This blog’s ex-Soviet affairs correspondent writes, in response to my request for details about Alisher Usmanov, that he is ‘one of the worst’ of the current Russian oligarchs, and notes that ‘Central Asia was infamous for its mafia even in the late soviet period’, which is when and where our boy cut his teeth.
There has been something sinister for a while now about the unchallenged ‘populist’ status given to any rich man who buys a football club. Since at least 1986, in fact, when Silvio Berlusconi bought AC Milan. At about the same time, Bernard Tapie was attempting to use Olympique Marseille for the same reasons: buy the love of a crowd of football supporters, in the hope that you can then buy the love of further crowds of journalists and voters. It didn’t work in France, since Tapie wasn’t quite clever enough to hide his many crooked deals, but it worked for Berlusconi, for long enough to enable him to do further damage to the vandalised brothel that is the Italian State.
British millionaires don’t want to buy themselves political careers- presumably because they are smart enough to know that there are better ways to get your mitts on power than becoming an MP. But at least two shady rich men have bought themselves security by purchasing an English football club. The dumbly uncritical British media has surpassed itself in its treatment of Roman Abramovitch: aren’t there even a few questions you want to ask about how a near-penniless accountant became a billionaire in the most violent, unrestrained asset-grab of the last hundred years?
As for Mr Mohammed Al-Fayed, owner of Fulham, the dirt has already been uncovered, by Tom Bower, who wrote an excellent biography of the man. He’s a liar, he’s a thug, he’s a racist. Among the many foul details uncovered, we learned that Al-Fayed had a particular detestation for black people, often ordering his security detail (who had suspiciously close links to certain parts of the Metropolitan Police) to eject ‘fugging black bastards’ from his premises. Bower published his book in the UK, which has strict libel laws; the multi-millionaire Mr Al-Fayed, normally the most litigious of men, has never chosen to sue him for libel. Strange. Even stranger is the fact that our newspapers’ football correspondents, those tribunes of the People’s Game, have never chosen to repeat these facts (which, given Mr Al-Fayed’s reluctance to sue, is surely what they are) in any article about good old Fulham Football Club.
A nasty phenomenon is getting nastier. Usmanov is far worse than either Al-Fayed or Abramovitch. Russia, over the last few years, has seen the systematic destruction of what had been a burgeoning free media, as a company called Gazprom has bought up dissenting news outlets, changed their editorial line to one singing the praises of a the ex-KGB man in charge of the country, and fired inconvenient journalists and editors. Well, fired the ones who didn’t mysteriously fall out of windows. And Gazprom is owned by – Alisher Usmanov.
Do you think the football-loving MPs and celebrities of the UK will mention that Arsenal should not be bought by an animal who does things like this? Do you think British journalists will feel even a twinge of sympathy with Russian journalists, or will they merely despise the fools for trying to write about genuine threats to people’s lives when they could just be obsessing about sport?
Answers on a postcard. We’ve erected a fake populist culture in this country which is all too ready to connive at bullying the powerless, and all too suited to pampering the powerful. Why does Abramovitch own Chelsea? So that if the wheel turns in Russia and Putin or his successor try to do to Abramovitch what they did to his fellow oligarch billionaire Berezovsky, and throw him in jail he can always rely on British diplomats to plead for him to be flown to Heathrow. You think any British Prime Minister is going to ignore the screaming front pages of every tabloid in the country? And Fayed- he has never got British citizenship, for reasons that will be entirely apparent to any reader of Bower’s work- but his ownership of Fulham greatly diminishes any chance that the authorities will ever make trouble for him.
This, by the way, is the Craig Murray text Mr Usmanov’s shyster lawyers have worked so successfully to ban:
‘Alisher Usmanov, potential Arsenal chairman, is a Vicious Thug, Criminal, Racketeer, Heroin Trafficker and Accused Rapist
I thought I should make my views on Alisher Usmanov quite plain to you. You are unlikely to see much plain talking on Usmanov elsewhere in the media becuase he has already used his billions and his lawyers in a pre-emptive strike. They have written to all major UK newspapers, including the latter:
“Mr Usmanov was imprisoned for various offences under the old Soviet regime. We wish to make it clear our client did not commit any of the offences with which he was charged. He was fully pardoned after President Mikhail Gorbachev took office. All references to these matters have now been expunged from police records . . . Mr Usmanov does not have any criminal record.”
