ILL WIND BLOWS PROFIT FOR IGOR ZYUZIN AND HIS MECHEL STEEL AND COAL COMPANY — IN CHELYABINSK WHERE THERE IS PROFIT, THERE’S CORRUPTION

By John Helmer, Moscow

Sergei Ivanov had been in charge of protecting Russia’s environment for just ten weeks when he arrived in Chelyabinsk city last November 1. The former Kremlin chief of staff and principal advisor to President Vladimir Putin took with him a large delegation of federal officials, including a deputy prime minister, the minister of natural resources and environment, and the chief of the environmental control agency, Rosprirodnadzor,  to meet Boris Dubrovsky, the Chelyabinsk governor (lead image, right).  

Much was promised for cleaning up the air of the city and region. A month later, on December 5, President Vladimir Putin visited Chelyabinsk region, and flew by helicopter with Dubrovsky over several of the worst air pollution areas.  Dubrovsky announced  that he favoured a new set of air control standards for enforcement by federal and regional governments. Putin replied with the acknowledgement that air pollution was especially serious in Chelyabinsk.  He claimed: “we need to encourage entrepreneurs, and industry to apply the latest technology, the best technology available. This program starts to work, and I very much hope that it will have the desired effect in 2017.”

Then in mid-January the smog struck Chelyabinsk city. Ivanov, Dubrovsky and Putin had all failed to prevent the longest air pollution crisis in the city for years.  Mechel’s owner, Igor Zyuzin (lead image, left), had succeeded in keeping his plants operating with minimal interruption, a promise to do better, and no criminal charges.  A local environmental activist says:  “People in the west think Putin is so powerful he can change the outcome of elections in the US, UK, France and Germany. So how come he can’t put a stop to the говно in the Chelyabinsk air coming from one oligarch who owns the plants?” (more…)

OFFSHORIZATION IN THE WILDS OF BORNEO — ANDREI MELNICHENKO AND NATHANIEL ROTHSCHILD MAKE MONKEY OF KREMLIN

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Andrei Melnichenko (lead image, left) and Nathaniel Rothschild (right) are offering $100 million in cash, plus refinancing of at least $450 million in debt notes expiring in eight weeks. That’s money London bankers say Rothschild doesn’t have, and Melnichenko can’t borrow. The offer is for the takeover of Asia Resource Minerals Plc (ARMS), a London-listed operator of coalmines in Indonesia.

From his Channel Island headquarters Rothschild has announced the deal with Melnichenko for a joint takeover bid. But in Cyprus, where he is headquartered, Melnichenko is saying nothing. In Moscow, the Russian interpretation is a combination of scorn for Rothschild, and a determination to make out of an improbable business deal in Borneo the appearance of international clout which Russian business has lost. According to Russian investment banker number-1: “I have spent enough time in Indonesia so that I never even try to do business here – the deck is stacked against you. Nat is a serial [expletive; translation, passive recipient of forcible intercourse], and he is in for yet another treat.” Russian investment banker No. 2: “Russians are trying to break out of the corner in which the Americans have confined them. They will use any pretext. – any kind of foreign venture is designed to make Russian business legitimate and powerful looking. This is driven by the huge inferiority complex now felt by highly leveraged men like Melnichenko. They need to show they still can [expletive; translation, active initiator of forcible intercourse].”
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THE BLUE SKY POTENTIAL OF CHUKOTKA — WHY IS STATE MONEY BEING WAGERED ON TIGERS REALM COAL?

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Tiger is an unlucky brand-name for Russian investment. The record of Mikhail Prokhorov and Maxim Finsky in trying, and failing three times over to sell shares in White Tiger Gold on the Toronto Stock Exchange explains. So why is the Russian Direct Investment Fund, a state development bank, betting on a small Australian-listed coking coal company in Chukotka called Tigers Realm Coal?

The feareasternmost province of Russia, Chukotka makes a good case for ample underground resources to be mined, so long as costs of digging and shipping to China stay low; and demand recovers. Perish the thought that Tigers Realm Coal is an insider manipulation with the aim of pumping the share price, then dumping the project by several names associated with such scheming in the past.
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GLOBAL WAR AGAINST RUSSIA TAKES NEW TURN — CHINA ATTACKS AUSTRALIAN COAL, FAVOURS RUSSIAN COAL

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Last Thursday the government in Beijing struck a new blow against the domination of global commodity markets by countries allied with the US in the sanctions war against Russia.

The measure announced is a 3% to 6% tariff to be imposed on coal imports to China, commencing on October 15. Australia, the largest supplier of coal to China, will take the largest hit in its trade. Indonesia, the second largest coal supplier to China, will be exempt as a member of the free trade zone between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Russia and South Africa, the next largest coal exporters to China, are allied with China in the BRICS geopolitical group: they are to benefit, too. Russian officials and industry sources confirm that negotiations on tariff relief are underway in Moscow this week as Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev met his counterpart, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang.
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ALEXEI MORDASHOV AND IGOR ZYUZIN VIOLATE THE NEW KREMLIN RULE ON NOT AIRING THEIR DIRTY LINEN IN FOREIGN AIR

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Two Russian steelmaking oligarchs, Alexei Mordashov (above, left) of Severstal, and Igor Zyuzin (right) of Mechel, went to court early this month over a debt of $4 million. The debt stems from a contract for delivery of Mechel-made metallurgical coke to Severstal’s steelmill in Dearborn, Michigan. The court is the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, in Chicago. The claim was filed by Severstal’s local lawyers on May 5.

Russian reporting of the case this week noted the irony in the situation that both Mordashov and Zyuzin are trying to sell the companies which are now facing each other in court as plaintiff and defendant. As yet unreported is the Kremlin directive, informally but directly from President Vladimir Putin to the control shareholders of Russia’s large metals and minerals companies, not to take their business disputes to foreign courts. The order, confirmed by insiders at a well-known metal company, has been put in the context of the threat the Russian economy is now facing from US sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine.
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BLIND TRUST — SIBERIAN ANTHRACITE TRIES SELLING ITS SHARES FOR THE UMPTEENTH TIME, WITHOUT AUDITED FINANCIAL REPORTS, CONSOLIDATION OF TRADING SCHEMES, OR DISCLOSURE OF OWNERSHIP

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By John Helmer, Moscow

It isn’t known whether Dmitry Shatokhin (right), the chief executive, board chairman, and apparent control shareholder of Siberian Anthracite, reads the news. Not the commodity price reports showing that the demand and price for the coal he is selling are falling. Rather, the news that President Vladimir Putin, along with the heads of the other G8 governments, agreed formally this week to put a stop to concealment of beneficiary ownership of public companies, and of the trust, tax and trading schemes by which hidden owners cheat public shareholders.

