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By John Helmer, Moscow

It is now clear, let’s say clearer, what business has been keeping the elected Russian official in charge of foreign affairs in the upper house of parliament, and in representing Russia in the affairs of Africa so active that he has been unable to respond to questions. According to his spokesman, Senator Mikhail Margelov has been just too busy. What this means, the spokesman adds, is “the very intensive agenda of his visits.”

Since December 2008 Mikhail Margelov, a senator of the Federation Council representing Pskov oblast, has been designated as a special representative of the President for different aspects of African affairs. At the start, he was troubleshooter for the Sudan. His mandate was then expanded geographically to cover pirates onshore and off the coast of Somalia. But when then-President Dmitry Medvedev made his first official visit to Egypt, Nigeria, and Namibia in June 2010, Margelov wasn’t in the delegation. Someone else, not Margelov, was then officially titled Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for the Relations with African Leaders, popping up to negotiate for Oleg Deripaska and United Company Rusal in the west African republic of Guinea. He was ineffective, and in March 2011, a Kremlin decree reassigned the Special Representative title to Margelov, relieving Alexei Vasiliev, an academic, of his duties.

When Medvedev consented to the western military intervention in Libya in 2011, Margelov’s mandate was stretched again to represent the Kremlin on what was to be done with, or to, Muammar Qaddadfi. With whom Margelov negotiated, and to what end (including Qaddafi’s end), he hasn’t said. In fact, despite his elected position and chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Margelov doesn’t make a practice of speaking in parliament, or answering press or public questions on his elected and representative duties.

An internet search has uncovered what appears to be the last time Margelov spoke on a European television channel. That was on February 20, 2008.

An investigation by Russian reporters this week uncovered evidence from the US of Margelov’s activities of a different kind in at least two states of the US – Florida and California. In March 2008, property registration records reveal that Margelov paid $408,242 for a 1-bedroom apartment of 78.5 square metres at 888 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami. It is currently for rent at $2,100 per month. A few days after that purchase, in April 2008, Margelov paid $485,260 for a slightly smaller apartment on North Bayshore Drive, Miami.

Margelov’s outlays for Miami real estate over the two-month period came to $893,502. Because of the crash in US property values, the 2012 market valuation of the two apartments is down to $422,370 – Margelov has taken a bath on his investment of 53%.

He is listed in the Miami records as the owner of the two apartments together with Dmitri Alexandrov. They registered their mailing address on the other side of the US as 889 El Cerro Boulevard, Danville, California. This is a much more accommodating place – a detached house, originally built in 1976, with five bedrooms, two bathrooms, and 232.7 square metres. Margelov and Alexandrov are currently recorded as residents. The last recorded purchase price for the property is $425,000 in May 1998.

However, a search of the Danville property records shows that 889 El Cerro Boulevard is owned by Boris and Marina Pekelis. There is no mention of Margelov in the county’s public records. However, there is a Dmitri Alexandrov who owns 893 El Cerro Boulevrd, which is right next door to the Pekelis house. This was purchased in 2002 for $670,000.

In the register of income and property interests of Federation Council senators, Margelov has not disclosed his US (or any foreign) assets. According to the latest filing he submitted for the year 2011 – the 2012 filing is due in April – Margelov reports the combined income of himself and his wife at Rb5.5 million (about $170,000). The disclosure lists four real estate assets, all of them in Russia – two apartments owned by Mrs Margelov, one apartment owned by junior Margelov, and a garden of 2,000 square metres and a “residential building” of 562.6 square metres owned by Margelov himself. He also reported owning three cars, his wife one.

Since he is also an appointed government official of senior rank, Margelov may be subject to the presidential decree, signed in December and in effect since January 1, which requires personal-spending declarations that include purchases of real estate, shares, and vehicles. An additional measure, proposed by President Vladimir Putin this week, will, if enacted, require officials to close foreign bank accounts and sell foreign securities, or else resign their posts.

Margelov was asked to describe the agenda of his visits to Miami and California; and clarify his relationship to the real estate in his name there, and to Dmitri Alexandrov. He has not replied.

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