Daily Archives: January 8, 2007

Update on the Svetlichnaya Fraud

On December 12th, La Russophobe reported on an article in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten which revealed that one of the shadowy figures attacking Alexander Litvinenko, in the manner of a Kremlin shill, did in fact have undisclosed connections to the Kremlin. Two weeks later, we updated the story by exposing the attempt by that person, Julia Svetlichnaya, to cover her tracks on an obscure Russia blog called ZheZhe. Now there are futher developments to report, unearthed by some wonderful investigation in the blogosphere, including photographic evidence of the attempt to whitewash the Kremlin-controled website that mentioned Svetlichnaya by name.

The Komisar Scoop reports:

Poisoned Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko appears to have been involved in collecting information about Alexei Golubovich, a longtime associate of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former head of the Russian oil company, Yukos. Khodorkovsky is in jail in Russia for tax evasion. Golubovich was a top official of Yukos from 1992 to 2000 and is under house arrest in Italy at the request of Russia which has charged him with fraud and embezzlement.

A woman living in London told the press that she sought out Litvinenko for “book research” and that he told her that he was planning to blackmail some Russian oligarchs who had been targeted by the Russian Federal Security Service because they had looted the country. She did not tell the press that she worked for Golubovich, who fit that description.

The story about the investigation of Golubovich has not been published before. Litvinenko died in London Nov. 23 from a lethal dose of radioactive polonium-210. He had reportedly been building dossiers on corrupt Russian businessmen.

Yevgeny Limarev, a Russian former intelligence officer who collaborated with Litvinenko, last year visited a couple in Paris — Elena Collongues-Popova, (shown here), who once worked for Golubovich,Elena Collongues-Popova and Roger Kinsbourg, who also had dealings with him — trying to obtain information about Golubovich, particularly about bribes that he might have paid to Lithuanian officials to get control of the state-owned Maziekiu Nafta oil refinery.

A majority share of the refinery was bought by Yukos and lodged in its Netherland subsidiary, Yukos International Ltd. The refinery is managed by Williams International, a US company.

Limarev, reached on his mobile phone, acknowledged meeting with the two. He declined to say anything more and sent an email referring a reporter to his press agent in Lithuania.

“Limarev wanted to know if we had any evidence of bribes being paid by the Golubovich gang or companies to high-ranking civil servants,” Collongues-Popova said by phone from Paris. “He wanted to know about Golubovich’s payments in the Baltic countries.”

Limarev’s name surfaced after the death of Litvinenko, because he reportedly provided to Mario Scaramella, a controversial consultant to an Italian parliamentary commission investigating Russian intelligence connections in Italy, a memo from Russian sources warning that the three men were on a death list organized by Russian secret service agents and ex-military. Scaramella says he informed Litvinenko three weeks before his death. Scaramella was arrested in Naples on Sunday on charges of international arms trafficking.

Limarev says he is an independent consultant, specializing in Russian politics and security issues. He lives in Cluses, France, just across the border from Geneva. Limarev told “Paris Match” this week that after he met Litvinenko in 2001, the two decided to exchange information about the activities of the Russian Mafia and former intelligence agents.

Limarev would have thought Collongues-Popova might know of bribes paid by Golubovich, because when she worked for Golubovich from 1996 to 2000, her job was moving money in and out of secret offshore bank accounts. The transfers, she says, involved insider trading of Russian stocks such as Yukos and also transfers for which she didn’t know the purpose.

The Limarev investigation of Golubovich leads in an unusual triangle back to Litvinenko. Julia Svetlichnaya, a Russian who identified herself as a student, told The (London) Observer this month that she had sought out Litvinenko while doing research for a book on Chechnya. She said that he had documents he planned to use to blackmail Russian businessmen and politicians and that she had emails in which he had tried to involve her in his plots.

