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    Economics Minister Gref pledges to punish pirate plant bosses

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    MOSCOW, February 17 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's economics minister promised Friday to ensure that managers at plants responsible for producing counterfeit goods would be brought to justice.

    Speaking at an international forum devoted to Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization, German Gref said 223 factories involved in piracy had been shut down in Russia recently. He said a total of 35,000 enterprises had undergone checks as part of the campaign against intellectual property rights violations in Russia, which hopes to join the global trade body at the end of 2006.

    "Checks were conducted at classified defense sector enterprises and those working for Rosatom [the Federal Agency for Nuclear Power]," Gref said.

    Plant managers pretended they were unaware of what was going on at the classified plants with stringent access and personnel rules, Gref said. He also said that special police units had been denied access to buildings and had been forced to storm them to catch pirates red-handed.

    "This is absurd, but it is the Russian reality," he said.

    "We have been following developments in the sphere and will try to prevent them [managers] from evading responsibility again," Gref said.

    Violations of intellectual property rights in Russia have been one of the chief concerns of the country's negotiators in WTO talks, particularly of the United States.

    According to U.S. experts, losses from copyright piracy in Russia amounted to $1.7 billion in 2005 and have exceeded $6.5 billion in the past five years. Experts have said virtually all films, music, software and books are counterfeited in Russia and that pirated products account for 67-85% of all copyright material.

    Gref said the Russian authorities had stepped up measures against piracy, but a great deal was yet to be done to change the attitude of ordinary people, who continued to buy widely available less expensive counterfeit audio, video cassettes, and CDs.

    Speaking at a news conference Thursday, Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov said almost a million counterfeit items, worth $4.3 million, had been confiscated in Russia in 2005.

    He added that approximately 3,000 criminal cases, involving about 1,500 people, had been opened in Russia on charges of copyright violations and 78 people had been convicted.

    Valery Dyatlenko, a senior member of the Russian State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, said for his part that Russia lost around $3 billion annually from the production and sale of counterfeit products.

    Kolesnikov called for harsher penalties for underground producers, including the confiscation of property.

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