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Moscow court resumes hearings of Soviet cartoon screening deal

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MOSCOW, April 16 (RIA Novosti) - Moscow's Arbitration Court resumed hearings of the four-year-old suit filed by Russia's state-run cartoon fund against a U.S.-based leaseholder, a plaintiff lawyer said.

The federal unitary enterprise, Soyuzmultfilm, is seeking to invalidate a 10-year deal that an eponymous post-Soviet predecessor struck with Films by Jove (FBJ) in turbulent 1992. The deal was then extended for 35 years 12 months later. The contract allowed FBJ to screen 547 Soviet cartoons outside Russia and the former Soviet republics.

"Hearings of the case to invalidate a deal between the Soyuzmultfilm leaseholder and the U.S. firm Films by Jove on exclusive rights to screen Soviet cartoons all over the world, save for the CIS, have only just started," said Alexander Papenkov, lawyer for Soyuzmultfilm.

Papenkov said at the time the deal was signed by Soyuzmultfilm, which was merely a leaseholder and had no right to set the ten-year term in the contract with FBJ. In 1999, the Russian leaseholder ceased to exist and was transformed into a joint stock company, while its property rights were returned to the government-controlled federal unitary enterprise Soyuzmultfilm, the plaintiff in the current case.

"We want the deal to be invalidated from December 21, 1999 - when the leaseholder ceased to exist," the lawyer said.

Papenkov said the case could not be considered before because the American side had failed to turn up or send any confirmation that it had been informed.

"Four or five attempts were made, papers were sent to various addresses until we eventually received documents about their registration," which enabled the court to resume hearings April 9 and continue them April 16 in absentia of FBJ, the lawyer said.

Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov said last week he was in talks with FBJ, a company half-owned by a Russian, about buying out the rights to screen Soviet cartoons and returning them either to Soyuzmultfilm or the currently formed state-run children's channel. Joan Borsten, FBJ co-owner, confirmed the plans to sell the collection.

But Papenkov said, "As far as I know, Usmanov has suspended the deal" pending the court decision.

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