Boris Berezovsky (Photo by: Kommersant)
Forbes magazine reported this weekend that the exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky is facing an indictment for money laundering in Brazil. A warrant for Berezovsky's arrest has been filed with Interpol.
According to the Forbes article: "Brazilian prosecutors say Media Sports Investment, which in 2004 formed a partnership with the popular club, laundered millions of dollars received from Berezovsky to acquire a string of high-profile players."
"A Sao Paulo federal judge sent a request to Brazil's Justice Ministry requesting Berezovsky's extradition, froze bank accounts of Corinthians and London-based MSI, and demanded that the club provide a list of all players acquired with money from MSI within 10 days, according to a statement from the judge's office."
Logo of the Brazilian soccer club Corinthians
In response to the latest criminal charges filed against him, Berezovsky claimed that the Brazilian indictment had been instigated by the Kremlin. "Given the extensive comment in the Russian media and the farce of a 'trial in absentia' in the Russian courts, I have no doubt that the Brazilian story is an extension of the Kremlin's politicized campaign against me." the exiled oligarch said in a statement emailed to the press. Berezovsky has resided in London since 2001, when he fled charges of fraud and bribery in Russia.
In his book Godfather of the Kremlin, the late Forbes magazine journalist Paul Klebnikov documented Berezovsky's rise to the heights of power in the Nineties through a series of rigged state auctions, some of them involving contract-style killings of the previous owners. During Berezovsky's brief ownership of major stakes in Aeroflot and Avtovaz, both companies suffered enormous losses due to mismanagement and theft. Nearly 500 people associated with Avtovaz have died violently in the last fifteen years, and both companies are now profitable under new management.
Berezovsky's life inspired the French-Russian movie Oligarkh (released with English subtitles as Tycoon: A New Russian), although the actor playing the Berezovsky character looked more like Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Several weeks ago, Russia's Prosecutor General opened a case against Berezovsky for advocating the violent overthrow of the Russian government in an April 13, 2007 interview with the UK Guardian newspaper. After the British Foreign Office said that it might reconsider Berezovsky's political asylum in the UK, Berezovsky backtracked and claimed that he was only calling for a peaceful Orange-style revolution in Russia. But the damage had already been done - Berezovsky's act of provocatsie had consequences for others.
On April 14, the day after Berezovsky's call for violent revolution, a few hundred demonstrators from The Other Russia coalition, led by the former world champion chessmaster Garry Kasparov, marched through Moscow. In front of the assembled cameras of both domestic and foreign media outlets, Russian Interior Ministry (MVD) troops took no chances with the Other Russia - all of the protesters who jumped barricades or who stepped out of the area designated by the Moscow city permit for the march were arrested, including Kasparov. After Kasparov was detained for ten hours and fined $38 for violating the terms of his permit, all of the protesters were released, and a few days later, the Kremlin issued a statement apologizing for the police overreaction. Two more opposition rallies took place in Moscow and St. Petersburg last month without incident. Berezovsky later told the Financial Times that he had funded the Other Russia, but added that he no longer funds the group because it has proven to be too weak and ineffective to oppose the Kremlin.
In response to Berezovsky's statement, the Other Russia has denied that it has ever accepted funding from Berezovsky, and Kasparov declared that he has nothing to do with the exiled oligarch. The Other Russia continues to struggle to produce a slate of candidates for the upcoming 2008 presidential election, when President Putin will not be eligible to run for reelection. As is the case in Germany and several other European countries, political parties in Russia are required to receive a minimal percentage of the vote in order to win seats in parliament. After the regional and parliamentary elections held in October 2006, the Duma voted to raised the minimum threshold from 5% to 7%.
Berezovsky portrayed by a British cartoonist as a James Bond villain (cartoon by: Alex Hughes)
Whatever Berezovsky's claims to be an opposition leader rather than being just another white collar criminal on the lam, even the British media seems to be getting tired of his act. In a June 28, 2007 interview broadcast on the BBC (titled Did This Man Kill Litvinenko?), the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes asked Berezovsky directly if he had anything to do with the sensational death of Alexander Litvinenko. Berezovsky replied that Scotland Yard had questioned him and found no evidence that he was involved in poisoning the ex-FSB agent. Nonetheless, thanks to Russia's growing economic clout, more and more governments seem willing to examine the evidence against Berezovsky and other exiled oligarchs presented by Russian prosecutors.