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By John Helmer, Moscow

The Russian state bank VTB has corroborated its role in managing a complicated set of loans, insider transfers and repurchase agreements for Oleg Deripaska’s aluminium and electricity holding, EN+, which issued global depositary receipts on the London Stock Exchange last week. Since the listing, the Russian group has lost $140 million in market capitalization. An international banker in London commented that the listing “breaks new ground, not to say exchange rules, for a share that isn’t a share and for a free float that isn’t either.” (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Last week, the first week in the life of Russia’s EN+ Group on the London Stock Exchange, Oleg Deripaska (lead images), control shareholder and chief executive, took $500 million in cash for himself, then triggered a $112 million loss for the other shareholders led by the Russian state bank, VTB.  

This followed an investigation by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) of EN+’s application to list and trade global depositary receipts (GDRs) instead of ordinary shares,  which Deripaska will not be listing at all.  Approval for the listing on the London exchange was given on condition that Deripaska published a series of investment warnings and liability disclaimers at the head of the EN+ prospectus, which was issued on November 3. In capital letters, investors were warned: INVESTMENT IN THE GDRS [of EN+] INVOLVES A HIGH DEGREE OF RISK. PROSPECTIVE INVESTORS SHOULD READ THE ENTIRE PROSPECTUS, PARTICULARLY, THE SECTION HEADED ‘‘RISK FACTORS’’, WHEN CONSIDERING AN INVESTMENT IN THE COMPANY.”

London sources say the market took this warning so seriously, there is almost no investor  demand for the shares. Sold to a group of insiders at $14 before trading commenced last week, the issue of 112.1 million shares fell towards $12.80 before price support was observed. At a current price of $13 per GDR (equals one ordinary share) $112.1 million in market capitalization has already been lost. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

It’s possible Donald Trump meant the little he has said about who was responsible for the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine in July 2014.  If he did, he didn’t mean it for long.  If he didn’t mean what he said, with the retrospect of two years that comes as no surprise.

On MH17 there’s now no difference between former President Barack Obama, defeated presidential rival Hillary Clinton, and Trump.  Trump has done nothing to answer with the evidence at the disposal of the incumbent president what the US Government knows about who and what shot down the aircraft, killing all 298 people aboard. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

A new group of US lawyers has advertised its services for suing the Russian state bank Sberbank, claiming they will earn large cash settlements for families of those killed when the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. The law firm is known as Motley Rice, headquartered in South Carolina, and the lawyer leading the advertisement to sue is Michael Elsner (lead image, top).

Motley Rice claims to be a specialist in aircraft crash cases and aviation liability, and two other lawyers in the firm, Mary Schiavo and James Brauchle, have advertised their expertise on the MH17 case in the US press. But they are keeping their pitch for a US court attack on Sberbank secret. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Stealing diamonds is a common crime. Stealing diamond mines is not unheard of, particularly  in Africa. But the Grib diamond mine in the Arkhangelsk region of Russia is the only diamond mine to have been stolen four times in just twenty years. This is a record in the history of the diamond world, and one which four well-known Russian men and one lady can be proud of, quietly.

Alisher Usmanov (lead image, in frame), Vagit Alekperov (under fedora hat), and Vadim Belyaev (kepi) were the culprits until August of this year,  when Elvira Nabiullina, Governor of the Central Bank of Russia,  and Andrei Kostin, chief executive of the VTB state bank , joined in the getaway. The value of the loot is now $1.45 billion. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Russia’s criminal prosecution authorities have expressed their appreciation for the indictments published in Washington on Monday of the alleged US criminals Paul Manafort and Richard Gates, and the admitted criminal, George Papadopoulos.

The Russians have also requested cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and special prosecutor Robert Mueller III to identify three Russian criminals who are suspected, according to the US court papers,  of the crimes of pretending to be a niece of President Vladimir Putin; of inventing their acquaintance with the Russian ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko;  and of fabricating a Foreign Ministry invitation to Donald Trump to make an official visit to Russia during run-up to the presidential election of 2016.

