GRESHAM’S NEW LAW – IN WAR THERE IS NO LAW

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

In the history of war-fighting in Europe,  what state has waged war when its state treasurer, state banker, and state auditor were opposed to the war; aimed to cut the army off from the money required for troops and weapons; and schemed between themselves to sign terms of capitulation with the state’s enemies?

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CATHERINE BELTON LOSES FIRST TRUTH TEST, RUPERT MURDOCH PUBLISHER TO RETRACT, APOLOGISE — REUTERS PRETENDS IT ISN’T SO

By John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

Catherine Belton (lead image, left), a reporter on Russia for the Financial Times and Reuters, was abandoned this week by her publisher, Rupert Murdoch’s (right) HarperCollins, and obliged to sign an out-of-court settlement in London with Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven of Alfa Bank and the LetterOne group.

The publisher has agreed to admit there was “no significant evidence” for Belton’s allegations of KGB connections in the early careers of Fridman and Aven; and that she had failed to check her claims with Fridman and Aven before publishing them. “HarperCollins and [Belton] recognise and regret that comment was not sought earlier from Mr Aven and Mr Fridman… and to apologise that the subject was not discussed with them prior to initial publication.”

HarperCollins will publish this statement within a week of the High Court issuing its order. Three months ago, the publisher had announced it “will robustly defend the claim and the right to report on matters of considerable public interest”.  The publisher has now  agreed to remove Belton’s allegations against Fridman and Aven from new printings of the book, Putin’s People:  How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West.

The hardcover edition was published in April 2020 in the UK; the following June in the US. The American publisher is a subsidiary of the German Holtzbrinck publishing group, which produces the anti-Russia newspaper Die Zeit.  The paperback edition of Belton’s book has not yet been published, delayed indefinitely by the London court action and by the publishers’ loss of confidence in Belton’s veracity. 

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NEW YORK JUDGE AGREES TO PROTECT RUNAWAY RUSSIAN BANK ROBBER VADIM BELYAEV WITH HIS BILLION-DOLLAR LOOT – ON CONDITION HE PRETENDS TO ACCEPT THE RULINGS OF THE RUSSIAN COURTS

By John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

Accused Russian bank robber Vadim Belyaev (lead picture) – US alias Vadim Wolfson – has won an order from the New York State Supreme Court dismissing the claims of his pursuers, National Trust Bank (NBT, Trust) and Otkritie Bank of Moscow, on condition he registers himself as a defendant in the same claims the two banks are making against him in a Moscow court. Judge Joel Cohen issued his order ending the eleven-month case on May 4. He has not published his reasons.

On the face of it, Cohen has done no more than conclude that he should concede jurisdiction over Belyaev and the bank claims to a Russian court, where proceedings are already under way. In practice, as the banks’ lawyers have pointed out in New York, whatever the Moscow courts decide, Belyaev, now living in New York, has no intention of complying with its judgements,   calculating that the US courts will not allow bank recovery of Belyaev’s ill-gotten gains so long as they are safely stored in US banks.

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WHAT IS THE MELTING POINT OF SWISS CHEESE — SERGEI PUGACHEV’S BANKERS TESTIFY IN SECRET TRIAL

By John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

Two Swiss bankers charged with money-laundering crimes in aid of the fugitive Russian banker Sergei Pugachev went before the Swiss federal criminal court last week. The trial was brief;  no reporters were present; and the lawyers are trying to keep the bankers’ names secret. They refuse to say if the verdict has already been agreed with the court.

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BANKERS’ TRIAL IN BELLINZONA THIS WEEK — SERGEI PUGACHEV, CATHERINE BELTON ALSO ON TRIAL, OR IS IT A US GOVERNMENT FALSE FRONT?

By John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

Two Swiss bankers will go on trial this week in the Swiss Federal Criminal Court charged with money-laundering offences when they supervised and assisted the movement out of Russia, then  through Switzerland,  of at least 700 million Swiss francs. The money was moved by Sergei Pugachev (lead image, left) between 2008 and 2010; at the time it was worth the equivalent of $720 million.

News of the trial was made public for the first time by the Swiss newspaper, Tribune de Genève,  on Saturday. It appeared in German in its sister paper, Zurich’s Tages-Anzeiger at the same time. Both media are owned by the TX Group (aka Tamedia), the largest press group in Switzerland.

The bankers’ names weren’t reported in the newspapers, but will be identified later this week at the courthouse in Bellinzona; they were a former director and chairman of the board of Société Générale in Geneva, and his subordinate, the head of legal compliance at the bank. They were fined by the Swiss financial regulator nine months ago for breaching regulations and failing to report suspicious transactions through their bank by Pugachev. The two bankers have moved on to other employment but deny their guilt. They say Pugachev’s money wasn’t stolen or laundered by the bank on their watch. He was a political victim of the Kremlin, they will argue in court.

This is the case Pugachev has attempted in the UK High Court where it has been dismissed and he has been convicted of lying. It is also the case which Catherine Belton has turned into a book-sized indictment by Pugachev of President Vladimir Putin. The Swiss trial is the first in Europe to test the criminal case against Pugachev, how he came by his money, and what he did with it in hiding.

Belton; HarperCollins, the Rupert Murdoch company which published her book; and Reuters, Belton’s current employer, haven’t mentioned the Swiss government investigations of Pugachev which were running for a decade before last summer’s fines were imposed. They are also facing a direct trial of their veracity in a defamation action initiated by Roman Abramovich in the UK High Court last month.  

“Our structure”, runs the pitch of Société Générale in Geneva, “is localized to human scale, allowing an entrepreneurial approach whose point of departure is always your need.”  The bankers, and their bank, are now on trial for putting Pugachev’s need ahead of the law.  “The Swiss system can take a very long time,” comments a well-known Swiss banker. “This case is a rare one in which the Russian evidence of the crime of a decade ago will be presented in open court now, for such high-ranking private bankers to account for themselves. In Switzerland such a case is almost unheard of.”

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REUTER’S RUSSIA LIES PUT TO TRUTH TEST IN UK HIGH COURT — RUPERT MURDOCH, SERGEI PUGACHEV & CATHERINE BELTON CHARGED BY ROMAN ABRAMOVICH

By John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

For the first time, the US-based international media agency Reuters is being sued for lying about Russia in the British High Court. The three defendants in the dock are Catherine Belton (lead image, right); her source, runaway bank robber Sergei Pugachev; and Rupert Murdoch’s publishing house, HarperCollins.