Let me make it quite clear that Alisher Usmanov is a criminal. He was in no sense a political prisoner, but a gangster and racketeer who rightly did six years in jail. The lawyers cunningly evoke “Gorbachev”, a name respected in the West, to make us think that justice prevailed. That is completely untrue.
Usmanov’s pardon was nothing to do with Gorbachev. It was achieved through the growing autonomy of another thug, President Karimov, at first President of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic and from 1991 President of Uzbekistan. Karimov ordered the “Pardon” because of his alliance with Usmanov’s mentor, Uzbek mafia boss and major international heroin overlord Gafur Rakimov. Far from being on Gorbachev’s side, Karimov was one of the Politburo hardliners who had Gorbachev arrested in the attempted coup that was thwarted by Yeltsin standing on the tanks outside the White House.
Usmanov is just a criminal whose gangster connections with one of the World’s most corrupt regimes got him out of jail. He then plunged into the “privatisation” process at a time when gangster muscle was used to secure physical control of assets, and the alliance between the Russian Mafia and Russian security services was being formed.
Usmanov has two key alliances. He is very close indeed to President Karimov, and especially to his daughter Gulnara. It was Usmanov who engineered the 2005 diplomatic reversal in which the United States was kicked out of its airbase in Uzbekistan and Gazprom took over the country’s natural gas assets. Usmanov, as chairman of Gazprom Investholdings paid a bribe of $88 million to Gulnara Karimova to secure this. This is set out on page 366 of Murder in Samarkand.
Alisher Usmanov had risen to chair of Gazprom Investholdings because of his close personal friendship with Putin, He had accessed Putin through Putin’s long time secretary and now chef de cabinet, Piotr Jastrzebski. Usmanov and Jastrzebski were roommates at college. Gazprominvestholdings is the group that handles Gazproms interests outside Russia, Usmanov’s role is, in effect, to handle Gazprom’s bribery and sleaze on the international arena, and the use of gas supply cuts as a threat to uncooperative satellite states.
Gazprom has also been the tool which Putin has used to attack internal democracy and close down the independent media in Russia. Gazprom has bought out – with the owners having no choice – the only independent national TV station and numerous rgional TV stations, several radio stations and two formerly independent national newspapers. These have been changed into slavish adulation of Putin. Usmanov helped accomplish this through Gazprom. The major financial newspaper, Kommersant, he bought personally. He immediately replaced the editor-in-chief with a pro-Putin hack, and three months later the long-serving campaigning defence correspondent, Ivan Safronov, mysteriously fell to his death from a window.
All this, both on Gazprom and the journalist’s death, is set out in great detail here.
Usmanov is also dogged by the widespread belief in Uzbekistan that he was guilty of a particularly atrocious rape, which was covered up and the victim and others in the know disappeared. The sad thing is that this is not particularly remarkable. Rape by the powerful is an everyday hazard in Uzbekistan, again as outlined in Murder in Samarkand page 120. If anyone has more detail on the specific case involving Usmanov please add a comment.
I reported back in 2002 or 2003 in an Ambassadorial top secret telegram to the Foreign Office that Usmanov was the most likely favoured successor of President Karimov as totalitarian leader of Uzbekistan. I also outlined the Gazprom deal (before it happened) and the present by Usmanov to Putin (though in Jastrzebski’s name) of half of Mapobank, a Russian commercial bank owned by Usmanov. I will never forget the priceless reply from our Embassy in Moscow. They said that they had never even heard of Alisher Usmanov, and that Jastrzebski was a jolly nice friend of the Ambassador who would never do anything crooked.
Sadly, I expect the football authorities will be as purblind. Football now is about nothing but money, and even Arsenal supporters – as tight-knit and homespun a football community as any – can be heard saying they don’t care where the money comes from as long as they can compete with Chelsea.
I fear that is very wrong. Letting as diseased a figure as Alisher Usmanov into your club can only do harm in the long term.’