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By John Helmer, Moscow

Russia’s leading state banker German Gref (lead image, left) and members of the Russian intelligentsia have written to the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, announcing their judgement that Suleiman Kerimov (centre) is innocent of the indictment the French prosecutor has filed in Nice. This charges Kerimov with laundering up to half a billion US dollars, allegedly transported in suitcases of cash through Nice airport; and evasion of millions of Euros in French property sale taxes through fraudulent transactions extending from the south of France to Switzerland.  

The Russian group also reveals that Kerimov suffers from severe cardiological problems for which the letter proposes he would be better cared for medically in Russia, rather than in France.

Heading the eleven signatories of the letter to Macron is Mikhail Prokhorov (right) and his sister, Irina. She is a member of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, a French honorific well below the Légion; she then obtained a promotion to the Legion in 2012. The first honour conferred by the French on her brother is that until Kerimov,  he was  the only Russian oligarch to have been jailed in France on a criminal charge.

According to Prokhorov, Gref and the others, Kerimov is “a supreme statesman of the Russian Federation”, and accordingly, he should be released from detention in France to “continue his  work in the Federation Council of the Russian Federation.”  This is the first time a Russian has publicly identified any work Kerimov has done in the upper house of parliament since his election in 2008. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Carl von Clausewitz, the 19th century German soldier and military strategist, famously remarked that war is the continuation of policy (politics) by other means.

By war, von Clausewitz meant the old-fashioned idea of running people through or making them run away, so they give up their territory, treasure, and women.  By war these days there are fresh ways of running people through and grabbing treasure and women. There’s cyber warfare, which strikes at the enemy’s minds, not their bodies; sanctions, which are  the modern form of siege warfare, starving the enemy of cash for food; and sports warfare, which means killing the most popular entertainment in the world.  Olympic Games  and World Cup football have replaced rape and rapine of olden times, at least in countries which regard themselves as civilized.

Since the US has been at war with Russia from 2014, the military junta in Washington has lost its  campaign on the Syrian front. On the Ukraine front it has been so bogged down that Kiev has lost  more treasure than it can hope to recover in a generation, or two.  The US is also losing its military campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Libya.  The escalation of military operations and sanctions war on the Korean front has achieved no American policy goals. Quite the opposite. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Extracting guilty pleas from the innocent was the specialty of the Spanish Inquisition and its Grand Inquisitor, Tomas de Torquemada (lead image, centre).

Extracting guilty pleas from the dead is the specialty of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill (right), and Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov (left), head of the Church commission investigating the deaths of Tsar Nicholai II and the Romanov family. They were executed on July 17, 1918, by the revolutionary government.  Kirill has also declared that his inquisition has the backing of the Russian state, in the person of President Vladimir Putin with whom Kirill claims to have had a private conversation on the matter recently.

There followed last week the announcement from the General Prosecutor in Moscow that its department for special cases is conducting a new investigation of the charge that the execution of the tsar was a ritual killing carried out by Jews. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Since the American war against Russia began in 2014, the market for Russian art has been driven by rich Russians running away, both buyers and sellers, as well as Americans making disposals. This week, in the semi-annual London auctions, there was a surge of demand for the art which American Russia-haters, not to mention the Kremlin and the Russian Church, have reviled, particularly this year. Soviet art – the celebration of the post-1917 values of secularism, republicanism, socialism, anti-imperialism —  hit prices never recorded before. For the first time in the second century of the Russian republic, revolution fetched a higher price than reaction.    (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

 The arrest and indictment of Suleiman Kerimov in Nice last week on charges of tax fraud and money laundering have begun loosening the tongues of international bankers and commodity trade financiers who have done business with Kerimov in the past, and who have been  guests at his Cap d’Antibes villa parties.

They say Kerimov’s wealth is illusory and exaggerated by the press, because his assets are heavily leveraged by bank loans which can be called in by material changes in borrower condition; Kerimov’s arrest may be one of them.

The sources also believe the money for Kerimov’s villa purchases in Cap d’Antibes, which are the target of the French prosecution, originated from Russian state banks.  “The international banks largely dropped Kerimov’s business after 2008 when the share value securing his borrowings collapsed, and he had to sell up,” comments a source who was involved in financing for Kerimov before the crash. “Since then he’s been a dependent of Sberbank.  The Sberbank officials knew he was high risk, and they treated him like a slave. Kerimov had to kiss their feet.”

Investigations in Nice, Moscow and Switzerland, where Kerimov’s asset holdings are managed, confirm that Kerimov’s chief creditors today are the state banks, Sberbank and VTB, run by German Gref and Andrei Kostin. A smaller line of credit has been extended by a third state lender, Gazprombank. The international bankers say they don’t know whether Russian state bankers are also beneficiaries of the villas at Cap d’Antibes.

In Moscow there is nervousness over what Kerimov’s telephone conversations, tapped by  French prosecutors, have revealed already; and what he will admit under interrogation about who may be the owners of the real estate, if not himself.   An international bank source believes the real villa owners aren’t Russian bankers. “They don’t like people like Kerimov,” the source says. “Certainly not [Sberbank chief executive German] Gref and [VTB chief executive Andrei] Kostin. They are independently rich; they don’t need guys like Kerimov. They would not put themselves into Kerimov’s hands. These houses are never worth what the papers are reporting but they are all Kerimov’s stuff.  That’s been his business style. He buys assets in bagloads – bank shares, commodities, real estate. But now the market has turned like it did for his other assets. You can’t sell a house on the Cote d’Azur at the price Kerimov paid. His business is show business. That’s caught up with him now.” (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Evasion of French taxes is the criminal case against Suleiman Kerimov (lead image, rear left), who was jailed in Nice on November 20; indicted two days later; then released on €5 million in bail, his passport confiscated and his freedom curtailed by French police surveillance which may last for years, before the French judicial process is complete.