Roman Abramovich (left) has launched the case almost a year after Belton, Pugachev and Murdoch published a book entitled  “Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West”.  According to Abramovich, he  has initiated the lawsuit in defence of his personal reputation and that of the Chelsea Football Club he owns. “It is my hope that today’s action will not only refute the false allegations in regard to my own name, but also serve as a reminder of Chelsea’s positive footprint in the UK.”

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BIDEN’S RUSSIA WARFIGHTERS PROTECT RUNAWAY RUSSIAN BANK FRAUDSTER VADIM BELYAEV IN NEW YORK

by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

US Government officials are protecting some of the largest Russian fraudsters and bank robbers on condition they invest their ill-gotten gains in US real estate, bank accounts, and businesses paying US tax; and also publicly attack the Putin administration for “victimising” them. The latest of these oligarch-sized accused,  Vadim Belyaev (lead image), is facing trial in the New York State Supreme Court.

Belyaev is being sued by the state-owned Moscow banks, National Bank Trust and Otkritie Bank, for the return of about $1.2 billion in fake loans, fraudulent bond and debt-pyramid transactions he is alleged to have arranged for his own benefit, when he controlled the two banks and more than 150 offshore front companies through which he directed the cash to himself. His subordinates at the time are facing prosecution in Moscow for criminal fraud. The banks, which went bankrupt as a result of the asset stripping, remain under the administration of the Central Bank and the state  Deposit Insurance Agency (DIA). The Central Bank is the 98% shareholder of Trust Bank and 100% shareholder of Otkritie.

Belyaev, say the banks, “exercised close control over Otkritie Holding and its subsidiaries, and repeatedly used his control to misuse assets of entities owned by Otkritie Holding, and often to siphon off those assets for personal use and the use of his associates.”

Among the homes he purchased in the US, one in Westchester county of New York state accommodates his ex-wife and children. Another, a ski chalet, in Aspen, Colorado, he recently sold for $12.5 million. Another of his homes has been identified in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona.  The town house in New York City where Belyaev and his current wife live, is palatial; Belyaev is paying rent of $80,000 per month.

Belyaev has yet to file a full statement of his defence in the New York court; that is due on February 5. He is asking the court to throw the case out on several grounds. One is that he has been victimised by the Central Bank’s bankruptcy procedures which he calls illegal “nationalization” of the banks. His second claim is that there is no proof that he controlled the banks or that fraud was committed in the alleged loan schemes. The third of Belyaev’s defences is that the court in New York has no jurisdiction over him, even though he lives a 10-minute walk from the courthouse.

The US Government is protecting Belyaev so far by granting him and his wife residency papers, together with Social Security and tax status. His name was omitted by the US Treasury when it published its list of Russian oligarchs on January 31, 2018; read that list here.  Several Russian bankers were listed, including three on the run in Cyprus and London; their banks were not as large as Trust and Otkritie when Belyaev ran them, nor are their crimes as expensive as Belyaev’s.  

The New York court is due to rule on dismissal on February 22. If  the court allows Belyaev to continue living in the US, but protected from being pursued there for his crimes in Russia, it will amount to a declaration that oligarchs who steal but pay tribute in the US will be safe. By contrast, oligarchs who stay in Moscow but pay tribute to the Kremlin will be targeted by US sanctions.

This is also the catchcry of Alexei Navalny (lead image, 2nd from right) who has called for the US and European Union to “be very clear dividing two things: Russian people who must be welcomed and treated very warmly from European Union from my perspective,  and Russian state [oligarchs who] must be treated like a bunch of criminals.”

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DO YOU BELIEVE THE CARROT OR THE RABBIT? SULEIMAN KERIMOV TRIES TO SELL SHARES IN THE WORLD’S LARGEST UNMINED GOLDMINE, RUSSIA’S SUKHOI LOG

by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

All that glisters isn’t gold. But as all Russian goldminers know, when it comes to the reputation of the mining company, its chief executive,  and its share price, glister will do just as well. That has been the view of Suleiman Kerimov (lead image, right) whose Polyus is Russia’s most important goldmining company.  

Glister has been Kerimov’s lucky colour; his longtime chief executive Pavel Grachev (left), the same. Through one of his children, Kerimov owns and controls Polyus.  Grachev does everything Kerimov senior has been telling him to do since 1998, twenty-two years ago.  Last month Kerimov senior told Kerimov junior to tell Grachev to start advertising Sukhoi Log (Russian for “Dry Gulch”), an underground store of gold in southeastern Siberia whose ownership has been fiercely fought over by international and Russian mining companies since 1992.

Unmined still, but firmly in Papa Kerimov’s possession, Sukhoi Log’s prospective value has more than doubled Polyus’s share price this year – and double the share price gain of Newmont of the US; triple that of Barrick of Canada, the international leaders of the gold world.  

But that’s on the Moscow stock market this year. Kerimov and Grachev are hoping Sukhoi Log will now draw US sharebuyers with an acceleration in annual gold production and  future, life of mine output which is also much faster than Newmont and Barrick.

Kerimov’s glister has always been mistaken for gold at the Financial Times,  so Grachev started his campaign there on October 22.   He then gave an expansive interview in Kommersant last Tuesday.

When we last reported on Grachev,  it was only to spell his name in the caption under an official photograph of the board of directors of Polyus Gold,  when it passed out of one pair of oligarch hands, Mikhail Prokhorov’s, into Kerimov’s. That was in 2014.  By then the market capitalisation was $9.5 billion,  down from its peak of $13 billion in December 2010. Renamed Polyus instead of Polyus Gold in 2016, this week the company is worth the rouble equivalent of $29 billion. Its share price on the Moscow Stock Exchange (MOEX, formerly MICEX) has jumped by 124% in the year to date.

The value of this goldminer has not always reflected the price of gold or the value of the gold reserves Polyus owns, mines, or is planning to mine. The company has often been calculated to be worth what the market thinks of Kerimov, Prokhorov, or before him another Russian oligarch, Vladimir Potanin. Grachev’s new job this week, as it has always been his job, is to rub the oligarch glister off the company, and turn its share price into true gold. As if Kerimov wasn’t there.  

