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Russia: Anti-Corruption Donor Details Leaked

In the middle of April 2011, donors to the Russian anti-corruption, whistle-blowing website Rospil.info [ru] began to report that they had received strange calls and emails from unknown people, some claiming to be journalists, asking about their donations to Rospil and why they support the website’s founder, popular Russian blogger Alexey Navalny.

Suspiciously well-informed calls

Donors had made contributions to Rospil through their personal Yandex.Money [electronic transfer system] accounts, the financial service arm of Yandex, Russia’s largest and most popular search engine.

On April 20, blogger fezeev [ru] recalled a strange phone call he had received from a woman calling herself Yulia Ivashova and claiming to be a reporter with the newspaper Our Time:

Russian five rouble coins. Image by Flickr user Waltie (CC BY 2.0).

Russian five rouble coins. Image by Flickr user Waltie (CC BY 2.0).

ЮИ – Скажите, почему вы поддерживаете Алексея Навального?
Я – Не понял вопроса
ЮИ – Почему вы поддерживаете Алексея Навального?
Я – Я услышал вопрос, я его не понял.
ЮИ – С Вашего Яндекс-кошелька были отправлены деньги в поддержку Алексея Навального, это так?
Я – (слегка охреневая от осведомленности барышни) А откуда у вас такая информация?
ЮИ – У нас свои источники, это открытая информация
Я – (охренев еще больше от слов “открытая информация”) Не поделитесь со мной этими источниками, если это открытая информация?
ЮИ – Нет, не поделюсь, но вы не отвечаете на мой вопрос, почему вы поддерживаете Алексея Навального?
Я – Ну давайте обменяемся информацией, вы мне расскажете, откуда вы узнали про движения на моем Я-кошельке, я расскажу, почему я поддерживаю Алексея Навального
ЮИ – Кто Вам перечислил деньги на поддержку Алексея Навального?
Я – Снял с зарплаты и перечислил
ЮИ – Неправда, за девять минут до вашего перечисления эти деньги поступили на ваш кошелек с банкомата московского кредитного банка. В окрестностях Яндекса, откуда вы перечисляли платеж нет ни одного банкомата МКБ.

Yulia Ivanshova – Tell me, why do you support Alexey Navalny?
Me – I don’t understand the question.
YI – Why do you support Alexey Navalny?
Me – I heard the question, I don’t understand it.
YI – Money was sent from your Yandex account to support Alexey Navalny, is this right?
Me – (a little taken aback by the knowledge of the lady) And where did you get this information from?
YI – We have our sources, it’s public information.
Me – (even more shocked by the words “public information”) Why won’t you share with me who these sources are, if it is public information?
YI – No, I will not. But you didn’t answer my question. Why do you support Alexey Navalny?
Me – Well then, let’s exchange information. You tell me how you know about transactions from my Yandex account, and I will tell why I support Alexey Navalny.
YI – Who transferred money to you to support Alexey Navalny?
Me – I took [the money] from my paycheck and transferred it.
YI – That’s not true. Ten minutes before you transferred the money, money appeared in your Yandex account from a Moscow Credit Bank ATM. In the Yandex account from where you transfer money, there is not a single Moscow Credit Bank ATM.

After searching the internet for the phone number by which the woman had called him, fezeev found that another Yandex.Money user and Rospil supporter had posted in the comments section of Navalny’s blog [ru] that he had been called by the same number on March 18, 2011.

Another blogger gunlinux [ru] wrote on April 13 that he had received an email from a Yulia Ivashova, who claimed to be from the online journal Saltt, asking questions about his support for Rospil and Navalny:

Здравствуйте. Вас беспокоит корреспондент издания «Соль» Юлия Ивашова. Подскажите, пожалуйста, кому пренадлежит электронный кошелек Яндекс.денег 41001653061014, опубликованный на странице http://cs.net03.ru/donate . Я бы хотела задать несколько вопросов владельцу кошелька. Заранее спасибо за помощь. С уважением, Юлия Ивашова.

Hello. I am Yulia Ivashova, a correspondent with the publication “Saltt.” Can you tell me please, whose electronic account with Yandex.Money [number] 41001653061014 is published on the website http://cs.net03.ru/donate. I would like to ask the account’s owner a few questions. Thank you in advance for your help. Respectfully,Yulia Ivashova.

Blogger Nikolayich posted on April 30 [ru] that he had found the mystery caller’s profile on the Russian social networking site Vkontakte and posted a screenshot of the profile. In the profile “Yulia Pantera Dikhtyar” lists that she is a member of the pro-Kremlin youth movement “Nashi.”

Source of the leak

On May 2, 2011, BBC Russian reported that Yandex.Money had released Rospil donors’ financial and personal information [ru] to Russia’s secret service agency, the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB).

In an interview with the radio station Echo Moskvy [ru], Yandex's Head Editor Elena Kolmanovskaya said that according to Russian law, Yandex was required to supply the FSB with the donors’ account information, though she stressed that she found the disclosure of such information objectionable. Private data on “about 100″ donors was released to the FSB:

Мы сами очень недовольны сложившейся ситуацией и разделяем негодование пользователей. После того, как наши юристы ее рассмотрят, мы поймем, что можем сделать по этому поводу.