If convicted on the charges, Kerimov faces a penalty of ten years in prison. If he pleads guilty, pays the back taxes, a money fine or asset forfeit, he may be released to return to Russia. There, the French evidence and Kerimov’s plea will prove he is liable to criminal violations of the Russian law on disclosing offshore assets, and of failing to pay Russian taxes on the money used to acquire them. A Russian prosecution of Kerimov would then become the basis for a criminal prosecution for money laundering in Switzerland against the entities through which Kerimov has operated, and the Studhalter family which has served as his agents for more than a decade.

For the Kremlin, the Kerimov affair represents as great a criminal case as the trial, thirteen years ago, of the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky – except that this time the courts, prosecutors, and jailors in Kerimov’s case are all impeccably French. Not a single Russian lawyer, journalist, publication, radio or television broadcast has noticed. The silence is deafening. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Sergei Frank, a former federal transport minister and chief executive of the state shipping company Sovcomflot since 2004, is unique among Russian state officials. He is the only one to have been adjudicated by a series of UK judges to have lied, been dishonest in evidence-gathering, and vindictive in his use of the courts against business rivals. 

This week in London, in a unanimous ruling by three judges of the Court of Appeal, Frank has been judged to have foolishly postponed the day of reckoning by unjustified criticism of his judges, and ordered to pay $75 million to a UK-based Russian shipowner. This puts an end to the 12-year vendetta which Frank has waged over allegations which this week’s ruling says were properly “dismissed because the transactions were not dishonest or in breach of trust”.

Frank is also unique among Russian state officials. Despite all the judgements against him, and the millions of dollars of penalties for his misjudgements which Sovcomflot has had to pay, he hasn’t been sacked. Not yet. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

President Vladimir Putin is the bee’s knees. There’s noone to beat him, electionwise. But when it comes to feeding Russians the genuine article, Putin’s promise is a honey trap. Naturally, we are talking only of the business of Russian beekeeping, honey production and trade.

Eighteen months after Putin listened to a Kemerovo region beekeeper complain that adulterated and counterfeit honey products imported from abroad were driving genuine Russian honey out of the market, the president said he would order the government to investigate. The study which followed early this year has confirmed the economic damage adulteration is doing to the Russian bee business, and proposed to combat it with tighter regulations and more comprehensive testing.  But the packers and retailers of fake honey have successfully lobbied Putin to sit on his hands. Nothing has happened – except that Russian production of honey is now falling. .

“The share of Russian natural honey on the domestic market used to be 94%,” says Arnold Butov, president of the Russian National Union of Beekeepers (RNSP). “ But this is decreasing. Some organizations and enterprises make honey with additives to increase the weight and sweetness of the product, making it easier to pour. These products are becoming more popular among consumers, and retailers prefer them to natural honey. We tried to appeal to the responsible governmental organizations, but were ignored. Someone there is lobbying the interests of retailers. The Bashkiria Republic government supports its honey producers very well. That can’t be said about the federal government, where control of honey production is very weak. We are writing a letter to President Putin in order to demonstrate the problems, and we hope that before 2021, when Apimondia, the international federation of beekeepers’ associations, is scheduled to convene at Ufa, in Bashkiria, some of these problems will be solved.” (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

President Vladimir Putin’s campaign to repatriate Russian capital from offshore havens, and to force the well-known Russian oligarchs to return their cash and assets to Russia, took a leap forward on Monday evening in Nice, France. That is when French police arrested Suleiman Kerimov (lead image), and refused to accept that the diplomatic passport he was eligible to carry, issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry in Kerimov’s capacity as a senator of the Federation Council for Dagestan, provided him with the immunity Kerimov protested that it did. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

December approaches, opening the last stretch of the presidential election campaign that  concludes in sixteen weeks’ time, on March 18.

What to watch for as President Vladimir Putin holds his December meetings with the oligarchs who rule Russia’s future, and the voters who will be the victims of it?  As the Russian Orthodox Church has warned, beware the ruler who is pragmatic, and the 16th century Italian, Niccolo Machiavelli – Satan’s finger, according to holy sermons —  who teaches rulers not simply to lower moral standards, but to abolish them entirely.

Not for the Church can the presidential election be a Machiavellian choice between greater and lesser evils, between means justifying ends, between material prosperity and spiritual poverty.  “The devil is not a fairy tale,” a recent Church homily argued, “he is a brilliant strategist and psychologist, and he is supremely real. The arguments of Machiavelli [are] his most successful deception to date… Machiavelli was the inventor of hypocrisy, since he was the inventor of propaganda. He was the first philosopher who wanted to change the world by propaganda.”

Propaganda cannot be the method, the Russian Church preaches; nor hypocrisy the presidential election outcome. However, between propaganda and hypocrisy, that’s what half the Russian electorate thinks is the choice. According to the Levada Centre poll  released this week, 42% of voters say the election outcome will make no difference to their lives; 45% believe it might; 13% are uncertain and so distrustful of the pollster they won’t say anything.

So how close, or how far from Machiavelli’s model ruler, is Putin the frontrunner, and what does the president himself think of Machiavelli? (more…)