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By John Helmer, Moscow

When Gennady Zyuganov (lead image, right) spotted dirt on Oleg Deripaska’s hands (lead image, left) this month in the State Duma, it was the first time in two decades that the leader of the Russian  Communist Party has noticed; or at least dared to say so in public.

Was Russia’s leading communist taking his lead from the US Treasury, which last April imposed sanctions on Deripaska, accusing him of “money laundering… threatening the lives of business rivals, illegally wiretapping a government official, and taking part in extortion and racketeering.”  Was the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF)  taking its cue from this month’s US Senate Resolution No. 2,   attacking the lifting of sanctions on the ground that Deripaska’s control of the state aluminium monopoly Rusal “is just as tight as it was before”? 

“I believe”, Zyuganov told the Russian parliament during his New Year’s speech on January 9 that Deripaska had first stolen Rusal from the state, and was now trading it to the US Government in exchange for relief from sanctions and increase in his own profits.  “The largest swindle is the  aluminium business of Deripaska,” Zyuganov declared.   “At first the plants were stolen from the citizens, and now these plants have been given in submission to the Anglo-Saxons. It is necessary to investigate this crime because it is directed against the strategic policy of our country and its security.  The ambition of the Russian oligarchs for their profit looks more and more intransigent.”

KPRF president Gennady Zyuganov speaking at a plenary session of the State Duma on January 9. For the speech in full, click to watch and read. Behind Zyuganov on the podium is the Speaker, Vyacheslav Volodin.

The Russian press paid no attention to Zyuganov’s speech in parliament, nor to the text posted on the Communist Party website.

The business reporters waited more than a week before they noticed. That was not until January 17, the day after Deripaska’s lawyers had filed a lawsuit in a Moscow court charging Zyuganov with defamation; and also after the US Congress started debating whether Deripaska and Rusal should benefit from the sanctions relief proposed by the US Treasury a month ago, on  December 19.

In the Treasury announcement then,  US inspectors will start supervising Rusal’s financial operations. “En+, Rusal, and ESE [EuroSibEnergo]”, the official release claimed, “have agreed to a framework to undertake significant restructuring and corporate governance changes to address the circumstances that led to their designation, including, among other commitments:  (i) reducing Deripaska’s direct and indirect shareholding stake; (ii) overhauling the composition of the En+ and Rusal boards of directors; (iii) taking other restrictive steps related to their corporate governance; and (iv) committing to full transparency with Treasury by undertaking extensive, ongoing auditing, certification, and reporting requirements.”

Left: US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaking to the press on January 17 after his closed-door briefing of congressmen on the Deripaska sanctions. Right: House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi outside the briefing room.  “One of the worst classified briefings we've received from the Trump administration,” Pelosi told reporters. “The secretary barely testified.”

On January 16, a Democratic Party senator claimed on the floor of the US Senate that the Treasury sanction to reduce Deripaska’s shareholding control of Rusal would make no difference to  Deripaska’s command of the company. “Forty-five percent control is not–45 percent ownership, which is what this [US Treasury sanctions relief condition] does, takes Deripaska out of this? Forget it. Then add to his 45 percent the 7 percent the in-laws own, that the large percentage that Russian banks–controlled by Putin–own, the control is just as tight as it was before. The people who were put in charge have close relationships with Russia.” The US Senate then voted 57 to 42 to endorse Deripaska’s new shareholding arrangement and sanctions relief for Rusal.

Source: Bloomberg, December 20, 2018 -- https://www.bloomberg.com

In papers submitted to the registrar of the Tver district division of the Moscow City Court, Deripaska’s lawyers have accused Zyuganov of defaming him and the company, and demanded he pay Rb1 million ($15,000) in compensation for “moral damage”.

Rusal has refused to make public a copy of its legal claim. Instead, company lawyers briefed  selected reporters on Zyuganov’s speech. “We,” Deripaska’s lawyers announced, “regard this [Zyuganov] statement as an insult to dignity and a deliberate attempt to cause reputational damage to both the founder of UC [United Company] Rusal and all employees involved in its creation and development.”

Vedomosti quoted “the representative of Deripaska remind[ing] that UC Rusal was founded in 2000 as a result of the consolidation of separate aluminium enterprises. Its founder [Deripaska] was not involved in [privatization] auctions with nomenklatura privileges and in business he has not used any tools except for the market.” For the controversial history of Deripaska’s takeover of Rusal, and the contending claims of Mikhail Chernoy, Roman Abramovich, and Boris Berezovsky, as recorded in  London High Court proceedings, read this archive, starting with Deripaska’s testimony in the witness box in November 2011,   and in his out of court settlement with Chernoy in September 2012.   

Left image: illustration from the archive on the UK litigation by Mikhail Chernoy (right) against his former protégé Oleg Deripaska (left); click to read. Right image: Boris Berezovsky (left) and Roman Abramovich (right).

The registrar of the Tver district division of the Moscow City Court confirms that Deripaska’s lawyers filed their claim on January 16. The court registry refuses to release a copy of the claim.

Zyuganov has replied in a statement posted on the KPRF website: “To Mister Deripaska we advise him to take other measures. In the beginning he took the aluminium plants. Though we built them, the whole country did; he didn’t apply even a finger to that.  And now, after sanctions have been imposed, these plants were presented to Uncle Sam on a silver platter. This is a strategic industry without which there are no spacecraft or airplanes. I said in the Duma that this is an adventure which smells of a major crime connected with national security. I suggested the creation of a commission and to understand [what is going on] urgently.”

Zyuganov dismissed “[Deripaska’s]legal proceedings. Our legal service is working, too. But I will insist on the creation of the commission and investigation of the entire chain of this unprecedented crime against our state and its security. I am sure that those who make it will answer for it.”

The Moscow press has taken Deripaska’s side against Zyuganov. “ ‘Deripaska has good chances of winning in court,’” Vedomosti, owned by Demyan Kudryavtsev, reported a local lawyer as saying. “She believes that the statement of the politician, who ‘called the business founded by Oleg Deripaska, a scam and a crime’, is a clear provocation. ‘It is unlikely that Zyuganov has any information confirming the accuracy and validity of his words. After all, if it were true, the materials ought to have been transferred to the state authorities’, the lawyer continues. Tver court must establish whether there was the fact of publication of the Zyuganov information about Deripaska, the defamatory nature of the information and the inconsistency of validity… In the absence of at least one of these circumstances, the claim cannot be satisfied by the court.” 

Vzglyad, owned by Konstantin Rykov,   quoted  another Moscow lawyer as saying the damages might be too little. “If I can call anything criminal, say that his business is a swindle and a crime, without having any reasons for this purpose,  and it will cost to me ten thousand rubles, then I will be able to afford such a pleasure. But if it costs one million or even more, then I will think carefully what it is going to cost me for the sake of a witty remark against someone whom it is groundless to offend.”

Zyuganov and the Communist Party press office were asked  if Zyuganov has ever made a public criticism of Deripaska in the past. The party was also asked if it can make available records of earlier criticisms which Zyuganov may have made of Deripaska’s takeover of Rusal,  or of the state budget bailouts of Rusal’s financial liabilities since 2009. The party spokesman requested an email,  then refused to reply.

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