Archive for September, 2007

There’s only one Alisher Usmanov

September 25, 2007

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.’

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October 9th: Bring your own MP

September 5, 2007

The letters are working.  Twelve days ago I met with my MP: ‘Ah, the letters’ was almost the first thing she said. ‘We’ve all been having a lot of them, and we’ve all been on to the Home Office to get the policy changed. What are you hearing? They haven’t changed it?’ Policy is going to change, but slowly. There’s a distinct lack of speed.

What I’m hearing from soldiers who have hired Iraqi employees, and who are now in contact with these people as they flee to Syria and Jordan, or hide out in Basra, is: lack of speed is killing.  One ex-Royal Engineer told me on the phone last night about a man he recruited in 2003 who hoped to build a new Iraq, then fled the country, and then was murdered at some point in the last few weeks.

What can you do?

If you’ve already written to your MP, write or email him or her again: and this time, invite them to a speaker meeting at Parliament on the second day of the new session, Tuesday 9th October.

If you haven’t already written to your MP, please do so. You can find out about your MP here. utline what’s happening and why we should be concerned, ask them to contact the relevant Ministries (particularly the Home Office but also the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) and also invite them to the meeting. Talking points for both letters are below. Any blogger who has participated in this campaign is invited, and so is any blogreader who successfully invites their MP: just email me at danhardie.blog@gmail.com and an invitation will be heading your way.  Stress to MPs that mainstream print and TV journalists will be present: that is the kind of thing that tends, for some reason, to attract them. And stress that this is the first blog-based campaign in the UK: this is how politics is going, and they need to see what it looks like.

Talking points for an invitation letter- if you’ve already corresonded with your MP on this subject:

  • The Government has not yet altered policy, despite calling an inter-departmental review, and in the meantime Iraqis who worked for the British are successfully being hunted down by death squads.
  • There will be a cross-party meeting, organised by the online campaign for Asylum rights for Iraqi employees. It will take place in Parliament in Committee Room 14 (St Stephen’s Entrance) from 7-9pm on Tuesday 9th October. Please arrive early to avoid hideous disappointment, etc.
  • The main speaker will be a British soldier who hired a number of Iraqis and is in contact with many of them now, including many who have fled Iraq ahead of the death squads: he will give an up-to-date, detailed picture of events on the ground.
  • There will also be speeches by Ed Vaizey (Conservative MP for Wantage, Spokesman for Culture, Media and Sport) and Lynne Featherstone (Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, Spokeswoman for International Development), and by at least one senior Labour backbencher.
  • Stress this: It will be reported by Channel Four News and probably other TV news organisations, BBC Radio Four and Radio Five Live, and by reporters and columnists from The Times, The Guardian, The Financial Times, The Evening Standard, The New Statesman, The Observer and The Evening Standard.
  • The event is supported by Amnesty International, The Refugee Council and Human Rights Watch, who will all have people present.

To write a  first letter on this subject to your MP:

Use these talking points, then give them the location and timing of the meeting, and don’t forget to tell them about the TV crews.

Thank you.