According to the G8 communique, “a lack of knowledge about who ultimately controls, owns and profits from companies and legal arrangements, including trusts, not only assists those who seek to evade tax, but also those who seek to launder the proceeds of crime, often across borders. We will make a concerted and collective effort to tackle this issue and improve the transparency of companies and legal arrangements. Improving transparency will also improve the investment climate.” If that’s the standard, how come Siberian Anthracite refuses to publish audited financial reports and won’t disclose the shareholding structure of the company?
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IGOR ZYUZIN’S SUBTERFUGE – WHY MECHEL SHAREHOLDERS DON’T REALIZE THE COMPANY HAS BEEN NATIONALIZED

By John Helmer, Moscow

Igor Zyuzin (right) is almost entirely dependent on the Russian government for the solvency of his Mechel steelmaking and coalmining group. With between $9 billion and $10 billion in debt, Zyuzin, who owns 65.49% of Mechel’s shares and controls the company as chairman of its board, is now the steel and coal sector’s most heavily indebted proprietor. If not for a series of cash loans, bond purchases and guarantees from state-controlled banks – Sberbank, VTB, Gazprombank, Eurasian Development Bank (EDB), and Transcreditbank – he would be bankrupt.

That is, Mechel, with a bottom-line loss last year of $1.7 billion, would be as bankrupt as the Estar group of steelmills, which Zyuzin took over in 2009, when Estar’s proprietor Vadim Varshavsky went bankrupt. Varshavsky was consigned by state officials and the state banks to go belly up for debts of about $3 billion. Zyuzin has been preserved in his place for three times that debt. He has also been permitted to buy Varshavsky’s old assets at a fraction of their value, using tolling schemes which may be considered asset stripping, a form of larceny, outside Russia — if their terms were known. In other words, Varshavsky’s insolvent steelmills appear to be paying Zyuzin to take them over for Mechel.
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INVIDIOUS CHOICE – THE INDIAN, THE CHINAMAN, OR THE WHITE MAN (IGOR ZYUZIN)

By John Helmer, Moscow

Igor Zyuzin’s desperately indebted steel and coal-mining group Mechel is negotiating the sale of a 25% shareholding stake in Mechel Mining, his coal division, for $1.25 billion. That’s a fraction – maybe half — of what it was worth two years ago.

Would such a loss of capital value, and the still uncounted costs of Mechel’s unfinished, non-operational ElgaUgol coalmine in the Sakha republic have materialized if, instead of Zyuzin (left), the Kremlin had decided in October 2007 to award the project concession to the high bidder at the time, Lakshmi Mittal (centre)? Does anyone in the Kremlin believe today that the discount for ElgaUgol which Baosteel, China’s leading steelmaker, is about to extract from Zyuzin has been worth the six-year wait? Will President Vladimir Putin, who has been in charge of the milestones of wealth accumulation and loss marking Zyuzin’s career so far, instruct the government’s Control Commission to vote in favour of this strategic resource acquisition by the Chinese? And if the Chinese are acceptable as coalmining partners now, why weren’t the Indians in 2007?
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ROMAN ABRAMOVICH TESTS KREMLIN FOREIGN INVESTMENT STRICTURE WITH NEW BILLION-DOLLAR AUSTRALIAN DEAL

By John Helmer, Moscow

Roman Abramovich was recently able to bamboozle a British judge with no experience of Russia, when the credibility standard was set by Boris Berezovsky. But can his winsome personality persuade President Vladimir Putin and energy chief Igor Sechin that Russia badly needs to acquire an Australian company that has adapted Soviet technology for turning coal into gas; should lend Abramovich up to $2 billion to buy the asset; and maybe several hundred more million dollars to flip the asset to Evraz, the Russian steel and coalmining group which Abramovich’s holding, Millhouse, already controls?

Abramovich’s last attempt at spending a Russian dividend stream on foreign assets was aborted when Evraz withdrew its bid to buy Scaw Metals, a South African steelmaker owned by Anglo American. That deal, worth between $500 million and $700 million, didn’t happen at the same time as Victor Rashnikov was extricating Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Combine from its $560 million commitment to buy Flinders Mining, an Australian iron-ore project.
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WHERE DO RUSSIAN ELEPHANTS GO TO DIE? NOT BY CHOICE INTO ROMAN ABRAMOVICH’S BONEYARD

By John Helmer, Moscow

The two 20-year veteran coalminers who have directed Raspadskaya, one of Russia’s leading coking coal producers, have unexpectedly sold out their stake in the company. According to the terms of the deal announced in Moscow yesterday, Evraz, the vertically integrated steel and mining group controlled by Roman Abramovich (left image), will pay Gennady Kosovoy, currently CEO, and Alexander Vagin, board chairman, $202 million in cash, plus an 11.06% share of Evraz’s equity.

Kosovoy is the coalmine boss; Vagin runs political interference at the regional level and protection wherever required. They haven’t enjoyed being the co-control shareholders, with Abramovich, of the publicly listed company. Even less, they haven’t cared for Abramovich’s pressure to pay him dividends from Raspadskaya’s profit — and that was when the mining company was making a profit, and when the two veterans wanted to reinvest the proceeds in the mine itself. Because Raspadskaya was the only half-way independent coal supplier to the steel industry in Russia, its takeover by Evraz significantly reduces competition in the Russian market.
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BLACK HOLE FOR EVRAZ, BLACK EYE FOR ROMAN ABRAMOVICH — $35.8 MILLION LAWSUIT LAUNCHED IN UK HIGH COURT OVER IRON-ORE AND COAL TERMINAL ON BLACK SEA

By John Helmer, Moscow

Evraz, the Russian steelmaker listed on the London Stock Exchange main board, is being sued in the UK High Court for $35.8 million by a group of Swiss investors over a failed project to build a terminal for iron-ore and coking coal at Yuzhny port, on the Ukrainian Black Sea coast near Odessa. The dispute is over an asset on which Evraz has put a substantially higher value on its own balance-sheets than the Swiss investors are claiming in valuation and compensation in court.

