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By John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

The Novichok case, which began in Salisbury, Wiltshire, on March 4, 2018, is so open and shut that no judge, neither a provincial solicitor turned county coroner like David Ridley, nor an ennobled judge of the Court of Appeal like Baroness Heather Hallett (lead image, left), can have a moment’s hesitation in deciding the Russians are guilty. Because of his hesitation and uncertainty, however, Ridley was replaced by Hallett in January. After her first hearing on March 30, Hallett issued her first ruling on April 8. It was released publicly yesterday.

Alternatively, the Novichok case is so uncertain on the evidence, so contradictory in the witness claims, and so risky to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s (right) policy towards Russia, that the case should be closed to public scrutiny, to cross-examination in court, and to other forensic testing.  

In the paper Hallett has just issued she allows the fabrication to run safely away, but bolts  the door on the risk of the truth escaping. Her inquest, she has ruled, is to run for just long enough to convict the Russian military and government of nerve-agent assassination; and then to convert the coroner’s court into a public inquiry, so that the only state secrets which will be allowed in evidence will be those selected by the state – but not enough to convict the British Government of negligence towards the victims, to whom the government may be liable to pay millions of pounds in compensation.  

In a brief acknowledgement of her open-door policy, Hallett announced: “In denying Russian state involvement in the poisonings, the Russian authorities have required answers from the UK government on what it considers important questions.” This is Hallett’s only acknowledgement of the archive of public reporting of contrary evidence in the Novichok case. That not one of the important “Russian” questions has been answered by the UK, Hallett has omitted to reveal.

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By John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

In the annals of warfare, armchair generals, cyber warriors, and media propaganda may speed up the decision to use force. They never decide the outcome.

Today, in Myanmar as in Donbass, eastern Ukraine, we have reached the point where words have stopped; sticks and stones have started. The further away these conflicts are from the armchair generals, the less they risk of their own interests; the more they see the advantages to themselves of chaos as a strategy for war without end. Chaos pays cyber warriors as much big money as shooting wars pay munitions makers and arms dealers.

For readers who are tired out by the long reads required to understand complex situations on battlefields in  unfamiliar, faraway places, and for meda editors and proprietors,  whose financial calculation is as simple and short as a tweet, the analysis which has preceded today’s broadcast is not simple enough. They complain that such analysis demands  a huge amount of concentration to understand and decipher. Time is money — if the truth can’t be boiled down to a tweet, they tell themselves, their fear of failing to understand becomes too costly to bear. This is the way the tweeter turns into a twit, and the twit’s mind turns into substacked twaddle.

Today’s Gorilla Radio broadcast isn’t for twits.

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By John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

President Joseph Biden (lead image, left) has been showing symptoms of late-stage Parkinson’s Disease, which includes episodic dementia caused by Lewy Bodies (striatal amyloid plaques).  President Volodomyr Zelensky (right) is suffering from memory failure, mood swings, and other neurological disorders after his hospitalisation for Covid-19 five months ago

This report of how Ukrainians voted at their last chance is republished as an aide-memoire.

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By John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

This is the way it is going.

A veteran German source, whose family comes from Prussia and knows the history of wars on the Eastern Front very well, says that the Poles “are notoriously bad at bluffing. They threaten beyond their capacities. They invite trouble, and when it happens, they fold.” A veteran Polish source from Cracow, in Polish Galicia, says the same of the Ukrainians.

The Americans, both German and Polish sources agree, don’t understand bluffing at all because the proxy forces, Polish and Ukrainian, they are threatening Russia with will be sacrificed to their deaths, not American ones  —  if the Russians call the bluff now on the Donbass line.

At the Chancellery in Berlin these three things are so well understood, the silence of the German response to them has been deafening.  

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By John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

Two Swiss bankers will go on trial this week in the Swiss Federal Criminal Court charged with money-laundering offences when they supervised and assisted the movement out of Russia, then  through Switzerland,  of at least 700 million Swiss francs. The money was moved by Sergei Pugachev (lead image, left) between 2008 and 2010; at the time it was worth the equivalent of $720 million.

News of the trial was made public for the first time by the Swiss newspaper, Tribune de Genève,  on Saturday. It appeared in German in its sister paper, Zurich’s Tages-Anzeiger at the same time. Both media are owned by the TX Group (aka Tamedia), the largest press group in Switzerland.

The bankers’ names weren’t reported in the newspapers, but will be identified later this week at the courthouse in Bellinzona; they were a former director and chairman of the board of Société Générale in Geneva, and his subordinate, the head of legal compliance at the bank. They were fined by the Swiss financial regulator nine months ago for breaching regulations and failing to report suspicious transactions through their bank by Pugachev. The two bankers have moved on to other employment but deny their guilt. They say Pugachev’s money wasn’t stolen or laundered by the bank on their watch. He was a political victim of the Kremlin, they will argue in court.

