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By John Helmer, Moscow

Every competent gardener knows that horse shit makes valuable fertilizer, so long as you give it at least two months of airing and composting to get rid of the acidity which kills plant roots, and the seeds which grow weeds where you don’t want them. Chicken shit is more balanced, biochemically and horticulturally speaking, because fowls do all their excreting through a single hole. The same can’t be said of the Sunday Telegraph of London or their Russian heroes, Oleg Deripaska and Alexei Mordashov.

That’s because Deripaska and Mordashov pay PR men to place their droppings, all too fresh, in the newspaper; from where energetic reporters, Kamal Ahmed and Elaine Rowley, shovel the product straight on to the Sunday breakfast tables of judges and investors.

In case you don’t fall into those two classes, and also aren’t able to enjoy a hearty British breakfast on Sundays, this re-presentation, albeit with the Gardener’s Toxicity Guide (right), is for you.

Ahmed was last caught out with his palm prints on Deripaska’s leavings, claiming the embattled aluminium oligarch, in London to visit his lawyers for the multiple court cases in which he is embroiled, was actually on a philanthropic mission to support a concert tour of a student ensemble from the Moscow Conservatory.

A week ago in the Telegraph here was Ahmed again, promoting the last surviving defence Deripaska has to offer in the upcoming trials of his former patron, shareholder and financier, Michael Cherney (Mikhail Chernoy), and of his current shareholding partners, Victor Vekselberg and Len Blavatnik. Cherney, who is owed about 13% of Deripaska’s United Company Rusal, will proceed in the High Court. Vekselberg, who resigned as chairman of the Rusal board of directors in March, is proceeding in the London Court of International Arbitration; he and Blavatnik own 15.8% of Rusal.

Together, Cherney, Vekselberg, and Blavatnik claim almost 29% of Rusal. With Mikhail Prokhorov’s 17.2% and the Russian government’s stake in the company, the combined shareholding is larger than Deripaska’s claim to control 47.41%.

In parallel, Cherney, Vekselberg and Blavatnik are charging Deripaska with the same modus operandi – lying, breaking contracts and trusts, stealing from his shareholders, creditors and his own company, in order to enrich himself. Between mouthfuls of whatever you eat on Sunday, you won’t guess this from what the Telegraph was persuaded to call Deripaska’s “first in-depth interview on the subject.”

At one time Deripaska used to plead in the media that he had no business dealings with Cherney; had signed no shareholding or business contracts with him; hardly knew him; owed him nothing. Deripaska’s signature on these averrals was accepted by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Notwithstanding, they have now been tossed out of the High Court and the Court of Appeal in London by a string of judges presiding over the Cherney case, the case of Boris Bereozvsky v Roman Abramovich, and most recently, the case of Nathaniel Rothschild v Associated Newspapers. In every instance, the British bench has ruled against the believability of Deripaska’s claims, and in favour of the authenticity of his signatures on the agreements Cherney, Vekselberg and Blavatnik have brought to the London courts. Responding in his only sworn court appearance to date, Deripaska’s repeated memory failures have compounded his credibility problem.

That leaves one last defence – that Deripaska was forced to do everything he has heretofore denied because… because less sensitive, less educated, more ruthless men than Oleg Vladimirovich was brought up to be threatened his very life, if he didn’t cough up. On the education point, which the Telegraph shovels on to the table for the first time, Deripaska is now claiming to be a literary connoisseur manqué.

Leaning on his shovel, Ahmed also appears to have missed the entire record of evidence in the High Court trial of the Berezovsky claims, and the testimony of witnesses including Deripaska and his lawyer Paul Hauser. These substantiate that much of the manipulation, extortion and thuggery, of which Deripaska now pleads to have been the unhappy victim, was at the time understood by the victims to have been his doing.

For example, in the High Court testimony of those who sold their stakes in the Krasnoyarsk Aluminium Plant (KrAZ) in the year 2000, the evidence was that Deripaska was using standover men and political bribes to force the stakeholders to sell to him. The only reason they did sell, according to the evidence, was that by contracting with Abramovich, Berezovsky, and Badri Patarkatsishvili, the sellers expected them to be strong enough neutralize Deripaska, and for that reason could offer a higher exit price.

A source from Deripaska’s circle observes that he cares deeply what is reported about him, particularly in the foreign press; this is because he believes that foreign readers are more trusting than Russian readers that what is published about him has not been paid for.

Press this.

Alexei Mordashov was in London a few days ago touring the big hedge funds and investment houses and trying to cope with questions from fund managers who know a thing or two about his business. Mordashov’s questioners were interested, for example, in knowing what he intends to do with his multi-billion dollar iron-ore project at Putu, Liberia, now that Victor Rashnikov’s attempt to buy a comparably expensive iron-ore mining project in Australia has been halted in a Russian court. Then there’s the recent scare at Abramovich’s Evraz, which isn’t agreeing to finalize its purchase of the Scaw Metals plant in South Africa. Do these things mean that Mordashov is feeling the Kremlin’s hot breath on his global investment plans?

There’s also the persistently knotty problem for Mordashov’s attempt to sell his Nord Gold shares, while the current Guinean government is preparing to issue a new ultimatum for Mordashov to pay up for Nord Gold’s biggest goldmining and gold reserve asset, or lose it. What does he have to say about his negotiations in Conakry?

Then there’s the question of how Mordashov thinks he will fare, the investors have been wondering aloud, when President Vladimir Putin completes in a few weeks’ time the formation of the new Russian government, and appoints Igor Sechin to tighten the thumb-screws on the capital spending and investment plans of steelmakers like himself? Is Mordashov concerned at the circulation of schemes for a new consolidation of Russian steelmaking and coal and iron-ore mining assets that may supplant people like himself with rivals Vladimir Lisin or Alisher Usmanov?

It isn’t known (yet) what Mordashov told his London questioners in response. But when London PR firms like Hudson Sandler or Maitland arrange press profiles of clients like Mordashov, the objective is to clean up for the rank amateurs the lack of credibility their client may have left behind when talking with the professionals. This calls for two things in the reporters targeted , one anatomical, and one psychological – lack of the funny-bone, and absence of self-regard.

It’s instructive therefore to read the latest Telegraph placement on Mordashov to mean the opposite of what it says, signaling thereby what Mordashov and his handlers think their problems are in the London market and at the Kremlin. For example, according to Rowley, Mordashov “receives his feedback with equanimity, he says, despite being both chief executive and the majority owner of Russian steel giant Severstal. “We have a 360-degree system for everybody. I am assessed by Vadim” – pointing to Vadim Saveliev, his head of communications and investor relations – “Vadim is assessed by me, every year. “We are moving down this system through the whole hierarchy of the company. This year we have the system for all 4,000 managers.”

For more press this.


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