Sources familiar with the thinking of Yury Chaika, Russia’s Prosecutor-General, acknowledge that under Russian law, pretending without obtaining money or other material gain, is more difficult to prosecute in a Russian court than in a US court. “Hustling, as you call it in America,” said one of the sources, “is an immoral practice. In Russian it’s called lying, but we don’t have enough jails for Russians who do it, nor clinics for those who allow themselves to be deceived. But America is a rich country with more jails.  If Mr Papadopoulos is to be imprisoned for inventing stories, we aren’t sure if his Russian accomplices will suffer the same fate under our constitution and criminal code. We request the names from the FBI which collected them, so that our police can follow up.” (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Medovukha, Russia’s fermented honey drink known in English as mead, is at least one thousand years old. If it’s what the Greeks meant by ambrosia, the nectar of the gods, then it is as ancient as wine, Dionysos’s tipple. Whether Rurik the Viking* brought mead with him to ancient Rus, or whether it was there already, is uncertain. What is sure is that after a revival of the Russian taste for medovukha multiplied consumption between 2011 and 2015 by sixteen times, the Finance Ministry in Moscow decided this year to tax it into extinction, destroying its own excise revenue from the drink at the same time.

In April President Vladimir Putin publicly called this “not very fair”, and promised to do something to relieve the mead brewers. He hasn’t.

There’s no Viking, no oligarch to defend mead. Gennady Timchenko, the president’s crony according to the US Treasury sanctions list, is an investor in wine.  So is LUKoil owner, Vagit Alekperov.  Oleg Deripaska’s agricultural business produces tea and cider. Vladimir Yevtushenkov is also a cider man.  Vasily Anisimov sells Putinka; he’s the oligarch for vodka.

The wife of Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachev owns a vineyard. Boris Titov, the ombudsman for Russian small business, owns Abrau-Durso, the only Russian winemaker listed on the stock exchange. This year, Titov’s company has been setting a share price record so Titov has been growing richer than he’s ever been.  Mead is too small a business for Titov to care for a slice of it. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The threat of costly environmental damage to Lake Baikal by power plants of the EN+ group, owned by Oleg Deripaska (lead images),  has been raised this week  by Russian and Chinese activists with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). The UK regulator is considering whether to allow an initial public offering (IPO) of EN+ shares to proceed on the London Stock Exchange next month.

The environmental risk to Lake Baikal has been under investigation for several years by the UNESCO agency, the World Heritage Committee (WHC).   Listed by WHC as a world heritage site since 1996, “the 3.15-million-ha. Lake Baikal is the oldest (25 million years) and deepest (1,700 m) lake in the world. It contains 20% of the world’s total unfrozen freshwater reserve… its age and isolation have produced one of the world’s richest and most unusual freshwater faunas, which is of exceptional value to evolutionary science.” 

At its meeting in Cracow, Poland,  in July, the WHC warned the Russian government that EN+’s operation of reservoirs and hydroelectric cascades is threatening the lake, the survival of its flora and fauna, and the communities living around the lakeshore, including the city of Irkutsk, which depends on the lake for drinking water.  The WHC issued a new decision, repeating earlier ones, urging the Russian Government to conduct a full environmental assessment of EN+’s impact on the lake.

This was followed last week by formal requests from Rivers Without Boundaries,  an international, Chinese and Russian organization dedicated to conservation of the riverine environment, for the London Stock Exchange (LSE) and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), to make EN+’s proposed share listing conditional on disclosure of the WHC’s risk reports for the lake;  and  “on thorough assessment and fair disclosure (both to potential buyers and the public) of risks and mitigation plans associated with [the] management of Lake Baikal World Heritage Site.”

The risk of runaway legal liabilities for EN+’s power division comes after Rusal, the Russian  aluminium monopoly and the most valuable of EN+’s assets, suffered a wave of insider share sales early this month; these have caused a sharp decline in Rusal’s share price on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.  A statement issued in London yesterday reveals this has now led to a collapse of the target share pricing for EN+.

According to EN+’s announcement  to the LSE, “the indicative price range for the Offering has been set at between USD 14 and USD 17 per GDR. This implies a pre-money equity value of between USD 7.0 billion and USD 8.5 billion.” These figures slash the valuations issued by the Russian state banks which have been behind Deripaska’s London attempt, at least until now. Sberbank had announced it has been valuing EN+ at $10 billion; VTB claims the value may be $16 billion. The new pricing cuts these targets in half.