This is the case Pugachev has attempted in the UK High Court where it has been dismissed and he has been convicted of lying. It is also the case which Catherine Belton has turned into a book-sized indictment by Pugachev of President Vladimir Putin. The Swiss trial is the first in Europe to test the criminal case against Pugachev, how he came by his money, and what he did with it in hiding.

Belton; HarperCollins, the Rupert Murdoch company which published her book; and Reuters, Belton’s current employer, haven’t mentioned the Swiss government investigations of Pugachev which were running for a decade before last summer’s fines were imposed. They are also facing a direct trial of their veracity in a defamation action initiated by Roman Abramovich in the UK High Court last month.  

“Our structure”, runs the pitch of Société Générale in Geneva, “is localized to human scale, allowing an entrepreneurial approach whose point of departure is always your need.”  The bankers, and their bank, are now on trial for putting Pugachev’s need ahead of the law.  “The Swiss system can take a very long time,” comments a well-known Swiss banker. “This case is a rare one in which the Russian evidence of the crime of a decade ago will be presented in open court now, for such high-ranking private bankers to account for themselves. In Switzerland such a case is almost unheard of.”

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By John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

“The person attempting to travel two roads at once will get nowhere”. It’s a well-known Chinese maxim, especially in Myanmar (Burma), China’s backdoor to the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean, and the Indian Navy’s forward defence line.    

Russia’s policy towards Myanmar since the military takeover on February 1 is a case of proving the maxim mistaken. Although experts and officials in Moscow won’t say so aloud, it’s possible for Russia to pursue one strategy with two tactics; three more like.

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By John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

The first session of the inquest into the death of Dawn Sturgess, held in London on Tuesday, was almost entirely predictable.

The counsel for the coroner,  like the lawyers for the Sturgess family and for the Home Office, repeated without qualification the allegation that a Novichok poison weapon they say was produced in Russia and taken to the UK by Russian assassins, caused the unplanned  death of Sturgess. This followed twelve weeks after an attempt at assassinating Sergei Skripal with the same weapon on March 4, 2018. Sturgess was the unintended victim of leftover poison, they say.

In short, this is an inquiry into evidence everyone in court already agrees can mean only one thing, beyond reasonable doubt — the Russians did it. A court proceeding to demonstrate what has already been announced; aka a show trial.

There were  two surprises, though. These appear to have been as unintended by Her Majesty’s Government as Sturgess’s Novichok death.

The first was the disclosure by the inquest counsel from the pathologists’ post-mortem report on Sturgess, after her death was recorded at Salisbury District Hospital on July 8, 2018. The cause of her death, according to these medical findings, was “Ia Post cardiac arrest hypoxic brain injury and intracerebral haemorrhage; Ib Novichok toxicity”.  This is the first time the post-mortem results and the names of the two doctors who reached them have been disclosed publicly. The Wiltshire county coroner David Ridley, who conducted the case for almost three years, kept this secret.

The disclosure means that Sturgess died first of a heart attack, loss of oxygen to brain, and bleeding in brain, possibly at the apartment of her partner in Amesbury before ambulance men arrived, or on her way to hospital. “She was pronounced dead in hospital,” the lawyer added. Only later was “Novichok toxicity” discovered. But when?

For the first time, it is revealed that the post-mortem examination was done on July 17; the post-mortem report did not follow until November 29. The gaps in time, and also in biochemical and forensic meaning between “1a, cardiac arrest” and “1b, Novichok toxicity”, are so large, it is shocking that the presiding coroner, Lady Heather Hallett, indicated no plan to call the pathologists to testify under cross-examination.

The second surprise is not less of a shock.  It appears in the list of witnesses. “Our current intention,” the counsel to the inquest announced, “is to make disclosure requests to the following individuals and organisations following the PIR [pre-inquest review]”. Eighteen names of witnesses follow whose testimony is planned. They start with Sturgess’s family and her companion, Charles Rowley, allegedly a survivor of the same poisoning which killed her. The local and London police follow on the list; then ambulance crews; hospital staff; the secret intelligence agencies; the Cabinet Office in London; and finally, at No. 18, “Bellingcat”. This is the well-known NATO-funded evidence fabricator and cyber warfare unit.

The Hallett inquest will call Bellingcat to testify. Missing from the list, excluded from testifying in court, are two names – Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

Neither the coroner nor the lawyers in court explained this omission. The reporters attending the hearing for the BBC, Guardian,  and Salisbury Journal failed to notice.

