ex-husbands to obtain their fair share of the divorce pie.

Case in point is the bitter divorce fight between Azerbaijani oligarch Farkhad Akhmedov and his ex-wife Tatiana Akhmedova. Farkhad Akhmedov, who is based in Baku despite having failed to obtain Azeri citizenship, made his fortune in the gas sector but left the industry after being forced to sell his stake in Northgas to Inter RAO in 2012 for $400 million under value. Tatiana, a British citizen, was awarded 40 percent of her ex-husband’s fortune by a UK court in 2016, amounting to roughly £453 million – the biggest divorce settlement in history. Instead of accepting the judgement and paying out, Farkhad Akhmedov has been fighting tooth and nail to avoid making payments, or handing over the assets given to his ex-wife in the settlement, including an art collection, real estate and superyacht, valued at £350 million

 

The divorce of the century

In the process, Akhmedov has frequently not only fought with the gloves off, but outright dirty. From the very beginning, Akhmedov’s defense argued that the couple got divorced before, namely in Moscow in 2000. According to the defense, that alleged divorce supersedes the British decision, painting Akhmedova as a fraud. However, the attempt at slandering his ex-wife backfired: no evidence for an earlier divorce ever materialised, leading Justice Haddon-Cave in 2016 to declare “… that the 2000 Moscow divorce documents … were, at all material times, forged.”

This should’ve been a lethal blow to Farkhad Akhmedov’s defense, but four years on, no significant pay-outs have been made – despite the fact that the original 2016 decision in Akhmedova’s favour has been upheld in other courts. In 2018, Akhmedov was ruled to be in contempt of court and was criticised by Justice Haddon-Cave for taking “numerous elaborate steps” designed to avoid the judgement’s execution, such as “concealing his assets in a web of offshore companies.” These entities, primarily located in Liechtenstein, were recently ordered to transfer Akhmedov’s assets to Tatiana.

 

This is a men’s world

It shouldn’t be surprising that this hasn’t happened yet, all the while the oligarch’s contempt for both British law and his ex-wife are unwavering. In fact, the Akhmedov case – owing to the volume of assets and great publicity involved – serves to highlights the stark contrast in divorce outcomes and that women are generally fighting an uphill battle for equity of the settlement that can last for years, straining their ability to move on and restart their lives.

Yet it could help to raise awareness for this deeply engrained inequality, where women all over the world seeking divorce or justice for domestic abuse are exposed to odds overwhelmingly in their ex-spouse’s favour. Stronger, more relentless enforcement of rulings – including painful punishment in case of non-compliance – is the only way to break the vicious circle. Otherwise, gender equality will forever be imperfect, even unattainable.

 

 

 

 

 

Austria

Die reichste russische Geschäftsfrau hat mit einer Anklage in einem österreichischen Gericht zu rechnen

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Allgemein bekannt ist, dass miteinander streitende russische Geschäfstleute bevorzugen, ihre Streitigkeiten europäischen Gerichten zu  überlassen. Einer der beliebtesten Orte bleibt über Jahre hinweg London, wo laut russischen Geldprotzen “objektivste und unvoreingenommenste Entscheidungen erlassen werden”. Es sieht so aus, dass Österreich langsam zu einem der Felder für geschäftliche und persönliche Corrida der STREITENDEN Bosse wird.

Seit über drei Jahren suchen die Geschwister Viktor Baturin und Elena Baturina Recht und die "einzig richtige Gerichtsentscheidung" in einem österreichischen Gericht. In seiner Klage bringt Viktor vor, seine Schwester, Ex-Frau des einflussreichen Bürgermeisters von Moskau Juri Luzhkov hätte die Unterlagen gefälscht, die sich auf 25% der Firma INTECO beziehen, die  Anteile an der nach seinen Angaben ihm gehören soll. Streitgegenstand sind der Vergleich und der Anhang dazu, die von den Geschwistern 2007-2008 unterzeichnet wurde.

Elena Baturina

Elena Baturina

Frau Elena Baturina gilt seit langem als eine der reichsten und skandalumwittertsten Geschäftsfrauen Russlands. Ihr Erfolg wurde weitgehend von der Dienststellung ihres 2019 verstorbenen Mannes beeinflusst. Er leitete die riesengrosse Megapole Moskau von 1992 bis 2010, als er vom damaligen Präsidenten Russlands Dmitri Medvedev abgesetzt wurde.