This is also an acknowledgement of lack of confidence in the London market in Deripaska’s Rusal. Analysts calculate that if EN+ shares open with market capitalization of the group at $7 billion, the corresponding value of Rusal would be $9.6 billion. Today, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange is reporting Rusal’s market capitalization is HK$79.3 billion (US$10.2 billion). “Why,” asks a London source, “would Deripaska ask London sharebuyers to undercut the Hong Kong value by another 6%?”

(more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Niccolo Machiavelli once called moral philosophy the child of civil war. That also makes moral philosophy after the fact, after the crimes. War winners write histories; losers and martyrs write philosophies.  

Tsar Nicholas II (lead images) was killed, along with his family, because the Romanovs were a dynasty threatening the revolutions which had transformed Russia from the start of the year 1917. They did not just represent their own interest to retake power and fortune. They represented the anti-democratic side among Russians. They also represented the aims of the outside powers, including ally Britain and enemy Germany, whose forces invaded Russia during the sixteen months between Nicholas’s abdication on March 15, 1917, and his death on July 17, 1918.

Dynasts who have relied on the divine right to rule can’t voluntarily resign God’s commission; retire to the Crimean beachside; take a ticket of leave for Paris, London or Berlin. Nicholas believed God had given him power to rule; and that he was above Russian law, too. Because he felt free to overpower the human rights of his mortal subjects, he could hardly claim their human rights.  Not to be executed for crimes one was not tried for nor convicted of was a human right in Russia in 1917 — but Nicholas didn’t qualify for it. If Nicholas had human rights like other Russians, after his death he would no more qualify for sainthood than millions of other Russians, who suffered his fate no less nobly.

As it happened, the records show Nicholas accepted the Russian General Staff’s advice that if he did not give up autocratic power, the war with Germany would be lost, and there would be civil war.  It was the Russian Army, not the government nor the revolutionaries, which toppled Nicholas. But Nicholas tried to break the Romanov law on succession by refusing to allow the General Staff’s candidate, the ailing 12-year old tsarevich Alexei, to succeed him; he tried naming his brother, the Grand Duke Mikhail,  instead.  Mikhail signed his renunciation less than twenty-fours later. “This is the end!” the Grand Duke Sergei was heard to say at Army HQ. And it was. Russia became a democratic republic; it still is. 

Had there been a Russian revolution without civil war and without foreign military invasion,  it’s likely Nicholas would have been indicted, tried, convicted, sentenced to prison, or shot. The rest of the Romanovs might have been spared their lives, but hardly their freedom to attempt a restoration.

Their execution was ordered in Yekaterinburg, and authorized in Moscow, because the Czech Legion, was within miles and hours of capturing the city, with the intention of restoring the Romanov monarchy in a Russia they and their international allies were bent on breaking up. Their plan was to turn the prisoner tsar into a puppet tsar. Through the day and night before the pistol shots which ended Nicholas’s life, the firing of the Czech heavy artillery could be heard in the city. Its citizens were already fleeing, taking as much of their valuables as they could.  Nicholas  understood that the value of himself had dwindled by then to the foreign armies, to domestic counter-revolutionaries, and to God. He ended up with the third variant.

A new history by Robert Service, published a few weeks ago in London, explains what happened, and why.  Service reports from evidence not accessible in Russia for almost a century, and also missed by western researchers. “Copious fresh material” Service reports in his introduction. And yet apart from a couple of interviews in Russian with Service himself, no Russian historian and no Russian book reviewer have mentioned the book, reviewed its evidence, or analysed its lessons. Therein lies a lesson of its own.

Service’s history is being studiously avoided in Russia because to do otherwise can only reignite the  civil war,  at least in debate, and especially between the Kremlin and the Church. President Vladimir Putin has pushed the Kremlin closer to the Church than at any time since the 1917 revolutions. With the presidential election campaign already under way, and the vote due in five months, Putin has dissuaded public debate of the issue of legitimacy to rule and the fate of the last tsar. The Church has encouraged icon worship of Nicholas as a martyr, though that’s explicitly not the status the Church adopted when it decided on sainting him.  (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Oleg Deripaska, Russia’s aluminium oligarch, has lost his campaign to stop negative press reporting of his business conduct. In a judgement issued on October 17, a federal Washington, D.C., judge dismissed in a summary judgement, without trial, Deripaska’s claim to have been defamed by the Associated Press. (more…)