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THE CROOK COMES HOME TO ROOST – VADIM BELYAEV’S NEW YORK HAVEN UNDER COURT ATTACK FOR AT LEAST $1 BILLION



by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

Vadim Belyaev (lead image)  is not the first Russian bank robber to take Cyprus citizenship on his way to safe haven in New York City, and then find himself facing a billion-dollar recovery lawsuit from his Russian pursuers in New York Supreme Court.  He is, however, the very first to attempt to slip into New York’s Jewish community by renaming himself Wolfson after his father. The next step will be an interview with Masha and Konstantin  (Keith) Gessen of New Yorker to explain how he’s being persecuted on trumped-up charges by President Vladimir Putin.

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THE REPUTATION OF MIKHAIL FRIDMAN AND PYOTR AVEN IS WORTH £18,000 EACH, BUT IT COST SIXTEEN TIMES THAT MUCH TO DEFEND — ENOUGH TO BANKRUPT CHRISTOPHER STEELE

by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

It was the 412th of Francois de la Rochefoucauld’s maxims that doesn’t stand the test of either time or money. “Whatever degree of disgrace we may have brought upon ourselves,” he said, “it is always within our power to re-establish our reputation.”

For years Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven, the controllers of Alfa Bank of Moscow and  LetterOne Holding in London, have been trying but not succeeding. This week they scored a success, but not quite of the kind they, or La Rochefoucauld, meant.

High Court judge Sir Mark Warby ruled that claims made about their corrupt closeness to President Vladimir Putin, prepared by Christopher Steele for use by the Democratic National Committee against the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, had been “hearsay, some of it opinion, and much of it based on unverifiable information from unidentified sources”; “data [which] are inaccurate or misleading as a matter of fact”. When fabricating his claims Steele  “evidently did not ask for any details of the hearsay information”. Later, when under cross-examination in court, Steele admitted that “a key element of [his] allegation was contradicted by information readily available on the internet.”

Most of Steele’s shoddy fabrications were acceptable in British law. This, Justice Warby ruled, was because they were provided through the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) to an unnamed “senior UK government national security official”, and to the FBI for “the purpose of safeguarding national security”; and because the “US and UK are the world’s leading English-speaking democracies, with a wealth of closely integrated interests… co-operation between the US and UK on matters of security is a vital part of our nation’s security arrangements.”

Complaining that Steele had changed his story from his initial witness statement to his second witness statement, and then in the witness box, Warby concluded that he preferred Fridman for truthfulness. “There is nothing that casts doubt on Mr Fridman’s evidence on this issue.” That  was the allegation the Alfa group had traded favours with President Putin, and that they had bribed him with “large amounts of illicit cash…in the 1990s when he was Deputy Mayor of St Petersburg.” This, the judge ruled, was not only a fabrication but was also unlawful.

In compensation, Warby awarded £18,000 each to Fridman and Aven, for a total of £36,000.

“I accept,” the judge qualified his award, “that the claimants have suffered distress as a result of the disclosures complained of, though the majority of the distress they have been caused will inevitably have flowed from media publications for which Orbis is not responsible in law: the Buzzfeed Article and others. My assessment is that each of the claimants is a robust character, not given to undue self-pity. Mr Tomlinson [barrister for Fridman and Aven] was right to ask for only ‘modest’ damages for distress.”

Modest for Fridman; ruinous for Steele. High Court experts estimate the combination of fees and costs for the barristers and solicitors required for the court claim by the Alfa group would have come to between £500,000 and £600,000; that’s roughly sixteen times the compensation awarded. The penalty is concomitantly higher for Steele and his Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd., the firm he has run since his official espionage employment ended at MI6. According to the company’s last financial account, there isn’t enough money to pay the legal bills. Steele’s business is bust.  

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WANTED – THE RUSSIAN ALUMINIUM WARS WITHOUT ALUMINIUM, WITHOUT OLEG DERIPASKA

by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Death can be a coincidence, but not in the Russian aluminium business.

So when Dmitry Bosov died of a pistol shot at his home near Moscow on the evening between May 5 and May 6, and Anatoly Bykov was arrested by federal agents in Krasnoyarsk on May 7, everyone with well informed suspicion asked if there is a connection to a Kremlin political calculation made at the highest level.

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MALCOLM TURNBULL’S RUSSIA STORY – EX-PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA TRIES NEW COMEBACK WITH OLD BRAIN

by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Malcolm Turnbull is the most intelligent man ever to become Australian prime minister, and to have left office more stupid than he began. Among the governments south of the Equator, this is without precedent. Since Turnbull served as head of government for only three years, 2015 to 2018, when he was 61 to 64 years of age, he has set the medical record for non-traumatic early-onset senescence in the cerebrum; that’s the part of the brain responsible for learning. He didn’t; he can’t.

This week Turnbull has published a book of selections from his life aimed at refreshing his credentials to retake the political power he lost to rivals. His display of the symptoms that caused him to lose it is undiminished.

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THE GOSPEL VERSION OF RUSSIA – CATHERINE BELTON AND SERGEI PUGACHEV PREACH A SERMON FOR RUPERT MURDOCH TO SELL, AND FOR LUKE HARDING TO PROSELYTISE

by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

If Pontius Pilate, Judas Iscariot and Joshua Barabbas had combined to produce the eye-witness book on the life and death of Jesus Christ, whose anniversary falls this month, it wasn’t heard of when it was newsworthy, in the first years of the first century AD; readers have been deterred from looking for it ever since. Religious faith does that sort of thing to eye-witness testimony, documents, financial accounts, court rulings and other forms of evidence.

Likewise, Catherine Belton (lead image, centre) has produced a book with Sergei Pugachev (left), the man who stole more than two billion dollars from the Central Bank of Russia and other banks; was convicted in a British court of trying to hide it; fled to France to escape two years in prison if the English can catch him. Paying to print and market their collaboration is Harper Collins, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s (first right) media holding, News Ltd.

Together, Belton and Pugachev have composed a gospel about the evil that is Russia under President Vladimir Putin, and the virtue they say they believed in when Boris Yeltsin was ruler. “We were sitting in the kitchen of Pugachev’s latest residence, a three-storey townhouse in the well-heeled London area of Chelsea,” Belton begins, introducing the faith the two of them share with Mikhail Khodorkovsky (lead image, extreme right); the ghost of the hanged Boris Berezovsky; Valentin Yumashev, Yeltsin’s son-in-law; and others identified anonymously as the collaborators upon whom Belton relies and whom she requires her co-religionists to accept as gospel too.

