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imf_ua

By John Helmer, Moscow

Bank robbers of the manual, stick-up type have a reputation for a sense of a humour. That may be a comfort to them, because they usually get caught. Bank robbers of the International Monetary Fund type lack even a sense of irony, because they expect not to be caught, and never are. In the bank- robbing profession also, the driver of the get-away car is usually the least talented, the witless one who doesn’t see the gag, especially not when he or she is the butt of jokes from the rest of the gang.

This week, when Alexander Shlapak, the Ukrainian Minister of Finance, helped himself to $1.39 billion, the second tranche of the IMF’s Ukraine Stand-By Agreement of $17.1 billion, he illustrated the ministry’s Facebook announcement in Kiev with a picture showing an anonymous figure carrying a cheap briefcase away from the IMF headquarters as the Fund’s front-door sign is partially covered up by the Ukrainian flag. Counting the first tranche of $3.1 billion Shlapak took away on May 5, the cover-up is currently blowing at $4.5 billion. Another $1.39 billion had been scheduled for the taking in October. But that has been delayed and doubled to $2.8 billion for payout by December 15.
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sikorski_apples

By John Helmer, Moscow

The Russian government commenced its counter-sanctions programme a month ago, on August 7. This extended what had been a quarter-billion dollar loss for Australian meat exporters, beginning on March 31, to more than $7 billion in losses for the European Union plus Canada and Norway. In a briefing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev implied that the sanctions were a sorry tit-for-tat for the sanctions already imposed on Russia. “This retaliation wasn’t easy for us. We were forced into it, but even under these conditions, we’re sure we’ll be able to turn things to our benefit.”

That explains why Poland is at the top, along with Australia, the US, Canada, the Netherlands, even Denmark, home of the noisiest anti-Russian outside Ukraine, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, ex-prime minister of Denmark and outgoing secretary-general of NATO. The story of what the Australians did to deserve the counterpunch can be read here. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski (lead image) and his wife, Anne Applebaum, have been echoing Rasmussen’s claims from NATO headquarters, hoping to land themselves in his job, and or the European Union’s foreign ministry. The story of how they failed, leaving Poland’s apple-growers and other exporters with the bill, can be read here.
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akhromeyev
 

On August 24, 1991, Marshal Sergei Fyodorovich Akhromeyev committed suicide. He had returned from his holiday at Sochi responding to the attempted removal of Mikhail Gorbachev from power. According to the reports of the time, he hanged himself in his Kremlin office, leaving behind a note. One version of what it said was: “I cannot live when my fatherland is dying and everything that has been the meaning of my life is crumbling. Age and the life that I have lived give me the right to step out of this life. I struggled until the end.”

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august14

The Nile crocodile and some species of hedgehog and tortoise take a break and sleep through the peak of the summer season. It’s usually called aestivation, and this bear is taking a leaf out of the other animals’ book.
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margelov_card

By John Helmer, Moscow

It’s in the nature of arbitrage transactions that if you are buying an asset cheap, you try to avoid the risk of failing to find someone to buy dear. Naturally, noone really enjoys gambling if the risk can be avoided. The knack of Russian arbitrage is to cover that risk by arranging for a state bank loan to finance your buyer, and for you, your asset buyer, and your banker to rig the valuation and share the spread. Arranging with a friend at a state enterprise to do the buying with budget money comes to the same thing. Nice hedge; a trifle wrong.

Political arbitrage is much rarer because it’s riskier, and it’s harder to rig the spread in advance. It happens when a politician leaves one job before he’s sure he will be elected (or appointed) to a more powerful one. When a politician suddenly announces to his voters that he’s resigning, but doesn’t tell them why, it’s regarded as a case of disloyalty, at least in democracies. Also, it’s usually not supposed that the resigning politician would run the risk of unemployment — unless something worse than that was in the offing for him.
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lords_seats

By John Helmer, Moscow

The sanctions programme adopted against Russia to date aims, according to this week’s declaration by US President Barack Obama, at curtailing the capabilities of the Russian government to field men and arms on or across Russian borders; and to penalize individuals and corporations for sustaining the Russian economy while the war in eastern Ukraine continues.

For the first time, US officials have declared that every sector of the Russian economy, including investment and financing for industry, urban development, farm production and food supply, are targets.
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pnchk_results

By John Helmer, Moscow

Interpipe, the steel and pipemaking group owned by Victor Pinchuk (lead image, centre) and based in Dniepropetrovsk, is high and dry, according to the latest financial report signed by the auditors on June 30, 2014. That is despite having suffered a 14% downturn of sales revenues for the year to $1.5 billion; a 5% increase in the bottom-line loss to $73.4 million; and its default on borrowings which now total $1.03 billion. Just $34.5 million in cash is on hand. With additional current liabilities of $343.2 million, Ernst & Young, Interpipe’s auditors calculate that , “the Group’s current liabilities exceed its current assets by $649.1 million.” That’s ground, the auditors warn, “of a material uncertainty that may cast significant doubt about the Group’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

Excerpts of the report were issued to creditors and bondholders two weeks ago. The full report can be read here. The company’s website has yet to publish the 55-page document.
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soros_rusal

By John Helmer, Moscow

A combination of American and British commodity traders, aided by George Soros (lead image, left), is planning to oust United Company Rusal, the Russian aluminium monopoly, from its Friguia bauxite and alumina concession in the west African Republic of Guinea. The plan, according to sources in London and Conakry, the Guinean capital, calls for the Guinean President Alpha Conde to revoke Rusal’s production agreement, according to the recommendations of an inter-ministerial group of officials known as the Comité Technique de Revue des Titres et Conventions Miniers (Technical Committee of Review of Mining Titles and Concessions). Conde is being urged by Soros to replace the Russians led by Rusal chief executive, Oleg Deripaska (lead image, right).

The Gerald Group, according to a London source, has a double-barreled target, aiming also at Rusal’s control of the Nikolaev Alumina Refinery (NGZ) in eastern Ukraine. Defending Rusal from the attack, says a source close to Rusal, is Glencore, the Switzerland-based global commodity trader, which is a minority stakeholder in Rusal and the financier of much of its aluminium and alumina trade.
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scf_loses

By John Helmer, Moscow

The British Court of Appeal has issued a ruling to deny the Sovcomflot group and its Novoship subsidiary the right to appeal a corruption judgement to the Supreme Court, the highest of the British courts. The judgement puts an end to nine years of attempts by Sovcomflot group chief executive Sergei Frank and Russian government officials to have the British courts convict Yury Nikitin, their former chartering partner, of bribery and corrupt profiteering in the business of shipping oil.
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