Leonid Nevzlin, Khodorkovsky's business partner,
"lost in translation" with Israeli journalists
Leonid Nevzlin, the former senior business partner of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, received his Israeli citizenship in 2003, when the Kremlin first set out to destroy Yukos. Since then, Mr. Nevzlin has been waving his new passport around, declaring that "Israel doesn't give out its people". However, the recent influx of foreign investment into the Russian energy market may prove many people wrong, including Nevzlin and Boris Berezovsky.
Lured by Rosneft's IPO and the promise of lucrative action in Russian energy, the oil industry seems to have forgotten about Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former richest man in Russia, who now resides 12 miles from the Chinese border in Siberia. NGOs fighting the Kremlin to "free Khodorkovsky" have been drowned out by the hype surrounding the Russian government's IPO for Rosneft, the state-owned company that received the choicest parts of YUKOS.
Last week, a delegation of Israeli lawyers visited Moscow, to find out how they could help extradite Nevzlin for the crimes he's being investigated for in Russia. The list of white collar crimes Nevzlin is accused of should be familiar to anyone who has studied the careers of the oligarchs: tax evasion, theft, etc. Meanwhile in London, the British government is hosting a group of Russian general prosecutors, headed by the "Prokuratura" senior officials; they are talking to the British lawyers about how to extradite Berezovsky back to Russia.
Boris Berezovsky in happier days
Here at Russia Blog, we find it ironic that the oligarchs who used to buy influence abroad with oil money are now having their freedom sold for the same coin. An Old Russian proverb says, "The one who pays orders the music". These days the Kremlin has enough money to make even top U.S. allies Britain and Israel "offers they can't refuse" and order up any music it likes.
A leading Israeli human rights activist, Yuli Nudelman, and a prominent Israeli lawyer, Yoram Mushkat, are in Moscow this week. The delegation of attorneys and human rights activists Nudelman is leading want to learn more about the theft of $110 million in state assets and the charge of evading $1 million in taxes prosecutors have filed against Leonid Nevzlin. Yuli Nudelman is wondering why Nevzlin only found his Jewish roots after the charges were filed against him, but not before. Mushkat has stated that he believes that it's shameful to cover up crimes and harbor criminals of the other nations. Russian officials say they have all the proof they need to imprison Nevzlin in Siberia with his old boss. At first, the Israelis didn't mind harboring the exiled businessman, however, now that Russia is one of the few great powers left on good terms with Iran, these days it might be profitable for Israel to seek more friendly relations with Moscow.
Boris Berezovsky, not looking so confident anymore
Meanwhile, the group of Russian prosecutors visiting London this week to present their case against Berezovsky are feeling confident. The Kremlin might have enough leverage in London now to bring Berezovsky back "home" soon. Russia Blog reader likely won't be feeling sorry for Mr. Berezovsky -- he was profiled in "Godfather of the Kremlin", the book written by the late Forbes journalist Paul Klebnikov. In his book, Mr. Klebnikov alleged that Berezovsky ordered several contract killings of rivals while amassing his vast personal fortune. Berezovsky became one of the most hated men in Russia during the late 1990s, when he took advantage of Boris Yeltsin's drunkeness to manipulate the President's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko and take control of the Kremlin. Klebnikov described how Berezovsky "negotiated" with the Chechen commanders behind Yeltsin's back, even while Russian troops were being slaughtered in Chechnya. Once Berezovsky was outmaneuvered by Putin's siloviki faction, the oligarch fled to London, where he funded opposition groups in Russia while proclaiming that he was just another innocent businessman crushed by the evil ex-KGB officer.
Zakayev vowing more "resistance"
The next big fish at large in Britain who may face extradition is the so-called "Foreign Minister of Ichkeria" Akhmed Zakayev, a mouthpiece and fundraiser for the Chechen terrorists, who after Beslan lost all their support from human rights activists in Russia and Chechnya. Back home, most Chechens are relieved to put the war behind them and rebuild their autonomous state now led by an elected prime minister. The Kremlin and ordinary Russians both remain annoyed by the fact that this man continues to be harbored by the British government while he raises money for jihad against Russia and excuses the deaths of innocent people.
In other oligarch-related news, YUKOS board of directors gave a green light to bankrupt the last remnants of the company. Western creditors have declared that YUKOS debts are much greater than any potential profits or assets. YUKOS' bankruptcy will close the books on numerous lawsuits against Kremlin, and will make the investment climate for Russia's energy industry appear safer to skittish Western investors.
It is funny, but not surprising, how money trumps politics at the end of the day. Once Khodorkovsky was no longer free to finance parties on Capitol Hill and former YUKOS' assets were resold as shares of Rosneft, the oil majors jumped on the Kremlin's bandwagon in search of profits and stability.