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Russian search giant Yandex blows whistle on whistle-blower

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Yandex, which last week announced its intention to list on NASDAQ, says it has been forced by Russian authorities to hand over financial information about an anti-corruption blogger to Russia’s domestic security agency, the FSB.

Alexei Navalny, who operates the http://rospil.info RosPil whistle-blower Website in Russia, had complained on his blog that some financial contributors were receiving threatening telephone calls over their support for the site. Contributions through Yandex to RosPil are made using “Yandex Money”.

Yandex has now confirmed that it provided information about both Navalny and his contributors after being approached by the FSB. Chief editor Yelena Kolmanovskaya has reportedly told the Echo radio station on Moscow that Yandex is upset at the intrusion into RosPil’s affairs.

“We ourselves are unhappy about the situation and share our users' outrage,” Kolmanovskaya said.

Yandex’s SEC filing for its IPO illustrates the thorny relationship between media and government in Russia. “The legal system in Russia and other countries in which we operate can create an uncertain environment for investment and business activity,” the filing notes.

It cites “selective enforcement of laws or regulations” as an example of such risk, stating that this is perceived as being “motivated by political or financial considerations.”

To date, RosPil’s site claims that it has reported fraud valued at more than 1.6 billion rubles, or more than US$50 million. While Navalny’s targets have included very large Russian organizations such as oil players Rosneft and Transneft, the anti-corruption Website also exposes routine small-scale dodginess across much smaller government departments.

Exposing corruption in Russia is a dangerous pastime, with the Journalists in Russia database listing more than 300 journalists to suffer “violent, unexplained or premature” death. ®

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