Following the reform of the Arbitration Law, most existing arbitral institutions must re-register and obtain a permit from the government to administer disputes in Russia before November 1 2017. The International Commercial Arbitration Court at the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has used this opportunity to enhance significantly its previous rules governing international and domestic arbitration.
One of the most praised changes introduced by the recent arbitration law reform concerns the arbitrability of so-called 'corporate disputes'. The Russian Arbitration Association (RAA) was the first Russian arbitral institution to develop and release for public consultation draft arbitration rules for corporate disputes. While some institutions have already followed suit and many more will do so, the RAA's draft rules provide a better idea of what arbitral proceedings in corporate disputes could look like.
The New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards requires state courts to respect arbitration agreements and refer parties to arbitration if one of them so requests. While the convention is silent on when a party must make the request, national legislation usually fills this gap. From a Russian law perspective, a recent case demonstrates once again that the timing of raising jurisdictional objections before the state courts is of key importance.
Transactions of Russian joint stock companies and limited liability companies require the consent of the general meeting or the board of directors if they qualify as material or interested party transactions. As the non-observance of the relevant requirements may be grounds for contesting these types of transaction, they should be observed not only by shareholders and members of the corporate bodies of the respective companies, but also by persons that wish to enter into such transactions with these companies.
The Supreme Court recently clarified parties' right to terminate a contract unilaterally (ie, the 'right to unilateral refusal of performance' in Russian terminology) or amend a contractual obligation unilaterally. The court also clarified the requirements regarding the fulfilment of payment obligations, including with regard to bank transfers, currencies and interest in the event of a default, among other things.
Russian law continues to develop with respect to the disclosure of beneficial owners of Russian businesses. New provisions came into force at the end of 2016, which require all Russian legal entities to take reasonable and available steps to identify their beneficial owners and disclose them on request, among other things. For this purpose, the law expressly entitles a Russian legal entity to request information from its shareholders, as well as from other persons who in any way control the entity.
The statutory deadline for holding the annual general meeting of a Russian limited liability company (LLC) is April 30 2017. The meeting must approve the annual results of the LLC's activities – in particular, its annual financial statements as of December 31 2016 and its 2016 annual report. Violation of the deadline or any formal requirements may result in administrative fines. The deadline for holding the annual general meeting of a Russian joint stock company is June 30 2017.
In March 2015 and July 2016 amendments to the Civil Code were introduced regarding compensation for damages and contractual penalties. In March 2016 the Supreme Court provided its interpretation of the March 2015 amendments. Together, they should make damages claims easier to assert, clarify the limitations of liability, define the criteria for the reduction of penalties and establish contractual means of protecting creditors against loss and damages.
In January 2019 a new law will come into force enabling the tax authorities to request client-related documents from auditors which constitute 'auditing secrets'. This law marks the end of years of struggle by the tax authorities to gain access to audit documents. Although these changes carry no significant risks for bona fide taxpayers, the business community is concerned that the authorities may be able to request auditors' documents and opinions on related services, such as accounting and tax consulting.
The Federal Tax Service (FTS) recently issued a letter providing an extensive explanation of the tax authorities' application of the beneficial owner of income (BOI) concept. This concept was previously referred to only in the international tax treaties between Russia and other states, but has recently been actively implemented into Russian tax legislation. In this regard, the FTS's letter is of great interest, as it summarises the approach of both the courts and the tax authorities with regard to resolving BOI issues.
The Ministry of Finance recently issued an important clarification regarding the taxation of a foreign parent company's property rights to a trademark as a contribution to the charter capital of its Russian subsidiary. Previously, there had been ambiguity surrounding this issue due to the competing provisions of the Tax Code with regard to the procedure for imposing value added tax on contributions to a company's charter capital and transactions involving property rights to trademarks.
A new law, which will enter into force in 2019, will introduce significant changes to the special procedure for imposing value added tax (VAT) on services provided in electronic form by foreign companies that have no branch or representative office in Russia. Foreign organisations that provide services in electronic form to Russian buyers are advised to register for tax accounting in Russia as VAT payers, as Russian counterparties will likely refuse to purchase electronic services from parties that fail to do so.
At the end of 2017, a number of amendments to the Tax Code came into force which significantly increased the scope of information and documents that Russian divisions of some international companies must submit to the tax authorities. Russian companies and foreign companies subject to taxation in Russia must now provide a notice of participation in an international group of companies and so-called 'country information'.
In recent years, the commercial titles of the Civil Code have been aligned more closely with international commercial practices and the Russian courts have been enforcing these new standards. These improvements are noticeable in the area of franchise law. Because these statutory provisions are new, franchisors should check the latest court decisions for additional guidance before structuring transactions based thereon.
The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) applies internationally and can encroach on the national laws of non-EU countries. In Russia, international companies must fulfil the requirements of both the GDPR and local laws, even though they may contradict each other. Companies should follow a number of recommendations in order to find the most practical solutions, mitigate relevant legal risks and keep their noses clean should Roscomnadzor try to find fault with them.
New data storage rules recently took effect for online data distributors (organisers) in Russia. The new rules form an integral part of the ongoing reform of the legislation on the national governance of internet sovereignty, data privacy and cybersecurity, which includes the package of laws known as the 'Yarovaya Law'. However, both the Yarovaya Law and the new data storage requirements have been widely criticised.
The Audiovisual Services Law recently took effect and has introduced an innovative legal regime for the operation of streaming and video on demand services in Russia. The law has defined 'audiovisual services', imposed special obligations on audiovisual service owners and introduced penalties for non-compliance with the law.