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By John Helmer, Moscow

Russians have an uninhibited good humour at this time of year, but Alisher Usmanov aims to be the spoiler, holding his nose over all the treats. According to Usmanov, the transaction “has the smell of the 90s and oligarch conspiracies. It’s not acceptable for us.”

Usmanov is referring to the transaction, confirmed on December 11, by which Roman Abramovich’s Millhouse holding acquired control of 25.87% of Norilsk Nickel’s shares for the price of 5.87%; Vladimir Strzhalkovsky received $100 million in cash; and Oleg Deripaska as the trustee with the control stake in United Company Rusal will receive a 48.13% share of Rusal’s 27.8% share of $10.9 billion in dividends to be paid out of the Norilsk Nickel treasury over the next three years – that’s $1.46 billion.

Evidently Usmanov thinks the dividend his 4.7% stake in Norilsk Nickel will earn him ($512.3 million) is peanuts. He has also authorized his newspaper Kommersant to publish the story that the man who arranged this malodorous affair was Valentin Yumashev. Kommersant calls Yumashev’s role central to negotiating the transaction , but attributed its knowledge of what had happened to “rumours”. The Yumashev cat having been let out of the bag, Vedomosti followed with a definitive identification of Yumashev according to “three sources close to the different shareholders”, and confirmed by a representative of Interros, the holding of Vladimir Potanin. Not everyone in the holding confirms Yumashev’s role in the same fashion – and for good reason.

Like Usmanov’s jape, but cleverer, this is Potanin’s Christmas joke.

In public Yumashev has been identified as Boris Yeltsin’s son-in-law, personal handler, bag man (according to Boris Berezovsky), and speech writer. Those powers couldn’t survive Yeltsin’s loss of power, then physical demise, and so didn’t. Since then, according to evidence accumulated in the UK High Court by the lawyers of Mikhail Chernoy (Cherney) for their case against Oleg Deripaska, Yumashev and his wife, Tatiana Dyachenko, the younger of Yeltsin’s two daughters, have been living at English houses officially owned by Deripaska cutouts. At feeding time and for pocket money, there is other evidence that Yumashev and Dyachenko relied on Deripaska, who in turn used some of the devices which have been reported already from the High Court evidence files.

Potanin wouldn’t have taken Yumashev’s telephone call for a mediation with Deripaska; Yumashev and Deripaska were already related parties, Potanin knew; and Potanin had Deripaska’s number if he thought there was any point in ringing it. But Potanin was likely to have taken Yumashev’s call if the latter identified himself as go-between for shareholders of Rusal who have never been identified, not since Yeltsin went to his grave taking that secret with him. Yumashev and Dyachenko were the trustees of that secret. In Potanin’s calculation also, Yumashev was bound to be keen to see Norilsk Nickel paying dividends again, so that Rusal would receive them, and pass them on.

To whom? you may well cry out. And that, boys and girls, is what Snegourochka invites you to do this Old Christmas, when Dyed Moroz is about to appear with his sack.

No, no, the Interros holding says, there’s no discussing the details of what has transpired since Yumashev dialled Potanin, and made him an offer he didn’t think he could refuse. Usmanov is jealous and angry that he didn’t get the call himself. But this can’t be because Usmanov thinks Yumashev or his wife carry any weight any longer. In his London court testimony, Berezovsky was emphatically and repetitively clear that Yumashev was nothing more than a telephone to Yeltsin, and Dyachenko was of next to no consequence at all, neither for Berezovsky nor for Yeltsin.

That’s also what Usmanov thinks, and so do Potanin and everyone else in this transaction. So the story of Yumashev telephoning Potanin to persuade him to make the big deal with Abramovich is a joke on believers, a code for someone whose identity Yumashev is only too happy to conceal behind his slight, forgettable person. That’s also someone who is more powerful than anyone in the deal – more powerful than Potanin, Deripaska, Abramovich, Usmanov, not to mention the other Rusal shareholders – Mikhail Prokhorov and Victor Vekselberg.

So, children, you can see Dyed Moroz standing there with his gift bag over his shoulder, and his hand across his face. And if you don’t believe that Yeltsin can come back from the dead, who could prove to be so alive, so giving?

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