However, Svetlichnaya’s interest in Litvinenko might have been more than coincidental. She was communication manager for Golubovich’s company, Russian Investors. Journalist Hilde Harbo wrote Dec. 6th in Aftenposten (Norway) that Svetlichnaya was listed on the Russian Investors website as a contact for its philanthropic equestrian project. Immediately after the article appeared, Svetlichnaya’s name disappeared from the website. However, Golubovich’s webmaster appears ignorant of the fact that nothing ever really gets erased from the internet, and one can find both the earlier and expurgated versions.

Kinsbourg said Limarev contacted him through a Geneva journalist who knew about Collongues-Popova’s conflict with Golubovich. French tax police had discovered large money transfers she was moving to and from offshore accounts owned by Golubovich, and authorities had ordered her to pay back taxes and penalties that now amount to $15 million. That includes $1 million from a criminal trial in Paris where she was sentenced to a year in prison, suspended provided she paid the taxes and penalties.

When Golubovich refused to take responsibility for the taxes in deals detailed in cartons of documents police seized from her home, she sought to take control of a Swiss account she had run for him but which was listed in her name. That has led to legal battles with her former boss and his wife.

Limarev’s main interest was to find out if we had proof of Roger Kinsbourg corruption by people in the Russian government,” said Kinsbourg, (shown here). “Golubovich had been involved with Lithuanian Prime Minister [Algirdas] Brazauskas, and Limarev was [also] interested in bribes he might have paid to officials there.” Brazauskas is no longer prime minister.

Kinsbourg explained, “I went to the Baltic countries with Golubovich when we were friends, and we dealt with banks. There were lots of transfers from his offshore companies to the banks in the Baltics.” He added, “Kristina, the wife of the prime minister of Lithuania, was a good friend of Olga Mirimskaya, the wife of Golubovich. Mirimskaya was doing some kind of ‘private banking’ for them.”

According to a report about Golubovich that Limarev gave Collongues-Popova and Kinsbourg, Golubovich gave Kristina Brazauskas “the possibility to use his different offshore accounts for transactions without the setting up of a legal entity and bookkeeping.” The report, in an English translation obtained by Kinsbourg, says, “The SVR [Russian Special Secret Service] is aware of the relationship of Brazauskas and his spouse with Golubovich and Mirimskaya. Possibly, this information could be used as pressure means against Brazauskas.”

“The information he had seemed to be from Lithuanian intelligence dealing with Russian intelligence,” Kinsbourg commented. “He came and brought this information. He was expecting we would give him some information he could negotiate or leverage somewhere else. He was very shady, moody, not a guy you would trust.”

Kinsbourg recalled, “I said to Limarev, ‘Listen, money was transferred to offshore companies, but we didn’t know who were the beneficial owners.’ We gave him the names of the banks in the Baltics where money was sent. They were Saules Banka in Riga, Latvia (corresponding bank: Bankers Trust, New York), Estonia Forex Bank in Tallin, Estonia (Bankers Trust, New York) and Optiva Bank in Tallin, Estonia (Bankers Trust, New York). We have a lot of information about transfers to banks when Golubovich was signing in lieu of Elena because of Elena’s [tax] problem here.” Corresponding banks run accounts for foreign banks, allowing them to move clients’ money into the corresponding bank’s country.

More connections to the Russian government appear in the report Limarev provided. It says, “It is very important to note that within the framework of Yukos suits, Golubovich was taken to court neither [as] the accused nor [as] the witness. But he became the important confidential adviser to the FSB [Russian intelligence].”

Golubovich needed Russian friends because he was in conflict with former Yukos associates, Leonid Nevzlin and Mikhail Brudno, over control of the Maziekiu Nafta (MN) oil refinery as well as over his share of Yukos assets in Holland, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. The report says, “Golubovich is negotiating with [the] Kremlin represented by Igor Sechin and the siloviki [former KGB agents]. He is trying to get support from them to take Nevzlin[‘s] share away from Yukos (including MN),with the following transfer of these assets to RussNeft/Setchin.”

The report continued, “The problem is the Kremlin doesn’t trust Golubovich and is suspicious that he is playing a double game (on behalf of Nevzlin) or he is trying to get Yukos’s remaining assets.”