The High Court claim papers were filed on April 26. At the same time, a court in Cyprus agreed to impose a freeze over money in the accounts of an Evraz subsidiary operating in Cyprus called Watney Ltd.
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BATTENING DOWN THE ELECTION HATCHES, PART 2 – STEEL AND COAL

By John Helmer, Moscow

When crisis strikes the global steel sector, sales revenues drop faster than costs, and earnings and profits shrink. The normal correction is for mill owners to cut their costs by reducing production, closing furnaces, furloughing workers, trimming supply of steel into the marketplace, cutting product prices to clear unsold inventories, and crossing fingers for an improvement of demand. If they can help it, the proprietors of steelmills don’t normally lift their interest expenses by raising debt loads.
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ABRAMOVICH TO GET THE SECOND BIGGEST GIFT IN RUSSIAN HISTORY, WHILE IGOR ZYUZIN HOPES FOR HIS TURN SHORTLY

By John Helmer, Moscow

If Vnesheconombank (VEB), the state bailout bank chaired by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, really has agreed to pay $5.3 billion for the 80% control shareholding of Raspadskaya, the coking coalminer, then this is going to be Roman Abramovich’s lucky day. His second lucky day, if to count the September 2005 transaction when state-owned Gazprom paid $13 billion for Abramovich’s 72.6% stake in the oil company Sibneft. Well, it’s everyone’s lucky day, because Abramovich is known to be a sharing kind of man. With almost everyone.
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IS THAT RUSSIAN RISK MONEY WAVING GOODBYE, OR GOING SHORT ON COMMODITIES?

By John Helmer, Moscow

In The Long Good-Bye, private detective Philip Marlowe says of the snob column in the newspapers, “I don’t read them often, only when I run out of things I dislike.” Some people feel that way about the weekly report from Emerging Portfolio Fund Research(EPFR). That is the Boston outfit which tracks the flow of investor funds into and out of emerging market destinations in the aggregate (GEM, EMEA), and in particular countries.

The bad news, out today in EPFR’s bulletin and Uralsib Bank’s weekly analysis, is that outflow of investor cash in Russian stocks and funds hit a record this week of $298 million. This was a big turnaround from the previous week’s positive inflow; though it makes just a small dent in the total flow inward to Russia since January 1 of $3.5 billion.
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FIRST–EVER RUSSIAN HAT-TRICK – EVRAZ RULED TO HAVE ILLEGALLY RIGGED VANADIUM PRICES, AFTER BEING FOUND GUILTY OF RIGGING COKING COAL AND STEEL PRICES

By John Helmer, Moscow

In the game of cricket, nothing is rarer than a hat-trick. That is when the bowler for one side dismisses three batsmen for the opposing side in three successive balls. For the bowling side, it is a rare triumph, and almost never happens in international test games. For the batting side, it is one of the greatest of humiliations.

In Russia, cricket is almost unheard of, and up against the Russian oligarchic combines, the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) rarely inflicts humiliation.
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CASE OF ANGER, AVARICE, OR GLUTTONY – IS RASPASKAYA COAL THE LATEST SLICE IN THE RUSSIAN RESOURCE PIE TO BE REDIVIDED?

By John Helmer, Moscow

Russia’s largest coking coal producer independent of the major steel groups is for sale, as the two controlling shareholder groups — Gennady Kosovoy and Alexander Vagin, who run the management, and the Evraz group — have engaged investment banks to find a buyer for their combined 80% stake in the company. At least, this is the appearance of the story, after Kosovoy and Vagin announced their intention to sell just a few days after Evraz beat them to it, and following the former owner-managers’ declaration of their unwavering intention to remain precisely where they are.
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THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS – HARRY POTTER IS THE ONLY FOREIGNER ALLOWED TO LOOK INSIDE (BUT THAT’S KIDSTUFF)

By John Helmer, Moscow

Deep inside the Russian government there is a chamber of secrets where officials have gathered just eight times since April 29, 2008, the day when then-President Vladimir Putin signed the law that created the chamber. The law was entitled “On Procedures for Foreign Investments in Business Entities of Strategic Importance for National Defence and State Security”; for short, Law № 57-FZ. The chamber is called the Government Commission for Control of Foreign Investment in the Russian Federation, the Control Commission for short (aka the Government Commission).
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FEAR OF DRACULA — THERE ARE SEVERAL REASONS WHY THE KREMLIN WON’T ALLOW RUSAL TO TAKE OVER NORILSK NICKEL – HERE’S THE GLENCORE REASON

By John Helmer in Moscow

In the business of bloodsucking, noone does it better than Glencore of Baar, Switzerland. They call it trading.

The way it works is that Glencore sinks its teeth into anyone unknowing, foolish, impoverished or desperate enough to come within range. Glencore then trades on 18% or higher profit margins for export sales, which no producer would tolerate if he’s in his right mind and health. So Glencore turns him into a corpse, semi-alive in order to keep up the flow of the red stuff. The profits from trading commodities from companies in which Glencore owns equity positions is even better than the straight trading ventures. In Russia, this is known as transfer pricing or cash and asset stripping. It’s illegal, although the law is almost never enforced.
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THE WAGES OF SIN — PUTIN APPEARS TO SHIFT LIABILITY FOR RASPADSKAYA MINE DEATHS TO COMPANY

By John Helmer in Moscow

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met yesterday at Novokuznetsk city, in the Kemerovo region, with families of miners who were killed at the May 8 explosions that destroyed the Raspadskaya coking-coal mine, one of Russia’s largest. In remarks published on the prime ministry website, Putin hinted that he holds Raspadskaya’s management and owners, which include the Evraz steel group and Roman Abramovich, responsible for inadequate safety measures at the mine; and also for a scheme of miner bonuses which encouraged safety violations leading to the two fatal methane detonations.
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PUTIN’S ATTACK ON EVRAZ OPENS PRICE CONTROL FLOODGATES

