I have seen a lot during my 23 years of work as a journalist; defamation, fake investigations and manipulation of public opinion have long been the hallmarks of a number of my colleagues who position themselves as journalists. Unfortunately, such instances discredit modern journalism and we are perceived as individuals who would do anything or almost anything for bucks. Certainly, it is not true. Although, the case described in this article is one-of-a-kind even for me. 

I was approached by Sergey O. in October 2014 who identified himself as a legal assistant at “Polaris”, major Russian manufacturer of household appliances in the Russian Federation. Sergey was interested in knowing if it was possible to carry out journalistic investigation concerning “Redmond” company, which is a competitor of “Polaris”. Sergey justified his appeal by the fact that his immediate supervisor Yulia Baikalova (a lawyer at “Polaris”) set the task to make an independent international research of their competitors’ activities, and “Global Investigation Agency” acquired a reputation of a reliable organization, which brings together professionals from more than 10 countries. Sergey also explained that he is motivated by gross violations of the Russian Federation’s law by “Redmond”.

Nature of the accusations against “Redmond”

According to the management of “Polaris”, “Redmond” illegally registered the “Multicook” trademark. Allegedly, the purpose of trademark registration was to monopolize the Russian market. The illegality of “Multicook” registration was explained by the fact that “Multicook” is a function of many multi-cookers and is a part of the software, and therefore it cannot belong to a particular company. A number of additional claims and law infringement instances by “Redmond” were also articulated. 

Over the years, the “Global Investigation Agency” developed a set of rules which should be followed so that we agree to start investigative journalism. One of the key principles is the neutrality and comprehensive coverage of all facts. What happens is that an investigation always reveals a number of circumstances that were initially concealed by the parties to the conflict, but despite this we always stick to the principles of neutrality and comprehensive coverage – the foundation of our policy. Perhaps, at the moment when Sergey agreed with these terms and conditions, he thought that the money for investigation as a payment for technical expenses and fees could force us to change the initial principles. Looking further forward, I should say that Sergey was sadly mistaken.

The progress of the investigation

After estimating the prime cost and fee of $12,000, we began the standard procedure. We have requested all available documents and confirmation of Sergey’s words about violations by “Redmond”. At the first stage it was obvious that there were many accusations and very little evidence. Such cases happen in our practice, otherwise no one would need investigative journalism, the purpose of which is the scrupulous search of previously unknown information. 

However, in the given case, things were totally different from what was initially presented by Sergey. 

When I received very first materials, I was somewhat impressed by the scale of “Redmond” company. It appeared that the brand is represented in more than 30 countries; the United States, China, India, Western and Eastern European countries, CIS countries, Israel among others. Although initially, for some reason, we have been hoodwinked into thinking that the “Redmond” brand is a Russian product with fake American roots. An impression that Sergey was trying to form a negative image of “Redmond” was not leaving me. Maybe in Russia this trick did bring results, but in the western professional practice it looks alarming and forces to find out the true reasons for the investigation. 

“Multicook” ТМ examination.

We have passed available materials on TM “Multicook” to our partners for the examination. This partner organization has an excellent reputation in Europe and it specializes in the protection of intellectual property rights: “European Agency For Protection Of The Rights To The Objects Of Intellectual Property (EAPIP). We made a request to carry out full analysis with consideration of the Russian legislation as it was about the confrontation between two large businesses in the market. When we speak of the potential annual income in the market with a total income of about 25 billion rubles, the examination must be impeccable. We received an expert evaluation after two and a half weeks, which stated that EAPIP specialists found no signs of unfair competition and law infringement in “Redmond’s” actions. It could have been a clash of the Western approach and aggressive marketing of “Redmond” with the Eastern, namely the Russian approach of “Polaris”. For illustration purposes here is a screenshot of EAPIP specialists’ response.

After such an examination I decided to delve deeper into the motives of the conflict. In addition to analysis of “Redmond” company activities, I decided to check “Polaris” and its management. We use different sources in work, which range from special registries to expert opinions and insider information. In the case of “Polaris” we spoke with insiders.

Over the past 20 years a lot of people who were involved in Russian crime have left Russia. Kremlin authorities created unbearable conditions for their existence and made themselves a Russian mafia. In other words, currently criminal elements from Russia are actively migrating to Europe and hate Vladimir Putin’s governance. For this reason, these people can be approached and they are ready to give away insider information under certain conditions and under conditions of confidentiality. In this manner, I managed to find out that the CEO of “Polaris” Oleg A. is affiliated with the entities that are supervised by the FSB of Russia. The second person is one of the senior managers Alexey K. turned out to be an active adherent of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). These materials were confirmed by a number of circumstantial evidence that was obtained from other sources. It is unnecessary to speak of the FSB power in modern Russia. And as is the case with the affiliation of the ROC and law enforcement agencies, in particular the FSB and center “E”.

Critical error of “Polaris”

After providing an interim report for Sergei, we did not receive any feedback for a long time. The silence lasted about 10 days. After a long silence, we received a call and were requested to stop the investigation and not to publish materials that were found by us and the results of the EAPIP examination results. On the one hand, I understood that Sergei might not like the fact that he did not get what he apparently expected, but on the other hand he violated our initial agreements. Professional journalists will never agree to act as executioners, let alone execute innocent people. And although we found multiple inconsistencies in “Redmond’s” financial statements, they were not related to the request made by the representatives of “Polaris”. 

In my opinion, there could have been two reasons for such a behavior of “Polaris” representative: they were not satisfied with the examination of TM “Multicook” or, more likely, they were completely against the disclosure of information about the relation of their management with representatives of the FSB and the ROC. 

Сoncluding remarks 

I understand that the publication of this piece will permanently damage business relations with “Polaris”. Although it was the representatives of this company who violated the initial agreements and it is their fault that this article is being published. I assume that the employees of “Polaris” will try to discredit this investigation in every possible way or try to pretend that it did not exist at all. However, we cannot do otherwise.

I consider such a conduct of the representative of “Polaris” to be a personal insult. I never allowed to buy for money what is called freedom of speech in the civilized world. Moreover, in this context the consequences of silence can be irreversible. In case the information about the close connection of “Polaris”management with the FSB and the ROC corresponds to reality, which I do not doubt, then there may be completely different ways to eliminate the competitors of “Polaris”. It is all known that special services have long turned into business regulators in Russia, which means that they can act in secret and destroy competitors in certain ways to clear the way for their business representatives. Most often, this turns into the use of law enforcement agencies and uniformed service. As you understand it is already a matter of power and violence  monopoly which should not exist in a business environment. In any case, I am sure that this case will continue. I just want to believe that this article will stop both conflicting parties to some extent from using dirty tricks, as a consequence of which innocent people may suffer.