Offene russische Quellen enthalten viele Informationen über Elena Baturinas Geschäftsfbräuche. Anfangs war sie Kleinunternehmerin, dann wurde sie zur reichsten Frau in der russischen Geschichte, und sie wurde von ihrem Mann auf verwaltungsrechtlicher Ebene völlig unterstützt. Viele russische Geschäfstleute, die vorher mit Frau Baturina zusammengearbeitet haben, behaupten jetzt, sie hätte ihr Geschäftsimperium auf dem Betrug, unrechtmässigem Druck und Vetternwirtschaft aufgebaut.

Boris Nemtsov

Boris Nemtsov

Boris Nemtsov, das bekannte russische Mitglied der Opposition und das ehemalige Vize-Ministerpräsident während Jelzins Regierungszeit, der 2015 nicht weit vom Kreml umgebracht wurde, behauptete mehrmals, dass Baturinas riesengrosses Vermögen (laut Forbes haben ihre Aktiva 2019 1,2 Mlrd USD überschritten) vollkommen aus der Dienststellung ihres Mannes hervorgeht. Er bezeichnete die Verträge und die zwischen Baturinas Firma "Inteko" und der  Stadt Moskau abgeschlossenen Geschäfte  als eindeutige Korruptionsfälle.

Laut 2009 veröffentlichtem Herrn Nemtsovs Bericht ”sei die Korruption in Moskau nicht einfach problematisch, sondern auch systematisch". Ferner behauptete er, dass "es für uns offenbar ist, dass Luzhkov und seine Frau ein schlechtes Beispiel waren. Allein in den letzten zehn Jahren unterzeichnete Luzhkov Dutzende Verordnungen,  die seiner Frau erlauben, mit Bauarbeiten auf mehr als 1300 Hektar Landfläche in Moskau anzufangen”. Die Schlussfolgerung von Herrn Nemtsov wurde als Gerichtsentscheidung verkündet: "das bedeutet, dass Luzhkov während seiner Amtszeit ebenso wie seine Frau zu einem Dollarmilliardär wurde.”

Diese krassen Anschuldigungen riefen zweifellos bei Herrn Luzhkov und seiner Frau Elena Baturina Empörung und Zorn hervor. Einige Monate später reichten sie bei einem Gericht in Moskau eine Klage gegen Nemtsov ein und gewannen den Prozess. Nach Herrn Nemtsovs Ermordung 2015 rief seine Tochter Zhanna den Europäischen Gerichtshof für Menschensrechte stellvertretend an.

Schliesslich sprach der Europäische Gerichtshof für Menschensrechte Boris Nemtsov am 23. Juni 2020 den Sieg über dem Ex-Bürgermeister Moskaus Juri Luzhkov und seine Frau Elena Baturina zu. Diese Gerichtsentscheidung ist eine weitere moralische Niederlage Baturinas, die auch ihrem jetzigen Gegner zur Behauptung seines Rechts im österreichischen Gericht verhelfen kann.

Viktor Baturin

Viktor Baturin

Im Januar 2007 reichte Viktor Baturin gegen seine Schwester eine Klage ein, in der er vorbrachte, er wäre im Januar 2006 aus seinem Amt als Vizepräsident der Firma unrechtmässig entlassen sowie seine Anteile an der Firma seien ihm unrechtmässig abgenommen worden. Anfang Februar 2007 wurde Viktor Baturins Klage vom Gericht Twerskoj in Moskau abgewiesen.

Am 14. Februar 2007 wurden beim Schiedsgericht Moskau vier Widerklagen von  "Inteko" gegen Viktor Baturin und seine Firmen "Inteko-Agro" und "Inteko-Agro-Service" eingereicht. In einer der Klagen machte die Firma 100% der Aktien der Verwaltungsgesellschaft, der Baturins landwirtschaftliche Aktiva gehören können, und in den anderen Klagen mehr als 300 geschuldete Millionen Rubel geltend.