Three disciples have sworn their faith publicly so far – Luke Harding of The Guardian; Edward Lucas of The Times, and Oliver Bullough, once a reporter at the BBC. “The most remarkable account so far,” says Harding,  “of Putin’s rise from a KGB operative to deadly agent provocateur in the hated west”.   “Its only flaw,” Harding  mentions, “is a heavy reliance on well-placed anonymous sources. Talking publicly about Kremlin corruption is dangerous, as the polonium fate of Alexander Litvinenko shows. Still, the lack of names can be frustrating.” Frustrating is the word that came to St. Paul’s mind when he was having directional trouble on the road between Jerusalem and Damascus. Inadmissible in a court of law, Pilate would have said.  A pack of lies, according to Judas and Barabbas.

“Fact, not fiction,” declared Edward Lucas, an employee on the fiction floor of the same London office building as Harper Collins. “Catherine Belton, for years a Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times, relates it with clarity, detail, insight and bravery.” “The Putin book that we’ve been waiting for,” Bullough said messianically.     You won’t be risking perdition yourself if you don’t wait.

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HIGH COURT DECISIONS ENCOURAGE RUSSIAN RUNAWAY CAPITAL IN LONDON


by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

For catching birds it’s old-fashioned child’s play to put salt on their tails. But fooling the bird in order to get close enough with the salt-shaker, before the bird takes off, is a job for grown-ups.  

When it comes to catching fugitive bankers, money launderers and the families of corrupt state officials in Russia and the former states of the Soviet Union,  the two-year history of the British National Crime Authority’s (NCA) Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) is faltering because the courts require more than suspicious police and allegations promoted in the press.

Last week, the High Court ruled that  NCA lawyers, prosecutors and investigators had made “unreliable” assumptions; conducted “inadequate investigation of the obvious”;  applied “artificial and flawed reasoning”; were “unfair” in their evaluation of the evidence as well as pursuing targets “without any evidence”. “It is ultimately for the Court, not the NCA, to determine whether there is ‘reasonable cause to believe’,” Justice Dame Beverly Lang decided on April 8, dismissing three Unexplained Wealth Orders, together with three asset freeze orders covering several London residential properties worth about £80 million. Through a network of offshore foundations, trusts, and cut-out companies these belong to Dariga Nazarbayeva and Nurali Aliyev, daughter and grandson of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the ruler of Kazakhstan. Nazarbayeva is currently the speaker of the Kazakh Senate.

The stinging rebuke to the NCA, and a pending appeal of two earlier court judgements against Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of a jailed Azerbaijani banker, are likely to slow down, or stop altogether, the pursuit by Prime Minister Boris Johnson (lead image, left) of Russian runaways in the UK.

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BORIS MINTS, RUSSIAN ART PATRON, ISRAEL PHILANTHROPIST, BRITISH CASTLE LORD, AND DANDY DRESSER HAS BEEN DOING IT WITH STOLEN MONEY – LONDON COURT CALLS TIME-OUT (TRUTH)

by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The High Court in London has the duty to set the standard for distinguishing between Russian honesty and chicanery (the British varieties too). But it lacks the power. If the court had that, the Prime Minister, the House of Commons, the Secret Intelligence Service, the BBC, Oxford University Press, and the Royal Institute of International Affairs would be convicted of lying their heads off, and despatched from court with damages to pay, plus costs.

So it proved to be last week when the High Court ruled that Russian resident of the UK, Boris Mints, is arguably a grand larcenist whose money and assets, adding up to $570 million,  ought to be frozen until there can be a full adjudication of all the evidence.  This was the third successive High Court ruling to condemn Mints by three judges in just eight months. 

That’s a record for swift unanimity. There’s also a twist in this record, because the High Court has found Mints guilty of running away from the scene of the crime, thereby making near-certain that the part of the case the court has called arguable will be judged to be guilt for the grand larceny itself.

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END OF STRING FOR RUSSIAN YO-YO LOAN FRAUD — ILYA YUROV CONVICTED IN LONDON COURT OF STEALING $1.1 BILLION FROM NATIONAL BANK TRUST

by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The English read detective stories for the pleasure of unravelling the crime,  proving that even if there are perfect crimes, in the majority of cases the perpetrators don’t get away with them because the detectives are usually cleverer. That’s fiction.

In real life,  Russian crimes are different. In the majority of cases, including less than perfect crimes involving vast sums of money, the majority of the perps get away with them; live richly  in the UK, Tuscany, or on the Cote d’Azur; and enjoy promotional publicity in the Financial Times. In the cases of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and William Browder they have become so famous for their lying, it’s a devil of a job for the truth to prevail against their fictions.

In the minority of Russian cases, the judgements of the High Court in London are thrillers, though complicated in the reading. In the majority of these judgements, the guilty are convicted, and the innocent vindicated.  But that’s a majority of a minority. A rarity in the library of true Russian crimes.

There have been many Russian yo-yo loan schemes since commercial banking began in Moscow just under thirty years ago. The modus operandi is that the controlling shareholder arranges for his bank to make large loans to offshore companies he invents and controls; passes the money from these fronts on to other fronts,  and then into his pockets. His plan from the start is not to repay the loans; the borrowing fronts have no security for their loans when the bank demands repayment, and there’s no cash. That’s the big crime.

The scheme requires dozens of fake entities, thousands of transactions, more than a handful of banks, and accomplices to manage the operations. Because they are in the know, they have to be paid well. They, too,  grow rich.  They commit the smaller crimes and compound the big one. Even if the big criminal is caught, and his underlings at the Russian end sent to prison until they inculpate their bosses, the offshore managers and fixers – those who keep the yo-yo revolving and the string from breaking – usually get away.

In the case of National Bank Trust versus Ilya Yurov (lead image), his partners and their wives, the High Court published its whodunit last week. The story can be followed from the start in 2015 in this archive;  Khodorkovsky makes several crooked cameo appearances. A British national named Benedict Worsley, the most important of Yurov’s managers,  changed sides when the yo-yo turned into a boomerang. To save himself, he agreed to take more money from the bank to assemble the evidence in the court case against the defendants. In the new court judgement, he reportedly switched sides again before the trial opened on October 1, 2018.  Neither side wanted to call him to testify because they all agreed he was a liar. The Worsley tale can be followed here. In the High Court judgement, Worsley is named 733 times. “It would appear that he was something of a fantasist and prone to exaggerate,” the judge ruled, “and that he was prepared to act dishonestly…”

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OLIGARCHS PLAY PEEK-A-BOO — KREMLIN HIDES CHRISTMAS DINNER LIST WHILE FINANCIAL TIMES AND DAVOS ADVERTISE RUSSIAN MONEY AS USUAL

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by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

“We have overcome the situation when certain powers in the government were essentially usurped by oligarch clans,” President Vladimir Putin told the Federal Assembly last week. About  the overcoming part, his staff aren’t so sure.