By John Helmer in Moscow

As Russian villagers used to say in olden times, when the tsar is kind, the wait to see him is long; when he is cruel, there is no delay at all.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s explicit attack on steel prices at the start of this week, and the commencement of a new antitrust investigation of price-rigging against the Evraz group, have opened the floodgates to a spate of complaints — by the state-owned car manufacturers against the flat-sheet mills, and by the oil companies against the pipemakers.
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WHAT GAME, WHOSE DEAL IS THIS? ARCELORMITTAL CONSIDERS BUYING COAL MINES FROM EVRAZ

By John Helmer in Moscow

In an unusual break with the traditional hold Russian steel companies like to keep on their domestic coking-coal sources, and secure the future expansion of their steel capacity with ample reserves, the Evraz group is reported to be considering the sale of two of its Kemerovo mines to global and regional rival, ArcelorMittal. If they are good mines, why is Evraz selling? And if they are bad ones, why is ArcelorMittal buying? ArcelorMittal, which initiated the industry reports of the asset deal, has firmly silenced the tongue that was wagging; Evraz refuses to open its mouth at all.
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SPARKY ISN’T SURE THIS TIME — CRIMINAL CASE OPENED INTO MECHEL COKE BATTERY EXPLOSION

By John Helmer in Moscow

The Chelyabinsk prosecutor has opened a criminal investigation into a lethal explosion this week at a coke battery of the Mechel group in Chelyabinsk. One worker at the battery was killed immediately, and three others are in serious condition in hospital after the blast, which occurred, according to a company statement, on Thursday morning, at coke shop number 2 of Mechel-Coke. A search by Emergency Ministry specialists continues today for others who may have been killed in the explosion, and remain unrecognizable in the rubble.
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SPARKY’S VALENTINE — EVRAZ CLEARED TO REOPEN COALMINE IN KEMEROVO

By John Helmer in Moscow

The federal mine inspectorate in Russia, Rostekhnadzor (RTN), has cleared Evraz’s mine subsidiary Yuzhkuzbassugol (YKU) to reopen the Esaulskaya mine, after a methane accident on January 20 led to a regional court-ordered closure on January 25. Evraz is owned by Roman Abramovich’s Millhouse holding, and Alexander Abramov.
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METHANE TOLERANCE IN RUSSIAN COALMINES — COURT AND MINE SAFETY AGENCY ORDER HALT AT EVRAZ COAL MINE

By John Helmer in Moscow

Evraz, Russia’s largest vertically integrated steel group, has been ordered by the federal mine safety agency Rostekhnadzor (RTN) and a Kemerovo court to stop production at the Esaulskaya mine, in the Kemerovo region, until inspectors have resolved reported methane problems. Esaulskaya is one of several mines in the wholly owned Evraz subsidiary, Yuzhkuzbassugol (YKU — “South Kuzbass Coal”).
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WATCH BILLY BUNTER’S ARSE, NOT HIS LIPS

By John Helmer in Moscow

Billy Bunter was a fictional schoolboy character well-known to British and colonial schoolboys of my generation. Like most of us, his eyes were bigger than his stomach. Unlike many, by the age of ten Bunter had grasped the concept of leverage — to feed himself he was always borrowing against the legendary postal order that was in the mail from his Pater. To assist in his cons, Billy was also a gifted ventriloquist, making voices appear to come from everywhere but himself. This was always amusing even though — maybe especially because — Bunter was usually caught out, and either caned by his school masters, or kicked by his classmates. (You can have a Russian empire if naughty boys get away with their japes, but not a British one.)
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CHINESE CHECKERS OR WEI CHI, ANYONE? — PRIME MINISTER VLADIMIR PUTIN IN CHINA TO DISCUSS STEEL AND COAL TIT FOR TAT

By John Helmer in Moscow

Chinese checkers may be the closest Russia’s metal oligarchs, Igor Zyuzin (right) and Vladimir Lisin (left), have come to understanding Chinese strategy. The problem is that the game is neither Chinese, nor checkers. It’s actually an American invention, dating from the 1880s. It is based on the simple tactic of jumping your pieces further and faster into your opponent’s goal, before he can do the same to yours. As developed 15 years ago, Russian asset raiding tactics in the metal and mining sector are not more sophisticated.

Wei Chi, on the other hand — also known as Go, in Japan — is said to have been created by the Emperor Shun around 2200 BC, to train the brains of his son and heir. The game has evolved such complex strategy over the board space that a novice cannot readily understand how his space has been surrounded without apparent capture; and in the champion games, who has won and how.
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HOW RUSSIA IS RULED, CHAPTER 69 — PUTIN TAKES FRANCHISE IDEA FROM RONALD MCDONALD, LENDS MONEY TO IGOR ZYUZIN

By John Helmer in Moscow

Ronald McDonald is the most famous brand-name franchise in the world.

It operates 32,000 sales points, with more than 58 million clients, in about 118 countries around the world. Currently, the McDonald’s Corporation has a market capitalization of $61 billion; this is only 16% below the peak of its pre-crisis value last year.

This is what the McDonald’s Corporation says about how it does business: “McDonald’s has always been a franchising company and has relied on its franchisees, our Owner/Operators, to play a major role in the System’s success. McDonald’s remains committed to franchising as a predominant way of doing business. We are actively seeking highly qualified business people to join our System as Owner/Operators. Owning a McDonald’s restaurant is a tremendous opportunity. We are seeking individuals with significant business experience who have successfully owned or managed multiple business units or have led multiple departments and who have significant financial resources. We are a family of over 2400 Owner/Operators passionate about satisfying our customers, growing our business, making money and having fun.”
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CAT IN A SACK, PIG IN A POKE — MECHEL’S BLUESTONE COAL DEAL DRAWS FIRE

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By John Helmer in Moscow

Confirmation this week by Mechel of its takeover of the West Virginia coal producer, Bluestone, has drawn fire from Moscow bank and brokerage analysts, who claim the price paid exceeds the value of the deal.

