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United Company Rusal has awarded John Helmer the highest honour it can bestow — its fear of what he writes. The award is the first ever by the Russian corporation and state aluminium monopoly to a journalist specializing in the coverage of Russian metal, mineral and mining affairs.

“Rusal considers human capital as the most important asset of the company,” Oleg Deripaska, Rusal’s chief executive, said at the award ceremony “(image left) and in a statement posted on the company website. “Fear of the free and independent exercise of that capital is one of the driving forces behind monopoly and oligarchy,” Helmer said, smiling at the award ceremony (right image). He and Deripaska have enjoyed warm personal relations for more than fifteen years.

The medal cast in cut-short, thick-gauge aluminium, and known affectionately to its awardees as the Big AL, has a distinguished list of recipients. Helmer is the third alumnus of Harvard University to receive the Rusal award. Graham Allison, a professor in the School of Government, and a member of Rusal’s International Advisory Board, was the first. Allison also holds the US Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service.

Lucian Bebchuk, a professor in the Harvard Law School, is the second Big AL winner, following his nomination last month by Rusal to occupy a seat on the Norilsk Nickel board of directors. Bebchuk is the co-author of a recent academic treatise, “Lucky CEOs and Lucky Directors”, published in the Journal of Finance in 2010.

The award to Helmer today follows the hosting by Rusal of the 2010 Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences, Christopher Pissarides, for a lecture at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, which was held on March 21. The title was “Equilibrium in the Labour Market with Search Frictions”. Helmer’s academic work on the same subject, co-authored with Thomas Vietorisz, “Drug use, the labor market and class conflict”, was published in 1974.

Rusal’s citation for Helmer’s Russian journalism has had limited circulation. It is the first time a professional award for investigative skill has been made to a living journalist in Russia before other Russian recognition honours — broken fingers, legs, and skull – have been bestowed.

Deripaska’s London law firm Schillings has issued a statement on his behalf: “Our client is unaware what purported verification there can be to support Mr Helmer’s claims.”

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