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By John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

Bernadette Caffarey (lead image, 2nd from left) is the go-to person when high British government officials need a spokesman after a suspicious death has occurred in the vicinity of the secret services; and when withholding of evidence from a coroner or criminal court judge requires discretion, sensitivity, trust. That’s trust on the part of officials that she won’t spill state secrets to the press; and trust of the press that she isn’t lying.

Caffarey is the press spokesman for the inquest into the death of Dawn Sturgess which opens in London today, Lady Heather Hallett presiding. For details and analysis of what is at stake, click to read yesterday’s story.

So discreet is Caffarey that she has omitted in her public career resume the years she spent as a press officer at the Attorney-General’s Office (AGO), and as press officer for Dominic Grieve, Attorney-General from 2010 to 2014, when he was deciding not to allow reopening of the inquest into the death of Dr David Kelly who died, officially of suicide, on July 17, 2003. Kelly was a chemical and biological warfare expert from Porton Down and the Ministry of Defence, who worked as a British inspector in Russia in the 1990s, and later for the United Nations in Iraq in the runup to the Anglo-American invasion of 2003. For Kelly’s story and the evidence of his death, read this.

Caffarey was asked this morning to say when she had served as spokesman for the Attorney-General, and what reason she had for leaving an eight-year blank in her career resume, between 2007-2015. She responded that she began at the AGO in April 2009 and served as a press officer there until November 2015. The omission of those years from her Linkedin profile was inadvertent, she said.   

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By John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

For more than three centuries the judges of the United Kingdom’s courts have struggled to preserve their independence from the monarch and the government, and thus their power to rule on the truth before them, not the lies presented by the ruling powers.  

When giving public lectures, optimistic, pensioned, and Scottish judges speak of “tensions with the executive [as] an inevitable part of the relationship with the executive”. Some of them claim that since 2003 the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice are constitutionally powerful enough on their own to protect the independence of the judges working below them.  

In the case of who attacked Sergei Skripal in the middle of England on March 4, 2018, they aren’t and they haven’t. The evidence of this will be on display in the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday.

That is when a retired judge and commercial consultant named Baroness Hallett (lead image) will convene the first hearing of a new inquest into the death of Dawn Sturgess. Sturgess died on July 8, 2018, allegedly after ingesting a lethal dose of the nerve agent Novichok from a false perfume bottle her partner had presented to her after finding it in circumstances he has yet to explain with certainty.  

The British Government alleges that two Russian government agents were responsible for the attack on Skripal; they “are now also the prime suspects in the case of Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley too. There is no other line of inquiry beyond this. And the police have today formally linked the attack on the Skripals and the events in Amesbury – such that it now forms one investigation… Our own analysis, together with yesterday’s report from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, has confirmed that the exact same chemical nerve agent was used in both cases. There is no evidence to suggest that Dawn and Charlie may have been deliberately targeted, but rather were victims of the reckless disposal of this agent.” That was then-Prime Minister Theresa May in a speech to the House of Commons on September 5, 2018.

Eighteen months later, police and prosecutors have issued no formal indictment for Sturgess’s death. The coroner’s court inquest into the cause of her death has been repeatedly postponed; it begins again on March 30.  Hallett has replaced David Ridley, the county coroner in charge of the inquest until now, for reasons which were decided by government officials in secret.  Until the secret becomes public knowledge, the independence of the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice is in doubt. Hallett knows the secret; the way she conducts the inquest will reveal it.    

In the Sturgess case Hallett has appointed Martin Smith as her chief assistant, the official solicitor to the inquest.  When they wish to speak to the public and press, they have appointed Bernadette Caffarey. She says Hallett “does require some help in contacting the press to alert them of the upcoming hearing… A coroner can choose to seek assistance from anyone they feel has the right expertise to assist them.”

Smith has been employed by Hallett in a major political inquest before. Caffarey currently works for Smith; she is paid her salary by the Home Office. In her last two jobs she was paid by the Home Office, the government ministry overseeing the judiciary and police, and by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). She is a state mouthpiece.

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By John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

In a series of moves coordinated with German and other NATO government officials, Alexei Navalny has released a fabricated internet message while his wife Yulia Navalnaya is in Germany to seek German, British and US Government aid for Navalny’s release from prison on terms that will end his political ambitions in Russia.

The details, confirmed by more than a dozen people familiar with the matter,   have surfaced just four weeks  after Navalny was sent to IK-2 Pokrov, a special-measures prison near Yaroslavl.  

In a March 26  Instagram posting made to appear as if Navalny himself had prepared it in jail,  two pictures reveal a foreign service fabrication with a coded message for the Kremlin. Navalny, the code reveals, is willing to accept terms for his release similar to those accepted by Mikhail Khodorkovsky in December 2013.   In return for a letter to President Vladimir Putin admitting his guilt on the offences charged, the proposal is for him to be released to Germany where Navalny would be granted permanent asylum, never to return to Russia.

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