The Mechel announcement was issued on April 22, confirming details of a transaction which first commenced late in 2008, when Mechel made a cash down-payment, first reported at $425 million. An issue of about 80 million preferential shares, completed in March, was the second payment stage of the transaction. Although undisclosed to shareholders or to the US Secutiries and Exchange Commission, which regulates US-listed Mechel, the early reports indicated a valuation of Bluestone, owned by James Justice, of about $870 million. The share issue, it was speculated before this week, would amount to a 19% dilution for current shareholders.

Negotiations to finalize the deal appear to have continued between Justice of Bluestone and Igor Zyuzin, Mechel’s controlling shareholder and chief executive. According to the new release of the “definitive agreement”, Mechel says “”the aggregate merger consideration is $436 million paid in cash (including $36 million interest paid), approximately 83.3 million preferred shares, plus the assumption of approximately $132 million of net debt”.

Additional terms disclosed set out a more complex valuation of Bluestone, and substantially more to be paid for its acquisition by Mechel over the next five years. An analysis of the transaction by Uralsib Bank indicates that “if the value of the market value plus dividends paid in the next five years is less than $1585 million in five years’ time, Mechel will make a top up cash payment on the fifth anniversary of the deal. Finally, Mechel will pay an additional $3.04/ton for every ton of proven coal reserves in excess of 458 mln tons. Mechel’s expectation is that reserves could be 730 mln tons, implying that an additional $828 mln will be paid when the reserves are proven.”
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RUSSIAN COALMINER TESTS OLD KING COAL’S HUMOUR — BUTTERS UP UNCLE SAM, BUYING BLUESTONE COAL OF WEST VIRGINIA , AND BEGS KREMLIN FOR $3 BILLION BAILOUT, PLUS IMPORT PROTECTION

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By John Helmer in Moscow

Mechel (MTL:US), owned by Igor Zyuzin, fell sharply in Moscow stock market trading Wednesday on news the company is to acquire unlisted, West Virginia-based Bluestone Coal.

Without an official company statement so far, Mechel has revealed to brokers and Moscow industry sources that it has agreed to a valuation of Bluestone, owned by James Justice, of about $870 million, and will acquire 100% of Bluestone’s shares for $425 million in cash, and an issue of 80 million Mechel preference shares, currently worth about $310 million. The cash was paid at the end of last year, it has now been revealed, and the share issue will amount to a 19% dilution for current shareholders. Mechel’s acquisition will also mean taking on $135 million in Bluestone debt.

Mechel spokesman Ilya Zhitomirsky told Minesite the company is making no comment at this stage. He did not deny the Bluestone takeover. But he said he could not explain why there has been no reference to the purchase in Mechel’s filing to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on January 22, when operational results for the past year were reported, despite the fact, now known, that the takeover had already been signed with Bluestone, and the down payment made.

Mechel is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, but owns no steelmaking assets in the US, and can claim no coal supply synergies in that country. Last year, Mechel produced 26 million tonnes of coal, 15 million of coking coal, and 11 million tonnes of steam coal; along with smaller volumes of iron-ore, nickel, ferroalloys, and steel. Until now, its only operations outside Russia have been steelmaking in Romania, Bulgaria, and Lithuania; and chromium mining in Kazakhstan.

The larger Russian steelmaker Severstal (CHMF:RU) owns considerable steelmaking capacity in the US, and has bought US coalmines to supply it through its wholly owned mining division, Severstal Resources, which is currently expanding into iron-ore in west Africa and gold in Russia.
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RUSSIAN COAL – NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON’T

By John Helmer in Moscow

At current prices, old King Coal is a merry old soul in Russia.

In the bad old days, when Boris Yeltsin was in charge of Russia, all you had to do to acquire a steelmill on the cheap was to cut off its gas, electricity, iron-ore, scrap metal, or its coking coal. Adapting Honore de Balzac’s maxim just a little, behind every Russian steel fortune there is a raw material crime. Not because they had read Balzac, the Russian steelmakers came to understand that in order to protect their easily taken assets, they were obliged to insure and control their raw material supplies, especially iron-ore and coal.

The resulting interlocking shareholding schemes, by which most of Russia’s coal mines are controlled, and deter raiders, are very difficult to unravel. It’s a condition even PriceWaterhouseCoopers might call non-transparency. But that was in an economy recovering from the damage Yeltsin did to it. Today’s Russian GDP is growing at a rate of 7%, and while state policy can probably sustain that relatively comfortably, accelerating inflation rates pose problems that President Vladimir Putin was not threatened by. Official inflation is running at 1.2% per month, but the price of hot-rolled steel is up 25% over the past month; cold-rolled steel, 29%.
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AFTERSHOCK OF NORD STREAM EXPLOSIONS RUMBLES WARSAW — POLISH POLITICIANS GO “NUTTERS”

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The Polish government in Warsaw, facing re-election in less than a year, wants all the credit from Washington for their joint operation to sabotage the Nord Stream gas pipelines on the Baltic seabed.

It also wants to intimidate the German chancellor in Berlin, and deter both American and German officials from plotting a takeover by the Polish opposition party, Civic Platform, next year.

Blaming the Russians for the attack is their cover story. Attacking anyone who doesn’t believe it, including Poles and Germans, Warsaw officials and their supporting media claim they are dupes or agents of Russian disinformation.

Their rivals, Civic Platform (PO) politicians trailing the PiS in the polls by seven percentage points,   want Polish voters to think that no credit for the Nord Stream attack should be earned by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. They also want to divert  the Russian counter-attack from Warsaw to Washington.

“Thank you USA” was the first Polish political declaration tweeted hours after the blasts by Radoslaw Sikorski (lead image, left), the PO’s former defence and foreign minister, now a European Parliament deputy. In support and justification,  his old friend and PO ministerial colleague, Roman Giertych, warned Sikorski’s critics: “Would you nutters prefer that the Russians find us guilty?”

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THE BORNHOLM BLOW-UP REPEATS THE BORNHOLM BASH — POLAND ATTACKS GERMANY AND BLAMES RUSSIA

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The military operation on Monday night which fired munitions to blow holes in the Nord Stream I and Nord Stream II pipelines on the Baltic Sea floor, near Bornholm Island,  was executed by the Polish Navy and special forces.