The week before, when asked to identify the guest list at Putin’s annual Christmas reception for the oligarchs on December 25, the president’s spokesman would not acknowledge there was a list, and refused to explain why it hasn’t been published. Publishing the list has been the Kremlin practice since the Christmas-for-oligarch suppers first began five years ago, on December 19, 2014.

In those five years, the President’s efforts to persuade the oligarchs to “de-offshorize” their capital, and repatriate it for reinvestment in Russia, have failed. Follow the details here. The US sanctions against those whom the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)  has judged to be closest to Putin, along with the US Treasury attack on Russian capital throughout the European banking system, have been more effective to that end.  This may be the reason that, not having been overcome, the oligarchs and Putin have agreed that when they keep each other company, it will remain a state secret.

Secret at least from Russians, not from westerners. Between last month’s event and the start this week of the World Economic Forum (WEF) conference in Davos, Switzerland, the oligarchs have been busy advertising themselves in the foreign press. Their message is that they haven’t been overcome, not by the Kremlin and not by OFAC, so it’s back to business as usual.

As usual, the Financial Times is reporting this with the same fervor as has been filling the FT’s coffers and browning the noses of the FT’s Moscow Bureau for almost a quarter of a century. Regime change in the Kremlin, the Japanese-owned London outlet keeps hoping, is still best left to the oligarchs to arrange.

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THE RUSSIAN MONOPOLY ON ENLIGHTENMENT — ARKADY ROTENBERG, THE PRESIDENT’S FRIEND, HAS BOUGHT MORE THAN 90% OF THE SCHOOLCHILDREN’S TEXTBOOK MARKET

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

In our last episode, Denis Diderot, the French philosopher in Paris, had sold his library to the Empress Catherine in St. Petersburg. For his bonus, he had received a ticket to meet and talk to Catherine directly. At their first meeting at a masked ball in the Winter Palace, Diderot was wearing his old black suit and a borrowed wig. “Monsieur Diderot, do you see that door?” the Empress told him.  “It will be open to you every day from three to five.”

President Vladimir Putin (lead image, right) has known Arkady Rotenberg (left) for much longer, and the connecting door between them has been open for much, much longer. Recently, on the account of the esteem in which the former holds the latter, it was arranged that the state monopoly on the enlightenment of Russia’s schoolchildren should be given to Rotenberg. That’s to say, the monopoly concession paid out of the state budget for the publication and distribution of school textbooks produced by a group of companies Rotenberg controls.  

In our first episode, Diderot was shy towards the ruler of Russia. In our second episode, Rotenberg is also shy. He says the Caribbean company which controls the enlightenment concession has nothing to do with him. Read on, as the philosopher turns sophist. (more…)

BORIS DUBROVSKY IS NOW SWISS – THE DIRTY AIR MAN OF CHELYABINSK FINDS A CLEAN PLACE FOR HIS LUNGS AND HIS WALLET

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Boris Dubrovsky (lead images), President Vladimir Putin’s governor of Chelyabinsk between 2014 and March 19, 2019, has long been at risk of lung disease, and he is now reported to be in a Swiss clinic for treatment. His prognosis is uncertain.

More certain it is that Dubrovsky will not be returning to Chelyabinsk. That’s not because the  city air is injurious to his health, as federal regulators and citizens’ groups have measured throughout Dubrovsky’s gubernatorial term;  but rather because Dubrovsky has been charged by the Investigative Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs with the criminal scheme of monopolizing road construction contracts in the Chelyabinsk region. The sum of the criminal damage for which Dubrovsky is accused currently stands at Rb20 billion ($308 million). That’s damage to the regional and federal budgets. How much money Dubrovsky has trousered for himself is not charged or reported.  

No Russian prosecution claims have been filed against Dubrovsky to the Swiss authorities. The Swiss press are now investigating the accommodations in local banks and real estate where Dubrovsky’s money may be located under his own or his son’s name. (more…)

UKRAINIAN OLIGARCH VICTOR PINCHUK IS PUTTING HIS MONEY ON JOE BIDEN FOR PRESIDENT AT $40,000 PER MONTH – THAT’S $3,000 MORE PER MONTH THAN BURISMA WAS PAYING HUNTER BIDEN

 

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Joe Biden’s campaign for president, as well as his defence against charges of corrupt influence peddling and political collusion in the Ukraine, are being promoted in Washington by the Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk (lead image, right) through the New York lobbyist, candidate adviser and pollster, Douglas Schoen (left).

This follows several years of attempts by Pinchuk and Schoen to buy influence with Donald Trump, first as a candidate and then as president; with Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani; and with John Bolton, Trump’s National Security Adviser in 2018 and 2019. Their attempts failed.

Pinchuk has been paying Schoen more than $40,000 every month for eight years. The amount of money is substantially greater than Biden’s son Hunter Biden was paid by Pinchuk’s Ukrainian rival Igor Kolomoisky through the oil company Burisma and Rosemont Seneca Bohai, Biden’s New York front company.

Pinchuk’s message for the Democratic candidates and US media, according to Schoen’s Fox News broadcast in August, is: “Stop killing your own, stop beating up on your own frontrunner, Joe Biden.”  

On September 26, Schoen broadcast a fresh warning to the Democrats against the impeachment of Trump. “They stand to lose the presidency and the House. They could blow it all…There’s no slam-dunk here. If [the Democrats] go forward with the impeachment inquiry…and then vote, this could be curtains for the Democrats. And for Joe Biden this is calamitous news because it precludes him getting any positive message out.”   (more…)

MIGHT MAKES RIGHT — THE CASE OF VICTOR VEKSELBERG VERSUS CYNERGY BANK

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

In the cartoon,  Mighty Mouse was always on the defensive, repelling attacks from wicked aggressors, cats, for example, or dogs.   When the cartoon first began in 1942, the words of the theme song were also defensive:  “Mr. Trouble never hangs around, When he hears this mighty sound: ‘Here I come to save the day!’ That means that Mighty Mouse Is on the way!” After the defeat of Germany, Mighty Mouse changed his tune: he moved on to the offensive: “Here he comes, that Mighty Mouse, Coming to vanquish the foe With a mighty blow! Don’t be afraid any more ‘Cause thing won’t be like they’ve been before!” The mouse now decides who the enemy is.

