Sunday, March 24, 2013

Boris Berezovsky and other matters

Readers of this blog would have heard by now of the sudden and  unexplained death of Boris Berezovsky, enemy number one for President Putin and his cohorts. Apparently,  he was found in his bath at about 11 o'clock this morning. One is awfully tempted to use the old KGB slang мокрое дело or wet business and I shall leave it to my readers to remember or work out what that might stand for.

The way the story broke was interesting. This afternoon I escaped early from yet another conference of seminar about what eurosceptics should do now or this time next year (can't remember) and went to London Library (after conferring with the Boss who is snowed in up north), checked my e-mails and went on Facebook to see if there was anything interesting happening in the world. There I found several postings from Russian friends or British friends who follow Russian affairs that were wondering if Berezovsky was dead. Apparently, some Russian outlets were saying it, at first cautiously then more boldly that they had heard from Berezovsky's son-in-law who posted the information on Facebook that the old man was dead. Others referred to some telephone call from London to Moscow, yet others quoted people "close" to Berezovsky.

By this time it was about half past four in the afternoon, several hours after the body had been found. Or so it seems.

Meanwhile the western media was desperately trying to confirm the story and were, therefore, keeping quiet. I am delighted to say that I tweeted about it a while before the Wall Street Journal came up with "Breaking: Boris Berezovsky dead". Before confirmation came and the police said "in a statement they had launched a "full inquiry" into what they described as "the unexplained death" of a 67-year-old man at a property near London" the Russian media started saying that this was definitely a suicide, that he had been depressed, was facing bankruptcy and was, in general, feeling that he was a failure. Presumably, this was an effort to get in there first as most of us thought of some other explanation when we first heard the news. (Jokes about ice picks have already been made.)

There have also been news from Russia and not just about the Cyprus shenanigans. Readers of this blog might recall last year's law that "foreign-funded non-governmental groups (NGOs) involved in political activity to register as "foreign agents" in Russia". The term has a very special and sinister sound in a country where not so long ago you were imprisoned for many years at best if  you were named a "foreign agent".

A number of NGOs that could be said to have some foreign funding and foreign links have been raided by the police and tax inspectors. Among these were Memorial that tries to reconstruct what happened to the millions of victims of the Soviet system and also deals with human rights issues since its collapse.
Memorial says inspectors returned to its Moscow offices on Friday, having already seized 600 documents including accounts on Thursday.

A statement on the Memorial website said the inspections were directly linked to the new law on NGOs and the targeted groups' compliance with it.

Memorial director Arseny Roginsky, quoted by the Russian news website Vesti, said it was "a complete check on everything concerned with our sources of funding".

He insisted that the NGO law "will not change our position at all". "We won't refuse foreign donations, nor will we register as a 'foreign agent'," he said.
Helpfully, as the picture in the story shows, somebody (could one possibly guess who) has written a graffiti on the wall of Memorial offices, describing them as "a foreign agent".

The legislation against NGOs that get foreign funding and have foreign links is seen as a response to the agitation around the Magnitsky Act that was signed into law by President Obama in December of last year and campaigns against so-called foreign agents have intensified.

Meanwhile, the Russian investigation into Magnitsky's death in prison has been dropped.
The committee posted a statement on its official website on March 19 saying Magnitsky was placed legally in pretrial detention and died there from heart complications in 2009. The committee said there was no evidence of a crime.
Indeed, how could there be a crime? The man was arrested for trying to find out what happened to the companies he was supposed to be working for that had been stolen in order to claim enormous tax rebates by people linked to the security services, kept in appalling conditions for a year without any charges, denied medical attention, evidently tortured and was eventually found dead in his cell. All very normal.

However, the Magnitsky case is not dead even if the man is. His posthumous trial has opened in Moscow but  has been adjourned till the 27th. Gogol, the author of Dead Souls, should be alive now. He, alone could do justice to this tragic farce.


  1. A friend has been researching money laundering in Cyprus with the help of Hermitage Capital - the investment fund which brought Magnitsky's case to prominence. Not only is Cyprus a centre for Russian money laundering - it is also used by German and Austrian banks for the same purpose and who have in fact been assisting Russian criminals with the very same acts Merkel accuses Cypriot banks of facilitating.

    But then what does one expect from an industry which is allowed to regulate itself?

  2. 'Wet business'

    Or 'wet jobs' as the SAS called the assassinations of leftists they carried out across South America in 70s. And the Shin Bet in Central America in the 80s.

  3. An industry that is allowed to regulate itself? Really? Have you actually had a look at the number of banking regulations introduced by the EU, the Basel Accords and just ordinary governments? Maybe you should. Shin Bet in Central America? Examples? Also, if it is true that the SAS used that expression, which, given your other comments is not at all certain, it is nice to know that they have taken over KGB slang.

  4. ''Have you actually had a look at the number of banking regulations introduced by the EU, the Basel Accords and just ordinary governments?''

    The banks and their lobbyists help write the rules, Helen.

    You don't like the State. Ok, I can understand that. But surely you recognise the role it played in saving Market Fundamentalism in 2008? And the enormous subsidy that it gives to the banks in the form of allowing them to create money, the deposit guarantee scheme, the latest underwriting of mortgages, the lack of criminal prosecution of individual bankers for PPI, Interest Rate Swaps, money laundering (hello Lord Stephen Green), LIBOR rigging, sanctions busting... the list goes on and on. I'm actually hosting an event next week with a former Scotland Yard Fraud Squad officer. Would you like to attend?

    1. "You don't like the State. Ok, I can understand that. But surely you recognise the role it played in saving Market Fundamentalism in 2008?"

      "Market Fundamentalism" would dictate that failed businesses (including banks) be allowed to fail. In this way the assets can be sold and the employees move on to where they can (hopefully) be employed more effectively. "Too big to fail" is corporatism and little to do with free markets. The state stepping in to prop up failing industries with large quantities of taxpayers' money rarely works in anything except the short term and even that rather depends on how you define "works".

  5. MONEYVAL is the European system for preventing money laundering. As it says itself, its system of peer review is based on the process of self-assessment and mutual evaluation. Which means a questionnaire is sent to the country in question so they can evaluate themselves. MONEYVAL then visits the country ''with a view to meeting practitioners who work in the sectors concerned to obtain further information''

    There are 14,100 offshore companies registered in Cyprus and MONEYVAL carried out a total of just 10 on-site visits in three years.

    Hardly rigorous is it?