It was aided by the Danish and Swedish military; planned and coordinated with US intelligence and technical support; and approved by the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

The operation is a repeat of the Bornholm Bash operation of April 2021, which attempted to sabotage Russian vessels laying the gas pipes, but ended in ignominious retreat by the Polish forces. That was a direct attack on Russia. This time the attack is targeting the Germans, especially the business and union lobby and the East German voters, with a scheme to blame Moscow for the troubles they already have — and their troubles to come with winter.

Morawiecki is bluffing. “It is a very strange coincidence,” he has announced, “that on the same day that the Baltic Gas Pipeline  opens, someone is most likely committing an act of sabotage. This shows what means the Russians can resort to in order to destabilize Europe. They are to blame for the very high gas prices”.   The truth bubbling up from the seabed at Bornholm is the opposite of what Morawiecki says.

But the political value to Morawiecki, already running for the Polish election in eleven months’ time, is his government’s claim to have solved all of Poland’s needs for gas and electricity through the winter — when he knows that won’t come true.  

Inaugurating the 21-year old Baltic Pipe project from the Norwegian and Danish gas networks, Morawiecki announced: “This gas pipeline is the end of the era of dependence on Russian gas. It is also a gas pipeline of security, sovereignty and freedom not only for Polish, but in the future, also for others…[Opposition Civic Platform leader Donald] Tusk’s government preferred Russian gas. They wanted to conclude a deal with the Russians even by 2045…thanks to the Baltic Pipe, extraction from Polish deposits,  LNG supply from the USA and Qatar, as well as interconnection with its neighbours, Poland is now secured in terms of gas supplies.”

Civic Platform’s former defence and foreign minister Radek Sikorski also celebrated the Bornholm Blow-up. “As we say in Polish, a small thing, but so much joy”.  “Thank you USA,” Sikorski added,   diverting the credit for the operation, away from domestic rival Morawiecki to President Joseph Biden; he had publicly threatened to sabotage the line in February.  Biden’s ambassador in Warsaw is also backing Sikorski’s Civic Platform party to replace  Morawiecki next year.  

The attack not only escalates the Polish election campaign. It also continues the Morawiecki government’s plan to attack Germany, first by reviving the reparations claim for the invasion and occupation of 1939-45;  and second, by targeting alleged German complicity, corruption,  and appeasement in the Russian scheme to rule Europe at Poland’s expense. .

“The appeasement policy towards Putin”, announced PISM, the official government think tank in Warsaw in June,  “is part of an American attempt to free itself from its obligations of maintaining peace in Europe. The bargain is that Americans will allow Putin to finish building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in exchange for Putin’s commitment not use it to blackmail Eastern Europe. Sounds convincing? Sounds like something you heard before? It’s not without reason that Winston Churchill commented on the American decision-making process: ‘Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possibilities have been exhausted.’ However, by pursuing such a policy now, the Biden administration takes even more responsibility for the security of Europe, including Ukraine, which is the stake for subsequent American mistakes.”

“Where does this place Poland? Almost 18 years ago the Federal Republic of Germany, our European ally, decided to prioritize its own business interests with Putin’s Russia over solidarity and cooperation with allies in Central Europe. It was a wrong decision to make and all Polish governments – regardless of political differences – communicated this clearly and forcefully to Berlin. But since Putin succeeded in corrupting the German elite and already decided to pay the price of infamy, ignoring the Polish objections was the only strategy Germany was left with.”

The explosions at Bornholm are the new Polish strike for war in Europe against Chancellor Olaf Scholz. So far the Chancellery in Berlin is silent, tellingly.

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LEMONS, MIMOSAS, AND STALIN’S SHOVEL

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The only Russian leader in a thousand years who was a genuine gardener and who allowed himself to be recorded with a shovel in his hand was Joseph Stalin (lead image, mid-1930s). Compared to Stalin, the honouring of the new British king Charles III as a gardener pales into imitativeness and pretension.   

Stalin cultivated lemon trees and flowering mimosas at his Gagra dacha  by the Black Sea in Abkhazia.  Growing mimosas (acacias) is tricky. No plantsman serving the monarchs in London or at Versailles has made a go of it in four hundred years. Even in the most favourable climates, mimosas – there are almost six hundred varieties of them — are short-lived. They can revive after bushfires; they can go into sudden death for no apparent reason. Russians know nothing of this – they love them for their blossom and scent, and give bouquets of them to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Stalin didn’t attempt the near-impossible, to grow lemons and other fruit in the Moscow climate. That was the sort of thing which the Kremlin noblemen did to impress the tsar and compete in conspicuous affluence with each other. At Kuskovo, now in the eastern district of Moscow, Count Pyotr Sheremetyev built a heated orangerie between 1761 and 1762, where he protected his lemons, pomegranates, peaches, olives, and almonds, baskets of which he would present in mid-winter to the Empress Catherine the Great and many others. The spade work was done by serfs. Sheremetyev beat the French king Louis XIV to the punch – his first orangerie at Versailles wasn’t built until 1763.

Stalin also had a dacha at Kuskovo But he cultivated his lemons and mimosas seventeen hundred  kilometres to the south where they reminded him of home in Georgia. Doing his own spade work wasn’t Stalin showing off, as Charles III does in his gardens, like Louis XIV before him. Stalin’s spade work was what he had done in his youth. It also illustrated his message – “I’m showing you how to work”, he would tell visitors surprised to see him with the shovel.  As to his mimosas, Stalin’s Abkhazian confidante, Akaki Mgeladze, claimed in his memoirs that Stalin intended them as another lesson. “How Muscovites love mimosas, they stand in queues for them” he reportedly told him.  “Think how to grow more to make the Muscovites happy!”

In the new war with the US and its allies in Europe, Stalin’s lessons of the shovel and the mimosas are being re-learned in conditions which Stalin never knew – how to fight the war for survival and at the same time keep everyone happy with flowers on the dining table.

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AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Agatha Christie’s whodunit entitled And Then There Were None – the concluding words of the children’s counting rhyme — is reputed to be the world’s best-selling mystery story.    