In real life, in the sanctions war against Russia, the US Government has decided through the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) which Russians to attack, In the process, though unreported,  the sanctions give millions of dollars’ worth of benefits to the business rivals and competitors of OFAC’s targets. The European Union, and its member governments, claim they will protect their companies from this US Government-backed asset raiding; in practice they don’t.

A new London High Court case reveals how OFAC helped an Anglo-Indian businessman named Pradip Dhamecha default on a two-year old loan and keep more than £34 million of Victor Vekselberg’s money because Vekselberg had been sanctioned by OFAC four months after the loan was signed and Dhamecha’s bank pocketed his cash. The court ruling, issued on September 12, also declares that the British Government’s policy to stop the extra-territorial reach of the US sanctions to British law and jurisdiction is worthless. “I do not consider the alleged policy is material”, declared Mark Pelling, a practicing Queen’s Counsel serving as a High Court judge.

The outcome of the case, Pelling decided, turns on the right of might; that is, Dhamecha’s right not to pay Vekselberg what he owes because the American Government might sanction Dhamecha for doing so. “Payment,” claimed the judge, heaping conditionals and subjunctives upon each other, “has been impliedly [sic] prohibited because of the probability [sic] that the relevant sanction will be imposed if [sic] it pays [Vekselberg company] the sums it  is entitled to under the contract.” (more…)

NODDY DOES IT AGAIN — ALEXEI MORDASHOV ASKS THE PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA, ALSO THE PRESIDENT OF CYPRUS, TO BELIEVE WHAT A GOOD BOY HE IS

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Among Russian oligarchs, Alexei Mordashov (lead image, centre) holds two records. One is for empty promises: he has never told the whole truth in public or when he has visited President Vladimir Putin (right) for private conversations about his business plans and the Russian state interest. Mordashov’s other record is for losing more money invested in the US than any other Russian; that was at least $3 billion in steelmills which Mordashov bought to turn himself into a global steelmaker in case his Severstal steel group was taken over at home. 

It is therefore almost certain that when Mordashov flew to Cyprus last week to tell the Cyprus President Nikos Anastasiades (lead image, left) he intends to double the number of Russian tourists to Cyprus, it’s another empty promise. This is also the assessment of Russian and Cypriot tourism analysts.

(more…)

VICTOR VEKSELBERG DEFEATS LEONID LEBEDEV – NEW YORK COURT DISMISSES ALL LEBEDEV CLAIMS, ADDING $40 MILLION PENALTY AGAINST LEBEDEV FOR FABRICATING HIS CASE

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The New York State Supreme Court has ruled to dismiss Leonid Lebedev’s (lead image, right) five-year case against Victor Vekselberg (first left) and Len Blavatnik (second left) for a 15% share of their £13.8 billion sale of the TNK-BP oil company to Rosneft in 2013.    Lebedev has been suing for an award of $2.7 billion. In London he has been trying to bank on winning the payoff.  

In a 19-page ruling, issued on Tuesday at noon, Judge Saliann Scarpulla (second from right) dismissed all Lebedev’s claims for money from the 2013 Rosneft transaction. She also ordered Lebedev to pay  “costs and disbursements to defendants as taxed by the Clerk  upon the submission of an appropriate bill of costs.”  The cost of the litigation for Vekselberg and Blavatnik, which has also extended to courts in London, Ireland, Cyprus and Switzerland, is almost $20 million; Lebedev’s costs are about the same.

Lebedev fled Russia in April 2015, abandoning his Federation Council seat. At the time he feared expulsion from the Senate for lying about his foreign citizenship and assets. He was also facing a criminal investigation of embezzlement of about $240 million from a regional electricity utility, TGK-2. This he had acquired with the patronage of Anatoly Chubais, once the head of the state’s electricity holding, UES.

Lebedev found safe haven in the US and Cyprus; the former by arrangement with the US State Department; the latter from President Nikos Anastasiades and his law firm in Limassol. They arranged a Cyprus passport for Lebedev which they kept secret from the Cyprus courts just as Lebedev kept it secret from the Russian Senate.

Lebedev started his New York court case in February 2014, choosing the Manhattan branch of the state court because Vekselberg and Blavatnik had lived and conducted business in New York, and because Lebedev claimed they had negotiated their deal in a walk through Central Park in Manhattan. Lebedev alleged Vekselberg and Blavatnik had violated the terms of their original deal in 2001, and cheated him over the ensuing years. Vekselberg and Blavatnik countered that Lebedev  had been paid everything which had earlier been agreed between them; concealed his money through an Irish front company and in bank accounts in Switzerland, Cyprus, Ireland,  and New York; and then lied in the US court papers.

In Scarpulla’s ruling this week, she said Vekselberg and Blavatnik “have shown that the 2001 Investment Agreement lacks contemporaneous consideration and, consistent with Korff, Lebedev has failed to raise an issue of fact on this issue.” That’s judicial language dismissing Lebedev’s lawsuit for faking terms of the agreement which had not been agreed; and failing to prove evidence of his right to benefits. By ordering Lebedev to pay his own costs, plus Vekselberg’s and Blavatnik’s costs, Scarpulla has ruled that Lebedev never had a case to argue and fabricated his evidence from the start. (more…)

THE KOLOMOISKY PYRAMID STARTED WITH HILLARY CLINTON AND VICTORIA NULAND OF THE STATE DEPARTMENT PLUS CHRISTINE LAGARDE OF THE IMF

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

When Igor Kolomoisky (lead image, centre) financed anti-Russian units operating with the Ukrainian Army in the Ukrainian civil war, he was a staunch ally of Petro Poroshenko’s government in Kiev and the Obama Administration’s chief Ukraine policymakers, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (left) and her Assistant Secretary for European Affairs, Victoria Nuland (right).

They in turn dominated the voting on the board of directors of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), led by managing director Christine Lagarde. Following the US regime change which installed Poroshenko’s regime in the spring of 2014, the IMF voted massive loans for the Ukraine to replace the Russian financing on which the regime of Victor Yanukovich had  depended.  More than a third of the fresh IMF money was paid out by the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU), the state’s central bank, into PrivatBank controlled by Kolomoisky and his partner, Gennady Bogolyubov.

