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Siberian Jehovah's Witnesses try to shield property from confiscation JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES' REAL ESTATE DEAL RULED FICTITIOUS RIA Tomsk, 15 March 2018 The Seversk city court ruled a transaction regarding real estate belonging to Jehovah's Witnesses to be fictitious. The property was transferred to federal ownership; similar cases are now being reviewed in another two district courts in Tomsk oblast. How and why this is happening is the topic of this RIA Tomsk article. The prosecutor's office acted as the initiator of a judicial investigation in Seversk (a satellite town of Tomsk). It sent a plaintiff's declaration to the Seversk city court for challenging the real estate deal on the part of Jehovah's Witnesses in Seversk. According to the prosecutor's office's account, the transaction bears a fictitious character and is intended to prevent the transfer of the property to the ownership of the Russian federation. Earlier, federal news media reported that in October 2016, a court issued a warning to the "Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia" regarding extremist activity. In March 2017, the Russian Ministry of Justice filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court for finding the organization extremist, preventing its activity, and liquidating it, and it also suspended the activity of the movement within Russia. The lawsuit was granted on 20 April 2017. After the filing by the Russian Ministry of Justice (25 March 2017) of the administrative plaintiff's declaration in the Russian Supreme Court for the liquidation of the "Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia" and 395 local religious divisions that are part of its structure, the organization's property was transferred by the court to state income. However law enforcement agencies thought that local religious organizations, on order from the administrative center, undertook measures for shielding assets on the basis of fictitious transactions. Seversk precedent An example of such a transaction was discovered in the ZATO [closed administrative territorial formation] of Seversk in Tomsk oblast. The oblast prosecutor's office challenged the sales transaction of the premises of a house of worship by the Seversk organization of Jehovah's Witnesses. "The prosecutor's office of Tomsk oblast filed plaintiff's statements in the Seversk city court regarding the illegal alienation of immovable property of local religious organizations, the North Tomsk Jehovah's Witnesses and the Seversk Jehovah's Witnesses, by fictitious transactions. They had been eliminated from the Uniform State Register of Legal Entities in August 2017," a source in law enforcement agencies of the region explained. He said that on 10 March 2017, the Seversk religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses concluded a fictitious contract for sale of a building belonging to the organization and located in Seversk at 3 Komsomolskaia Street. At the same time, funds were not received in the organization's account. The investigation does not rule out the possibility that the money simply was appropriated by the leadership of this organization, which includes local bureaucrats. "The investigation established that Andrei Sergeevich Ledyaikin acted as the seller; he is a member of the committee of the 'Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia,'" the source stressed. The prosecutor's office of Tomsk maintained that this transaction was fictitious and aimed at the prevention of the transfer of the building and land to federal ownership. The court recognized the correctness of the prosecutor's office. In addition, similar cases now are ongoing in the October court of Tomsk and the court of Asino. Religious or commercial structure? According to information from public sources, the parent organization of Jehovah's Witnesses is registered not as a religious but as a commercial structure. More precisely, as a publishing house created in the U.S.A. The activity of Witnesses was prohibited in Russia on 20 April 2017 by the Russian Supreme Court for extremist activity. This was by no means a unique incident; this organization is considered dangerous in 37 countries, primarily Muslim countries. In the opinion of a docent of the history faculty of Tomsk State University, Dmitry Konikov, the Jehovah's Witnesses are not a purely religious organization. "But it is still incorrect to call Jehovah's Witnesses just a commercial organization. The commercialization of their activity is a rather recent trend," Konikov told RIA Tomsk. He said that to define some religious movement as a sect requires understanding from which doctrines its adherents derive. "A sect, like a heresy, is always the denial of belief in some doctrines asserted by a 'mother' church or teaching. At the same time, in the protestant movement there are many kinds of protestant churches and a single canon simply does not exist; there is no main line from which to depart is considered a heresy," the scholar explained. Perhaps the most blatant scandal involving Jehovah's Witnessses occurred several years ago in France, news media write. There a court ruled them to be a commercial structure and ordered recovery from the organization of unpaid taxes of more than four million euros. In the opinion of French authorities, the Witnesses conducted not religious but commercial activity. Of course, they appealed the decision to the European court. Some history According to historical information from TASS, the Jehovah's Witnesses are an international religious organization. It was founded in the 1870s in the U.SA., in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, by a preacher, Charles Russell. The Jehovists deny a majority of Christian doctrines, including the creation of the world, the immortality of the soul, and the doctrine of the Trinity. Characteristic of this religious movement is the expectation of the imminent end of the world and the establishment of paradise on earth, where those whom the Jehovists consider to be worthy will live eternally. At the same time, it should be noted that none of their predictions of the end of the world have come true. The doctrines of the movement have frequently been revised. Jehovah's Witnesses maintain that while studying the Bible they come to new conclusions and reject older "mistakes" (for example, veneration of the cross). Jehovists do not recognize governmental institutions and civic obligations, they refuse service in the army, and they forbid blood transfusion, including for children. Unconditional submission to the will and goals of the organization is required from each adherent to the teaching. Nobody has the right to depart from it independently. The movement cultivates and supports among its devotees hostility to those who do not acknowledge its teaching. Because of this, Jehovists are often accused of inflaming religious hatred and many call it a sect. The main activity of Jehovah's Witnesses is the spreading of their teaching and the sale of their own literature. In the U.S.A. they have the possibility of conducting propaganda on radio and television. In order to advance its goals the movement uses a number of legal entities, the oldest and most well known of which is the "Watchtower Society." The funds of the organization are collected by contributions and sale of printed products, purchased and produced by adherents. The movement has a multi-layered administrative structure, headed by the Governing Body, consisting of ten to fifteen persons; as a rule, membership in it is life-long. The total number of active members of the movement is estimated to be about eight million persons. Jehovah's Witnesses' activity is forbidden in many countries, including China, North Korea, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Georgia, Tajikistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq. (tr. by PDS, posted 15 March 2018) Editorial disclaimer: RRN does not intend to certify the accuracy of information presented in articles. RRN simply intends to certify the accuracy of the English translation of the contents of the articles as they appeared in news media of countries of the former USSR.