There’s no mystery now about the war of Europe and North America against Russia; it is the continuation of Germany’s war of 1939-45 and the war aims of the General Staff in Washington since 1943. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (left) and President Vladimir Putin (right) both said it plainly enough this week.

There is also no mystery in the decision-making in Moscow of the President and the Defense Minister, the General Staff, and the others; it is the continuation of the Stavka of 1941-45.  

Just because there is no mystery about this, it doesn’t follow that it should be reported publicly, debated in the State Duma, speculated and advertised by bloggers, podcasters, and twitterers.  In war what should not be said cannot be said. When the war ends, then there will be none.  

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RUSSIANS RAISE THEIR GLASSES – THE TOAST IS TO BEATING THE BLOCKADE OF MOSCOW



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Alas and alack for the Berlin Blockade of 1948-49 (Berliner Luftbrücke): those were the days when the Germans waved their salutes against the unification of Germany demilitarised and denazified; and cheered instead for their alliance with the US and British armies to fight another seventy years of war in order to achieve what they and Adolf Hitler hadn’t managed, but which they now hope to achieve under  Olaf Scholtz — the defeat of the Russian Army and the destruction of Russia.

How little the Germans have changed.

But alas and alack — the Blockade now is the one they and the NATO armies aim to enforce against Russia. “We are drawing up a new National Security Strategy,” according to Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. “We are taking even the most severe scenarios seriously.”  By severe Baerbock means nuclear. The new German generation — she has also declared “now these grandparents, mothers, fathers and their children sit at the kitchen table and discuss rearmament.”  

So, for Russia to survive the continuation of this war, the Germans and their army must be fought and defeated again. That’s the toast of Russian people as they salute the intrepid flyers who are beating the Moscow Blockade.  

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THE INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY GOES TO WAR — GORILLA RADIO GOES NUCLEAR

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Last week the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) board of governors voted to go to war with Russia by a vote of 26 member countries against 9.

China, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Senegal and South Africa voted against war with Russia.  

The IAEA Secretary-General Rafael Grossi (lead image, left) has refused to tell the press whether a simple majority of votes (18) or a super-majority of two-thirds (23) was required by the agency charter for the vote; he also wouldn’t say which countries voted for or against. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres then covered up for what had happened by telling the press: “I believe that [IAEA’s] independence that exists and must be preserved is essential. The IAEA cannot be the instrument of parties against other parties.” The IAEA vote for war made a liar of Guterres.

In the IAEA’s 65-year history, Resolution Number 58, the war vote of September 15, 2022,  is the first time the agency has taken one side in a war between member countries when nuclear reactors have either been attacked or threatened with attack. It is also the first time the IAEA has attacked one of its member states, Russia, when its military were attempting to protect and secure a nuclear reactor from attack by another member state, the Ukraine, and its war allies, the US, NATO and the European Union states. The vote followed the first-ever IAEA inspection of a nuclear reactor while it was under active artillery fire and troop assault.

There is a first time for everything but this is the end of the IAEA. On to the scrap heap of good intentions and international treaties, the IAEA is following the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the UN Secretary-General himself.  Listen to this discussion of the past history when the IAEA responded quite differently following the Iranian and Israeli air-bombing attacks on the Iraqi nuclear reactor known as Osirak, and later, the attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons sites.

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INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY TAKES UKRAINE SIDE IN WAR IN SEPTEMBER 15 VOTE, MAKING UN SECRETARY-GENERAL GUTERRES EITHER A LIAR OR A FOOL

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) decided this week to take the side of Ukraine in the current war; blame Russia for the shelling of the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP); and issue a demand for Russia to surrender the plant to the Kiev regime “to regain full control over all nuclear facilities within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, including the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.”      

This is the most dramatic shift by the United Nations (UN) nuclear power regulator in the 65-year history of the organisation based in Vienna.

The terms of the IAEA Resolution Number 58, which were proposed early this week by the Polish and Canadian governors on the agency board, were known in advance by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres when he spoke by telephone with President Vladimir Putin in the late afternoon of September 14, before the vote was taken. Guterres did not reveal what he already knew would be the IAEA action the next day.  

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THE RUSSIAN SITUATION COMEDY IS NO LYING MATTER – THE JOKE IS ON THE OFFICE OF FOREIGN ASSETS CONTROL

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Never mind that King Solomon said proverbially three thousand years ago, “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”  

With seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, Solomon realized he was the inventor of the situation comedy. If not for the sitcom as his medicine, the bodily and psychological stress Old Solly had to endure in the bedroom would have killed him long before he made it to his death bed at eighty years of age,  after ruling his kingdom for forty of them.

After the British sitcom died in the 1990s, the subsequent stress has not only killed very large numbers of ordinary people. It has culminated today in a system of rule according to which a comic king in Buckingham Palace must now manage the first prime minister in Westminster  history to be her own joke.

Even the Norwegians, the unfunniest people in Europe, have acknowledged that the only way to attract the British as tourists, was to pay John Cleese of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers to make them laugh at Norway itself.   This has been a bigger success for the locals than for the visitors, boosting the fjord boatman’s life expectancy several years ahead of the British tourist’s.  

In fact, Norwegian scientists studying a sample of 54,000 of their countrymen have proved that spending the state budget on public health and social welfare will only work effectively if the population is laughing all the way to the grave. “The cognitive component of the sense of humour is positively associated with survival from mortality related to CVD [cardio-vascular disease] and infections in women and with infection-related mortality in men” – Norwegian doctors reported in 2016. Never mind the Viking English:  the Norwegian point is the same as Solomon’s that “a sense of humour is a health-protecting cognitive coping resource” – especially if you’ve got cancer.  

The Russians understand this better than the Norwegians or the British.  Laughter is an antidote to the war propaganda coming from abroad, as Lexus and Vovan have been demonstrating.   The Russian sitcom is also surviving in its classic form to match the best of the British sitcoms, all now dead – Fawlty Towers (d. 1975), Black Adder (d. 1989), You Rang M’Lord? (d. 1988), Jeeves and Wooster (d. 1990), Oh Dr Beeching! (d.1995), and Thin Blue Line (d. 1996).