Jedoch unterzeichneten die Parteien am 15. Febuar 2007 einen Vergleich, wonach beide Parteien ihre Klagen wiederriefen, ihre Schuldansprüche zurücknahmen, und Viktor Baturin einige Produktionsstätten bekam, die für Geschäftsabschlüsse in der Landwirtschaftsbranche erforderlich sind.

Trotz des Vergleiches gab es keine Eintracht zwischen den Geschwistern. Ausserdem wurde gegen Viktor Baturin 2013 eine Anklage wegen Betruges mit Wechseln von "Inteko" erhoben, die angeblich seine falschen Unterschriften trugen. Infolgedessen wurde er verurteilt und verbrachte 3 Jahre im Knast.

Nach den erfolglosen Versuchen, seine Rechte in russischen Gerichten zu suchen, beschloss Viktor, ein  österreichisches Gericht anzurufen, das sich seiner Klage annahm. Von diesem Zeitpunkt an begann ein neues Tauziehen zwischen zwei nächsten Verwandten.

Die Entscheidung des Europäischen Gerichtshofs für Menschensrechte im Falle Nemtsov kann womöglich als ein weiterer Beweis gegen die reichste Geschäftsfrau Russlands gewertet werden.

 

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Austria

Muddy waters in #Firtash case give Vienna pause

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In the latest twist in an already bizarre saga, one which has roped in Russiagate theorists and pitted a former Austrian minister against US prosecutors, Austria’s caretaker government approved the extradition of Ukrainian oligarch Dimitri Firtash to the United States— just as a Vienna judge ruled to halt Firtash’s extradition.

Firtash—who stands accused by a Chicago court of having been involved in a criminal conspiracy to pay bribes in India in order to mine titanium—has already been stuck in Austria, fighting extradition, since he was first arrested on a US warrant in March 2014.

He now seems likely to remain in Austria for a while yet: the latest delay to his extradition comes after Firtash’s defence team, led by former Austrian justice minister Dieter Boehmdorfer, submitted “extremely extensive material” which Boehmdorfer believes will prove that the US has “a far-reaching political motivation” in seeking Firtash.

Longstanding rumours about Washington’s motivations

Indeed, suspicions that the US has ulterior motives in indicting Firtash have clouded the five-year-long case from the start. To start with, Firtash’s profile alone would make him naturally of interest to American law enforcement agencies and politicians. A supporter of Ukraine’s ousted, pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych, Firtash has extensive connections among Ukrainian and Russian elites

As early as 2015, the original Austrian judge in charge of the case suspected that it was these connections and Firtash’s place on the inside track of Ukrainian politics, rather than any involvement with a bribery scandal, which had piqued Washington’s interest. In an extremely rare step between Western allies—one which was later overturned by higher courts— Judge Christoph Bauer, of the Landesgerichtsstrasse Regional Court in Vienna, ruled against Firtash’s extradition to the United States.

Bauer’s justification for his decision constituted a remarkably scathing rebuke of the US Justice and State Departments. The judge explained that he did not merely doubt the veracity of two witnesses cited by American prosecutors in their filings that he doubted, but “whether these witnesses even existed.”

Arrest when convenient

What’s more, Bauer questioned why US prosecutors had sat on the Firtash indictment for close to a year. The Austrian judge suspected that the delay had something to do with the Ukrainian’s close relationship with then president Yanukovych. Pointing to documents showing that Washington initially asked Vienna to arrest Firtash in the fall of 2013, Bauer noted that, in parallel, Yanukovych was waffling on signing the association agreement with the European Union.

According to Bauer, indications that Yanukovych was being swayed back around to the West led to the arrest being put on hold. Viennese authorities received an urgent, cryptic message days before the arrest was scheduled to take place, reading “As part of a larger strategy, US authorities have determined we need to pass up this opportunity”.

A valuable source?

Yanukovych, of course, did not sign the agreement in the end, and was eventually forced into exile after months of protests. Four days after Yanukovych was deposed, the US authorities resurrected their request for Firtash to be arrested: the Ukrainian was finally taken into custody just as open conflict was breaking out in Ukraine between pro-Western and pro-Russian factions.

There’s always been speculation, however, that Firtash was more than just a bargaining chip in a tussle with Moscow over Yanukovych’s loyalties. As early as 2014, one American insider suggested to the BBC that US prosecutors wanted Firtash for the sensitive information he held regarding Russian and Ukrainian elites. "He knows a whole lot of things about the elites in Russia and Ukraine," the anonymous source explained, "it would be great to have this man talking."