Russian companies had wanted the plant, which was built to run on Russian crude oil. However, when Lithuania privatized the refinery in 1999, it looked for a non-Russian buyer in order to reduce Moscow’s influence in Lithuania. It sold a strategic stake to the American firm, Williams. That company had financial difficulties and sold control to Yukos.

Kinsbourg added, “Limarev was also trying to find out information about Stephen Curtis.” Curtis was the London-based Yukos official who was killed in a suspicious helicopter crash in 2004. He had been involved in organizing offshore shell companies and bank accounts through which Yukos and other Menatep companies cheated minority investors and tax authorities.

A third Yukos connection comes in the media reports from Spain that Litvinenko had provided information that contributed to the arrest in May of nine members of the Russian mafia, including Alexander Gofstein, a lawyer for Yukos.

Golubovich indicated in an interview with the Russian daily, Moskovsky Komsomolets, in December 2005, that he was being pushed out and prevented from having his share of Menatep assets and that he had been threatened by some Menatep shareholders. He noted, “I prefer to go to court rather than wait for an explosion or poisoning.” However, this year Golubovich was forced to sell his shares in Group Menatep.

At the same time, Golubovich’s good relationship with the Russian authorities appears to have collapsed. In May after he flew into Pisa, Italy, he was detained at the request of Russian authorities who accused him of fraud and embezzlement of $283 million, the amount that Menatep, the Khodorkovsky holding company which also owns Yukos, reneged on investing when it bought Apatit, Russia’s largest fertilizer company. Platon Lebedev, one of Yukos’s major shareholders, was charged with the same offense and is now in prison.

If Limarev and Litvinenko were investigating Golubovich, they had more than one likely client.

Azerbaijan tells Russia to go jump in a lake of gas

The Jamestown Foundation reports:

Azerbaijan has ceased importing gas from Russia as of January 1. Despite the anticipated shortage of gas in the country — compounded by an unanticipated production delay at the international Shah Deniz gas project — Azerbaijan has refused to pay $235 per 1,000 cubic meters of Gazprom-delivered gas in 2007. President Ilham Aliyev turned down such “commercial blackmail,” telling the Russian media, “I cannot allow that to happen. Azerbaijan is no longer the kind of state that can be forced into anything” (Ekho Moskvy, December 23).

Gazprom’s final proposal to Azerbaijan in late December increased the volume offer to 2.5 billion cubic meters of gas for 2007, though still far below last year’s 4.5 billion cubic meters. And it raised the asking price from $230 to $235 per 1,000 cubic meters for 2007, compared with the $110 price charged to Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia in 2006. Moscow left the price unchanged for Armenia in 2007 in return for property takeovers in that country; but it more than doubled the price to Azerbaijan and also to Georgia, which ruled out property transfers to Russia.

President Aliyev, Industry and Energy Minister Natig Aliyev, and State Oil Company president Rovnag Abdullayev all declared publicly in the closing days of the year that Azerbaijan would not accept arbitrary overpricing or a politically motivated price. Indeed, geopolitics largely motivates Moscow’s decisions to raise the price and slash the volume of gas deliveries to Azerbaijan. The goal is to prevent the latter from helping Georgia to resist Moscow’s twin threats of supply cuts and extortionate pricing.

Azerbaijan currently extracts some 5 billion cubic meters of gas annually and the international oil-producing consortium extracts some 2 billion cubic meters of associated gas. The country’s annual requirement is 10 to 11 billion cubic meters. Azerbaijan will use some internally produced gas, as well as fuel oil, instead of Russian-delivered gas, to generate electricity. Almost all of Azerbaijan’s electricity-generating capacities operate on gas, but a large part can also operate on the more expensive fuel oil.

To obtain that fuel oil, Azerbaijan must redirect some volume of crude oil from export to refining in the country. It will definitely not redirect any volume from the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, but rather from the line that runs to Russia’s Novorossiysk Black Sea port. That pipeline handled some 4 to 4.5 million tons of oil from Azerbaijan per year in 2005 and 2006, some of it from the international consortium and some from Azerbaijan’s state company. The international consortium’s share in using that pipeline has grown in late 2006 due to technical problems on the BP-operated Baku-Supsa (Georgia) pipeline — a situation that seems to persist. Azerbaijan can shift some of that volume into the pipeline to Ceyhan and another portion for in-country refining, producing fuel oil to generate electricity.

