RUSSIA: British Council faces back-dated tax demand

The Russian office of beleaguered cultural organisation the British Council was due in court in Moscow last Thursday (19 June) after being hit with a disputed back-dated tax demand. The bill - for monies Russian tax authorities say were not paid between 2004 and 2006 - is disputed by the council as incorrect.

It is the latest in a series of attacks by authorities that have seen the council's network of offices across Russia steadily closed over the past two years. In January, the last two offices outside Moscow, St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg were shut down.

The closures were accompanied by threats to local staff by officers from the KGB-successor body the FSB. The latest action seems calculated to further harass an organisation that is now restricted to working within Moscow only.

A council source in Moscow told University World News the tax bill related to a tax inspection last year and was being treated as a "legal and tax issue". The council insists it paid the correct amount of tax for the years in question and is seeking to have the new tax demand - the size of which it declined to reveal - overturned in Moscow's Basmanny district court.

The news comes at a time of mixed signals from Russia on academic freedom. Last week, the head of a controversial European Commission-funded electoral monitoring centre at St Petersburg's European University, closed earlier this year after pressure from the Kremlin, said he would resume research activities in the autumn.

Grigory Golosov said work at the centre - set up under a three year US$1.04 million (EUR673,000) EU grant early last year - would not be stopped. Golosov said he had sought EC approval to continue the project which included training election observers how to spot vote-rigging.

"I've done nothing wrong or unpatriotic and am not afraid of anything," he told Russian newspaper Kommersant.

*An international conference on academic freedom, 'Defending the University: Academic freedom in Central and Eastern Europe' organised by the New York University-based Scholars At Risk was due to take place last Friday and Saturday (June 20/21) at the European Humanities University, Vilnius, Lithuania. A full report on the conference will be published in our next issue.