The Russian situation comedies, alive and well on TV screens and internet streaming devices across the country, are also increasingly profitable business for their production and broadcast companies – not despite the war but because of it. This has transformed the Russian media industry’s calculation of profitability by removing US and European-made films and television series, as well as advertising revenues from Nestlé, PepsiCo, Mars, and Bayer. In their place powerful  Russian video-on-demand (VOD) streaming platform companies like Yandex (KinoPoisk), MTS (Kion),  Mail.ru (VK), and Ivi (Leonid Boguslavsky, ProfMedia, Baring Vostok)  are now intensifying the competition for audience with traditional television channels and film studios for domestic audiences.  The revenue base of the VOD platforms is less vulnerable to advertisers, more dependent on telecommunications subscriptions.

Russian script writers, cameramen, actors, designers, and directors are now in shorter supply than ever before, and earning more money.  “It’s the Russian New Wave,” claims Olga Filipuk, head of media content for Yandex, the powerful leader of the new film production platforms; its  controlling shareholder and chief executive were sanctioned last year.  

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RUSSIAN AVIATION INDUSTRY CORRECTS YELTSIN YAW – BOEING, AIRBUS DITCHED



By Olga Samofalova, translated and introduced by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

It was the American humourist Mark Twain who didn’t die in 1897 when it was reported that he had. Twain had thirteen more lively years to go.

The death of the Russian aerospace and aviation industry in the present war is proving to be an even greater exaggeration – and the life to come will be much longer. From the Russian point of view, the death which the sanctions have inflicted is that of the US, European and British offensive against the Soviet-era industry which President Boris Yeltsin (lead image, left) and his advisers encouraged from 1991.

Since 2014, when the sanctions war began, the question of what Moscow would do when the supply of original aircraft components was first threatened, then prohibited, has been answered. The answer began at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1947 when the first  Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) or Parts Manufacturing Approval (PMA) was issued by Washington officials for aircraft parts or components meeting the airworthiness standards but manufactured by sources which were not the original suppliers.   

China has been quicker to implement this practice; Chinese state and commercial enterprises have been producing PMA components for Boeing and Airbus aircraft in the Chinese airline fleets for many years.  The Russian Transport Ministry has followed suit; in its certification process and airworthiness regulations it has used the abbreviation RMA, Cyrillic for PMA. This process has been accelerating as the sanctions war has escalated.

So has the Russian process of replacing foreign imports entirely.

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FOR WANT OF A NAIL THE KINGDOM WAS LOST – ENGLISH PATHOLOGIST GUY RUTTY FACES CHALLENGE TO THE RELIABILITY OF HIS NOVICHOK EVIDENCE



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The weakest link in the British government’s four-year long story of Russian Novichok assassination operations in the UK – prelude to the current war – is an English medical expert by the name of Guy Rutty (lead image, standing).

A government-appointed pathologist advising the Home Office, police, and county coroners, Rutty is the head of the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit in Leicester,  he is the author of a post-mortem report, dated November 29, 2018,  claiming that the only fatality in the history of the Novichok nerve agent (lead image, document), Dawn Sturgess, had died of Novichok poisoning on July 8, 2018. Rutty’s finding was added four months after initial post-mortem results and a coroner’s cremation certificate stopped short of confirming that Novichok had been the cause of her death.

Rutty’s Novichok finding was a state secret for more than two years. It was revealed publicly   by the second government coroner to investigate Sturgess’s death, Dame Heather Hallett, at a public hearing in London on March 30, 2021. In written evidence it was reported that “on 17th July 2018, Professor Guy Rutty MBE, a Home Office Registered Forensic Pathologist conducted an independent post-mortem examination. He was accompanied by Dr Phillip Lumb, also an independent Home Office Registered Forensic Pathologist. Professor Rutty’s Post-Mortem Report of 29th November 2018 records the cause of death as Ia Post cardiac arrest hypoxic brain injury and intracerebral haemorrhage; Ib Novichok toxicity.”  

Hallett, Rutty, Lumb, and others engaged by the government to work on the Novichok case have refused to answer questions about the post-mortem investigations which followed immediately after Sturgess’s death was reported at Salisbury District Hospital; and a cause of death report signed by the Wiltshire Country coroner David Ridley, when Sturgess’s body was released to her family for funeral and cremation on July 30, 2018.  

After another three years, Ridley was replaced as coroner in the case by Hallett in March 2021. Hallett was replaced by Lord Anthony Hughes (lead image, sitting) in March 2022.

The cause-of-death documents remain state secrets. “As you have no formal role in the inquest proceedings,” Hallett’s and Rutty’s spokesman Martin Smith said on May 17, 2021, “it would not be appropriate to provide you with the information that you have requested.” 

Since then official leaks have revealed that Rutty had been despatched by the Home Office in London to take charge of the Sturgess post-mortem, and Lumb ordered not to undertake an autopsy or draw conclusions on the cause of Sturgess’s death until Rutty arrived. Why? The sources are not saying whether the two forensic professors differed in their interpretation of the evidence; and if so, whether the published excerpt of Rutty’s report of Novichok poisoning is the full story.   

New developments in the official investigation of Sturgess’s death, now directed by Hughes, have removed the state secrecy cover for Rutty, Lumb, and other medical specialists who attended the post-mortem on July 17, 2018. The appointment by Hughes of a London lawyer, Adam Chapman, to represent Sergei and Yulia Skripal, opens these post-mortem documents to the Skripals, along with the cremation certificate, and related hospital, ambulance and laboratory records. Chapman’s role is “appropriate” – Smith’s term – for the Skripals to cross-examine Rutty and Lumb and add independent expert evidence.

Hughes’s appointment of another lawyer, Emilie Pottle (lead image, top left), to act on behalf of the three Russian military officers accused of the Novichok attack exposes this evidence to testing at the same forensic standard. According to Hughes,  it is Pottle’s “responsibility for ensuring that the inquiry takes all reasonable steps to test the  evidence connecting those Russian nationals to Ms Sturgess’s death.” Pottle’s responsibility is to  cross-examine Rutty and Lumb.

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