At the time, investigations of Kolomoisky’s business and banking practices, and the special relationship he cultivated with the NBU, reported he was stealing the money through a pyramid of front companies lending each other the IMF cash which was not intended to be repaid. Clinton, Nuland, Lagarde and the IMF staff and board of directors ignored the evidence, as they continued to top up Kolomoisky’s pyramid. Criminal investigations by the US Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were also reported at the time; they were neutralized by their superiors.  

A new Delaware state court filing a month ago, triggering new US media reports, appears to signal a shift in US Government policy towards Kolomoisky. Or else, as some Ukrainian policy experts believe, it is a move by US officials to put pressure on the new Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, whom Kolomoisky supported in his successful election campaign to replace Poroshenko.

In the new court papers, front company names and the count and value of US transactions between them,  which PrivatBank has dug out of its own bank records,  is published for the first time. But the scheme itself is not new. It was fully exposed in 2014-2015 in this archive.  Nor is it news, as subsequent US media reports  claim, that the FBI is investigating Kolomoisky and his US associates for criminal racketeering. The FBI investigation was first reported here

What is missing is an explanation of why it has taken so long for the PrivatBank case against Kolomoisky to surface in the US courts and in the US press. Also missing is a list of the accomplices and co-conspirators in the scheme. These include officials of the IMF,  the US and Canadian Governments who knowingly directed billions of dollars into the NBU,  from which, as they knew full well at the time, the money went out to Kolomoisky’s Privat Bank, the largest single Ukrainian recipient of the international cash. At the top of the list of accomplices, immediately subordinate to Clinton, Nuland and Lagarde, are David Lipton, the US deputy managing director  at the IMF, and the head of the IMF in Ukraine until 2017, Jerome Vacher. (more…)

REUTERS IS NOW A UNIT OF US INFO-WAR COMMAND, REPORTERS AND INVESTORS REVOLT

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Stephen Adler (lead image), the American chief executive of Reuters news agency, has ordered into publication three US Government-directed stories targeting the Russian oil company Rosneft —  the first in mid-April, and two published over the past week. Adler’s operations  support US coup plans in Venezuela and US sanctions against Rosneft and its chief executive, Igor Sechin.

The three publications — the first already corrected by the news agency; the second commissioned from a writer outside the company; the latest missing its byline or author’s name — have triggered dismay among Reuters’ reporters worldwide. A New York source claims Adler’s promotion of US Government-sourced propaganda violates the Reuters Trust Principles  which have regulated the international news agency since 1941.

The first two Reuters principles Adler is accused of breaking are that “Reuters shall at no time pass into the hands of any one interest, group, or faction; [and] that the integrity, independence, and freedom from bias of Thomson Reuters shall at all times be fully preserved.”

Bloomberg sources, commenting privately, say they are delighted at the damage to their rival’s  reputation. A Bloomberg reporter, briefed by the same sources as Adler’s, repeated one of the Reuters stories against Rosneft last week. 

A US investment banker says he’s thinking of shorting his shares of Thomson Reuters, the parent media corporation listed in Toronto and New York, on the calculation that their 63% growth over the past year is now peaking. (more…)

ONE LILAC DOESN’T MAKE THE SPRING SEASON AT LONDON’S RUSSIAN ART SALES

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The semi-annual sale of Russian paintings this week by London’s leading auction houses fell short of proving that demand has overcome five years of wartime pressure and is recovering with the price of crude oil.  The Russian art market remains  unsettled, however, by the disappearance of big Russian bidders who are now on the run  from fraud and bankruptcy charges at home and asset freezes around the world.  
(more…)

END OF THE KHOTIN MYSTERY, END OF THE RUSSIAN POCKET BANK

By John Helmer, Moscow

Not with a bang; almost without a whimper.

This is how the oil, real estate and banking empire of Yury Khotin (lead image, left) and his son Alexei Khotin (right) has ended. One of the two men — dubbed in 2015 the Тайнолигархи, the secret oligarchs because they kept their photographs out of public circulation and refused to answer press questions —  is now under house arrest in Moscow; their Yugra Bank is closed with capital deficiencies and liabilities of up to $4 billion; their principal oil company, Exillon Energy, has been suspended by the London Stock Exchange  since May 1.

A veteran state banker sees in this end for the Khotins a signal success of Central Bank regulators at warding off pressure from state officials for whom the Khotins have served as deposit-takers and money launderers. “The business of Yugra Bank was built on the pocket bank model to which the overwhelming majority of Russia’s privately-owned banks have adhered,” the source said. “Whatever resources become available are committed to related-party lending; that’s to say, the financing of the owners’  non-banking ventures in real estate, manufacturing, mining, etc. Nothing new — hundreds of banks have been organized that way.”

“The case of Yugra Bank once again illustrates how the institution of deposit insurance was misused and abused by unscrupulous bankers and depositors, alike. The bankers were attracting household deposits by high interest rates which they could not afford (they knew it), and probably did not intend paying. The depositors were eager to enjoy those unsustainably high interest rates because within the deposit insurance coverage limits (currently Rb 1.4 million [$21,000]) they could confidently expect a bailout by the state. The ability to raise huge amounts of private savings created a kind of ‘too big to fail’ situation.   At first the regulator did not want to sort it out simply because it lacked the capability to resolve all similar sized problem banks at once. But I doubt the Khotins, the former owners of Yugra, will be able to get away unscathed. The Deposit Insurance Agency has, over time, learned how to go after the assets of fugitive Russian bank scammers even in the world’s Number-1 Den of Thieves — by which I mean London.” (more…)

RICH RUSSIANS TELL SOCIOLOGIST THEIR SECRET, THEIR WEALTH CAME FROM THEIR GENES — CARTOON JUST RELEASED BY OXFORD UNIVERSITY

By John Helmer, Moscow

Botanists can’t say for certain how many hoary old chestnuts, if planted in the right conditions, will turn into a stand of Castanea sativa; that’s the botanical name for chestnut trees.