Technical problems are also causing a further delay of the start of commercial production at the BP-operated Shah Deniz giant gas field, the source of the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum (Turkey) pipeline. Planned for mid-2006 and postponed until December, that production start has again been postponed for “some weeks” due to a leak at the first well, deep under water. Three other wells are due on stream shortly. The delay has complicated the gas supply situation for 2007 in Azerbaijan and especially in Georgia. The first gas deliveries from Shah Deniz had been scheduled to reach Georgia in September 2006, then rescheduled for December 20. The latest postponement has been a factor in forcing Georgia at the end of December to sign a contract with Gazprom, buying gas at the extortionate price of $235 per 1,000 cubic meters, as a stop-gap solution to survive the winter.

Both Azerbaijan and Georgia have considered the possibility of emergency imports of Iranian gas in small volume to tide them over the winter. In Azerbaijan’s case, Iran was willing at the end of December to supply 1.8 billion cubic meters of gas in 2007, but the talks on the price were inconclusive. In January-February 2006, Azerbaijan transited small but critical volumes of Iranian gas to Georgia through the Astara-Gazi Mahomed-Gazakh pipeline during the Russian energy blockade of Georgia. Recalling that situation recently, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza declared in Tbilisi that no one can “tell Georgia to refuse buying Iranian gas and freeze in winter.”

Kremlin Prefers Space Aliens to Starving Russian People

You undoubtedly know, dear reader, that Russia is suffering from widespread, intense poverty (an average monthly wage of $300 and a declining population). So what challenge has Russia decided to tackle first? Why, discovering alien life forms, travelling to the Moon and then visiting Mars of course. MoneyControl India reports:

Russia is to launch a special satellite this year in search for extraterrestrial civilisations in remote galaxies. The Spektr R (Spectrum-Roentgen) x-ray satellite to be launched later this year will carry a 20-metre antenna for the study of galaxies and extraterrestrial civilisations.

“It would be arrogant of us to presume that human beings are the only life in the universe,” Georgy Polishchuk of the Lavochkin Research and Production Enterprise was quoted as saying by ITAR-TASS. Polishchuk, who heads the Moscow-based enterprise, said that Lavochkin was also working on interplanetary missions. “In 2009 we plan a mission to Phobos, a satellite of Mars, which will include a landing and collection of rock samples,” he said. According to him this one-way journey would take 11 months, while the second Martian mission planned for 2012 would involve a landing on the Red Planet. Polishchuk, however, conceded that a manned mission to Mars would only be possible after 2020.

Lavochkin is also planning to send probes to the Moon after 2010. “After 2010-12 it will be possible to circumnavigate the Moon, make a landing on it and deploy a Moon rover for an excursion,” Polishchuk believes. The next stage in the study of the Moon will see the establishment of a laboratory on its surface which will search for minerals, study the Moon’s energy potential and make a detailed cartographic survey of the terrain. The space designer said that spacecraft could be sent to the Moon aboard the new Russian carrier rocket Soyuz-2, while heavier equipment would be delivered by an Angara launch vehicle.

Annals of Shamapova

The tragicomedy of Russian women’s tennis continues unabated in the new year: Maria Shamapova started off 2007 the way she ended 2006, as a pathetic straight-set loser. She was thrashed by Belgian Kim Clijsters at the “Champions Challenge” tournament in Hong Kong 3-7, 6-7 and squandered a 4-1 lead in the second-set tiebreaker. To reach the finals, Sharapova had to struggle past fellow Russian Elena Dementieva, the serveless wonder, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 and was broken four times in the first set. She broke the eighth-ranked Dementieva, twice in the second set to go up 3-0, but lost the next two games. Leading 5-2, she needed six set points to win the second set. Dementieva double-faulted to give Sharapova match point.