These rumours now appear to have borne fruit, as reports have surfaced that special counsel Robert Mueller’s chief deputy Andrew Weissmann reached out to Firtash’s lawyers in June 2017 with a new deal: shed some light on Russiagate, and the criminal charges Firtash faced in the US might go away. Firtash turned the deal down—according to his lawyers, because he didn’t have information on the subjects Weissman was interested in.

Clouds gather over Exhibit A

The revelation that US prosecutors proffered such a deal seems to confirm the longstanding theory that Washington had political reasons for wanting Firtash on American soil. As Bauer noted when initially nixing the extradition, Austria would have grounds to reject a politically-motivated extradition request “even if a crime occurred”.

Over the past few weeks, troubling questions have also arisen over the file US prosecutors put together to argue that Firtash did in fact commit a crime. Back in 2014, just as the case against Firtash was faltering in Bauer’s court, the Austrian Ministry of Justice received a fresh piece of evidence, dubbed Exhibit A. Exhibit A consisted of a single PowerPoint slide from 2006, which mentioned the “use of bribes” in conjunction with a “2-part India Strategy”.

Prosecutors held the PowerPoint slide out as the smoking gun that Firtash himself had advocated for the use of bribes. More recently, however, it’s become clear that the slide was written not by Firtash, nor by any of his companies, but by American consulting firm McKinsey.

Case in limbo

Firtash’s American legal team have, predictably, been quick to point to the Exhibit A debacle as evidence of less-than-clean intentions on Washington’s part. "Submitting a false and misleading document to a foreign sovereign and its courts for an extradition decision is not only unethical,” the team wrote to investigative journalist John Solomon, “but also flouts the comity of trust necessary for that process where judicial systems rely only on documents to make that decision."

With a key piece of evidence collapsing and two witnesses who’ve recently recanted their testimony, the waters surrounding the Firtash case are muddier than ever. Given the fresh furore, it’s not surprising that Vienna wants more time to make sure Austria’s legal system is not blindly doing Washington’s bidding.

 

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Belgium

#Huawei - part of the solution, not part of the problem

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Abraham Liu is a man with a mission. As the Huawei’s new Chief Representative to the European Union, his role is to convince EU politicians and policy makers that his company is a leading global provider of information and communications infrastructure and smart devices that can be trusted, and not a vehicle for Chinese spying.

Abraham Liu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American officials made clear that they view Huawei, one of China’s biggest firms, as a threat to national security, since it builds the telecoms networks that underpin modern societies.

Australia recently prohibited Huawei’s 5g equipment. Japan has toughened its rules. The EU is now considering if it should also take similar action.

During a press conference on Artificial Intelligence on 2nd February, European Commission Vice President Ansip responded to a question regarding Huawei’s role in some European driverless cars and 5G projects in the context of security allegations against the company.

Huawei’s response was immediate and unequivocal, with Abraham Liu, President of Huawei’s EU office, defending the company: “We categorically reject any allegation that we might pose a security threat. We are open to a dialogue with Vice President Andrus Ansip to address these misunderstandings and intend to continue our longstanding cooperation with the European Commission as a private, employee owned company.

"We are part of the solution, not part of the problem. Huawei has never been asked by any government to build any backdoors or interrupt any networks, and we would never tolerate such behaviour by any of our staff.

"Cyber security has always been our top priority and we have a proven track record of providing secure products and solutions for our customers in Europe and around the world. Today, the ICT supply chain is highly globalized. Cyber security needs to be addressed jointly at a global level, and equipment vendors should not be treated differently based on their country of origin.

"Singling out one vendor does nothing to help the industry identify and address cyber security threats more effectively.

"We stand ready to provide any information and are committed to maintaining an open dialogue with our European partners on security-related issues.”

Britain has a board that allows its intelligence services to review Huawei’s equipment. Germany has copied it and Singapore may follow.

Some 170 countries that use Huawei must now decide whether doing business with it is safe.

Abraham Liu, as President of Huawei’s EU office, will be bringing all his formidable skills to bear to convince EU politicians and policy makers that Huawei’s goal is to build a better-connected world, not to spy on it.

 

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