We are also not happy with how this situation is turning out and share users’ frustration. After our lawyers look over the case, we will understand what we can do about all this.

While it has not yet been explained how this information was leaked, Russian bloggers have begun to speculate.

Blogger edrofob intimated [ru] that the FSB had handed the information over to Nashi:

Эти гниды имеют доступ к государственным ресурсам и пользуются ими на своё благо, как собственными карманными шпоргалками.

These jerks have access to government resources and use them for their own benefit, like their very own cheatsheets.

mudryi_vvp, whose account has now been deleted, spoke out [ru] against Navalny and approved of the unknown caller’s questions:

Ну ведь общеизвестно, что Навальный играет против России. Зачем же Вы тогда его поддерживаете? Почитал Ваш блог: вроде обычный, гражданский. А ведете сейчас себя как последний оппозиционер. Разве не понимаете, что сейчас наступает то время, когда надо определиться на какой Вы стороне: за Великую Россию или против нее. А Юля задала вполне конкретные вопросы – почему не отвечали?

Well, come on, it’s well known that Navalny is playing against Russia. Why then are you supporting him. I have read your blog: you seem like a normal citizen. But you are acting right now like a member of the opposition. Do you really not understand that now is the time that you must define what side you are on: for Great Russia or against her. And Yulia asked totally concrete questions – why didn’t you answer?

In an interview with the Moscow Times, Navalny said that he too believed the FSB had handed over information to Nashi.

Nashi has officially denied [ru] the accusations, saying that Yulia Dikhtyar is working for Nashi but she had never called anyone asking the details of contributions to Rospil. Dikhtyar, however, did not comment on the topic. The Federal Security Service that allegedly leaked the information to “Nashi” has also refrained from commenting.

Consequences of the leak

Many aspects of the story remain unclear: firstly, the role of the FSB. The case indicated the permissiveness and complete lack of transparency that the FSB enjoys. In the case of Navalny this lack of restraint is amplified by the fact that there has been no public investigation against Navalny (and if there was to be one, what would the charges be?).

Secondly, the motive. The main version expressed by many bloggers was that the aim of the leak was to intimidate Navalny's supporters via intermediary censorship. Blogger Rusanalit however, suggested [ru] that the scandal might be connected with Yandex's Initial Public Offering, which is currently being developed; Yandex's market price is estimated as much as of 6-7 billion US dollars. He recalled a similar ‘attack’ on private Domodedovo airport in 2008.

Some have suggested that Yandex itself was interested in publicity before the Initial Public Offering and could be the beneficiary of the scandal, although who would be interested in this kind of publicity?

Thirdly, did the leak negatively influence online crowd funding? It has definitely shown the weak basis of Russian crowd funding. E-money systems are only viable as long as they can turn electronic money into real money, and cooperation with the government is of extreme importance here.

But that's technology. Did the leak intimidate the bloggers or influence their motivations? On the contrary, it had the opposite effect – as Anton Nossik has shown [ru], the number of donations has increased after the leak.

It seems that if the government continues its pressure on the Internet (despite President Medvedev's declarations “not to put a hand on it“ [ru]), bloggers might turn to more traditional offline funding models, using the Internet simply as a coordination tool.

Where there's a will, there's a way.

This post was re-published in Russian by the Ezhednevniy Zhurnal (Daily Journal) as part of a content partnership with Global Voices’ RuNet Echo.

6 comments

  • If the FSB (KGB) ignored the instructions of “President” Medvedev, whose instructions was it following? Those of former KGB spymaster and “prime minister” Vladimir Putin? If that is so, then Medvedev must fire Putin. Yet it does not happen. That can only be because Medvedev was lying or because he is not really president.

    Suppose the next time these phone calls come, they inform the person donating that he/she will be arrested, or simply shot, if the donations continue. Would donations still increase after that?

    How does Mr. Nossik know that donations would not have increased far more if the phone calls had not been made? Isn’t it rather telling that Mr. Nossik is not able to suggest any form of political action Russian people should take to protect their privacy from government intrusion? Why doesn’t he call for Mr. Navalny, or some other person willing to enforce Medvedev’s order, to seek the presidency? Is it because he knows they’d end up in Siberian prison like Mikhail Khodorkovsky — the last such person to make such an attempt?

  • […] Vkontakte.ru that allegedly contained personal information of the person connected to the recent anti-corruption donors scandal. […]

  • […] gradually increasing, including Distributed Denial-of-Service [DDos] attacks against websites, new scandals surrounding the anti-corruption activity of blogger Alexey Navalny, government initiatives for […]

  • […] Navalny (LJ user navalny) has been called in for questioning about the logo of his Rospil [ru] anti-corruption project: “[…] Does it desecrate Russia's state emblem?” Navalny's post [ru] about […]

  • […] The first “victim” in this struggle was Alexey Navalny’s private e-mail [en] account. Previously, private accounts of his supporters were also leaked [en]. […]

  • […] The first “victim” in this struggle was Alexey Navalny’s private e-mail account. Previously, private accounts of his supporters were also leaked. […]

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