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On October 6, Sergey Frank criticized John Helmer in testimony in the UK High Court, condemning, as he has done before, Helmer’s reporting of the affairs of the Sovcomflot shipping company, headed by Frank since 2004.

On October 12, the Foreign Press Centre of the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation telephoned Helmer in Moscow with a request to meet the next day with Boris Shardakov and Oleg Churilov. Shardakov is head of the office of work with foreign correspondents.

On October 13, at 4 in the afternoon, Shardakov and Churilov told Helmer that a letter addressed by Sovcomflot to the Foreign Ministry had been received. It was signed by the spokesman for Frank, Andrei Kechashin.

In a summary of the letter read out, Sovcomflot claimed that in 2006 it had disputed Helmer’s reporting on the company’s tanker safety record and the conflict between Frank and his predecessors. This had been published in Fairplay, the London-based maritime publication.

In the letter, Sovcomflot also queried the Foreign Ministry on the rules and regulations applying to the work of foreign correspondents in Russia in general, and to Helmer in particular. Through Kechashin, the company requested to know the legal status and accreditation compliance of Helmer.

In response, documents were provided by Helmer to Shardakov and Churilov. These included Fairplay’s response to Sovcomflot’s claims in 2006; evidence of Sovcomflot’s knowledge of Helmer’s status in July and August of this year; and the official transcript of Frank’s testimony to the High Court on October 6, referring to Helmer.

Helmer reported to the Foreign Ministry that there has been widespread publication in English of all sides and claims currently being tried by Justice Andrew Smith in London. According to the evidence and testimony in the High Court by Frank’s predecessor as CEO of Sovcomflot, Dmitry Skarga, Frank has used Russian state organs to assist him in the pursuit of personal vendettas and commercial advantage, and with violations of the laws of the UK, Switzerland, and Russia.

Shardakov told Helmer: “We are not going to involve the Foreign Ministry in [the Sovcomflot trial]. We are not threatening anyone. We are trying to solve a purely technical issue.”

The technical issue, he explained, relates to the Ministry’s regulations for identification of accredited correspondents on the territory of the Russian Federation; the interpretation of Helmer’s business card, which states “John Helmer Correspondent Moscow”; and facsimile letterhead and email footer which refer to “John Helmer Moscow Bureau”.

Helmer, Shardakov and Churilov agreed that after twenty years of professional work by Helmer in Russia and of that period of accreditation by the Foreign Ministry, a question of interpretation had been raised by Sovcomflot.

The Foreign Ministry officials agreed with Helmer, and it was put down for the record, that whenever an official address, letterhead, or form of introduction of Helmer is made in the course of his professional activities in Russia, it should be noted and understood that Helmer is the accredited correspondent of Business Day.

According to Shardakov and Churilov, “we agree that you have not violated your status as a correspondent” and there is no obstacle, regulatory or otherwise, to Helmer reporting for the international media and publishing wherever requested, subject to there being clarity on the accreditation identification.

The Foreign Ministry’s office for work with foreign correspondents accepted for its record the documents submitted on the London trial; on the correspondence between Fairplay and Sovcomflot of 2006; and a copy of a set of 6 questions prepared by Helmer for Sovcomflot on September 22.

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