It’s more certain that when Oxford University recently published a book of interviews with eighty wealthy Russians, conducted by a sociologist from Aston University in Birmingham, the outcome, entitled Rich Russians – From Oligarchs to Bourgeoisie,   is a “unique inside-look at the history and soul of the fabulously rich Russians…a must-read”. That is according to Derk Sauer on the book wrapper. Half of this certainty comes from the fact that for the past twenty-five years Sauer has been the paid mouthpiece for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, then Vladimir Potanin, and finally Mikhail Prokhorov whose wealth is oligarch sized.  A small fraction of their money made big sums in Sauer’s pocket and in his judgement,  of course.

The other half of the certainty comes from the fact that the new book’s author, Elisabeth Schimpfossl, is the first in modern sociology to replace standard sampling procedure according to which researcher selects subjects by a random or representational method.   In this case it was the reverse — the sample of 80 rich Russians picked Schimpfossl and told her what they wanted to read about themselves. Their reason was equally certain. Schimpfossl was their public relations opportunity. PR agents for some of the sample subjects were instrumental in setting up the interviews and the ground rules; some of the PR agents were interviewees themselves.

The ground rule Schimpfossl accepted as the precondition for her research was that she would never question her rich Russians about their business or their assets — where their money came from; how much of it was stolen by Russian or international legal standards; how much of it is owed to Russian or international banks, or to partners of the silent type who don’t give interviews, not even if promised, as Schimpfossl proposed, to disguise them with false names.  Just how false the disguise turns out to be starts with this conclusion of Schimpfossl’s on Russian politics in her introduction: “the oligarchs’ capture of the state in the 1990s was short-lived.” After that, the 75 rich Russians whom she quotes from her sample of 80 feed her their hoary old chestnuts — what they want everyone to think.

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HOW MANY TURNCOATS MAKE A COVER-UP – ADAM WALDMAN, JULIAN ASSANGE, OLEG DERIPASKA AND LUKE HARDING

By John Helmer, Moscow

Over weeks and months of last year,  Adam Waldman (lead image, left), a Washington lobbyist with ties to the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton, tried to lure Julian Assange (second from left) into making incriminating admissions to benefit the Democrats’ campaign alleging Russian collusion in Clinton’s defeat by President Donald Trump.  Assange tried to use Waldman for a deal with the US Department of Justice, exchanging an offer to withhold disclosure of classified Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) documents and trade other secrets, some Russian, in exchange for a grant of immunity from US prosecution.

At the same time, Oleg Deripaska (third from left), the oligarch in control of the Russian aluminium industry, paid Waldman to offer US prosecutors information about the Trump election campaign manager Paul Manafort and others connected to the Trump campaign, including Russians,  in exchange for a US Government promise not to impose sanctions on Deripaska.  Last week Luke Harding (right), a reporter for the Guardian, a London newspaper, sold the story of Waldman’s meetings with  Assange and Deripaska as a conspiracy to advance a scheme by President Vladimir Putin to control the US Government.

Four plotters; more than four schemes; money in Waldman’s and Harding’s pockets; not a shred of  truth. (more…)

WHEN OLD MASTERS ARE WORTH MORE TO RUSSIAN BUYERS THAN OLD MANSIONS – YVES BOUVIER’S ART RACKET

By John Helmer, Moscow

Under pressure from the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC),  an accused Swiss art fraudster, Yves Bouvier (lead image, right),  has become the target of new  money-laundering investigations of art dealings involving Russian businessmen.

Oleg Deripaska and Suleiman Kerimov (1st left) were hit by US sanctions announced by OFAC on April 6. In the announcement by the US Treasury, Deripaska was accused of money-laundering, bribery, extortion and racketeering. Kerimov was accused of money-laundering through the purchase of villas in the south of France, and failing to pay French tax on the deals. 

Weeks earlier, Deripaska and Kerimov were reported by the US Treasury on a list of Russian oligarchs, published by OFAC on January 29.   They are known to collect palatial residences, not artworks. Also listed with them by OFAC were two other Russians, Vyacheslav Kantor and Boris Mints. They have established well-known European art collections in Moscow, buying through dealers whom this week they decline to identify. Kantor says he started his collection on the advice of a neighbour in Geneva.

Not included on the OFAC list of January 29 is Vladimir Scherbakov (lead image, centre).  He has accumulated his wealth from an Russian auto-assembly plant based in Kaliningrad. Also a resident of Geneva, Scherbakov has launched a lawsuit there against Bouvier as the dealer he accuses of defrauding him in the purchase of forty artworks.  Asked this week to clarify the value of the alleged fraud and other details of the case, Scherbakov refuses to say. 

The OFAC publication of January 29 did not accuse the Russians on the list of wrongdoing nor proscribe them. Today’s list of individuals sanctioned by OFAC, the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List,   shows Kantor, Mints, and Scherbakov are not sanctioned. (more…)

US REPRIEVE FOR RUSAL DOES NOT RELIEVE PRESIDENT PUTIN OF FATAL CHOICE FOR OLEG DERIPASKA

By John Helmer, Moscow

There are two reasons why  the aluminium metal markets are not making long-term bets on the price of the metal, the alumina required to make it, and the share prices of the metal producers, including Russia’s aluminium monopoly United Company Rusal. The first reason is that the US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin (lead image, right) has decided to eliminate Rusal’s controlling shareholder, Oleg Deripaska (left), but leave Rusal to carry on its business without him.  The second reason is that President Vladimir Putin cannot make up his mind on whether to sacrifice Deripaska for the good of the company and Russia’s metal industry.  If Putin refuses Mnuchin’s deal, the US sanctions to put the company out of business, announced on April 6, will be enforced in full.  Pricing the consequences now of then is next to impossible.

According to Mnuchin’s statement on Monday, “RUSAL has felt the impact of U.S. sanctions because of its entanglement with Oleg Deripaska, but the U.S. government is not targeting the hardworking people who depend on RUSAL and its subsidiaries. RUSAL has approached us to petition for delisting.  Given the impact on our partners and allies, we are issuing a general license extending the maintenance and wind-down period while we consider RUSAL’s petition.”

On Tuesday Putin responded  through his spokesman  Dmitry Peskov. “so far it is difficult to say how consistent our American counterparts are in their approach. We still consider these sanctions to be illegal. We believe that in relation to a single company such actions are akin to asset grabbing.” 

That is Deripaska himself doing the talking. The only man in Russia who thinks that state recovery of a heavily indebted asset from an oligarch is an asset grab is Deripaska. Putin has yet to disagree. Mnuchin has given Putin six months until October 23 to make up his mind. (more…)

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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