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By John Helmer, Moscow

With a recently reported circulation of almost 300,000, Private Eye of London is the largest-selling serious affairs magazine in the United Kingdom; it is also the last investigative publication in the country in which truth is the standard.  Its editor, Ian Hislop, is paid to clown on British Broadcasting Corporation radio and television; he also pays investigators to bite the hand which feeds him.

He and his predecessor editors have employed a columnist, pen-named Slicker (real name Michael Gillard),  who is the only investigative journalist in the UK publishing regularly and forensically on the frauds, larcenies, and other crimes and lies ignored or covered up by the mainstream financial media, starting with the Financial Times.

There has been just one topic about which Private Eye, Hislop and Slicker have dropped all pretence at investigation, let alone truth.  Private Eye is as Russia-hating as the rest of  its British bedfellows. That explains why it has resurrected the case of Vladimir Chernukhin v. Oleg Deripaska, as if it has only recently discovered the two-year old High Court records, and is ignorant of the Russian media investigations of Chernukhin stretching back for more than a decade.  What Private Eye has failed to investigate is how Chernukhin has been able to import and invest a fortune in the UK, with the imprimatur of the British Government, financial regulators, and banks – a fortune whose origin when he was a state official in Moscow Chernukhin declines to explain. 

The identity of Slicker as Michael Gillard has been acknowledged by Private Eye in the past, and also by the journalist himself.  But according to a City source, “there are two Michael Gillards — father and son. They sometimes collaborate, and cause complete confusion as to identity. The father writes for Private Eye, and freelances.  The son writes mainly for The Times, and freelances.  Sometimes the son writes for Private Eye.  I think it possible the father writes for The Times occasionally. How could one tell?”

The two Gillards report Russia as a synonym for violence and criminality. This is in line with Hislop’s covers promoting the sale of the fortnightly magazine. These make President Vladimir Putin guilty of the polonium death of Alexander Litvinenko; the shooting-down of Malaysia Airlines MH17; the murder of Boris Nemtsov; and the Novichok attack on Sergei Skripal.  

Left to right: Private Eye covers for December 8, 2006;   July 25, 2014; March 6, 2015; September 21, 2018.

Just as Hislop and the Gillards share and promote their special Russian hates, they also have their Russian favourites; that is, Russian malefactors whose stories they don’t manage to put in print.   

When it comes to the London business of Oleg Deripaska, the Gillards have been Johnnys-come-lately, having missed most of the 95 High Court lawsuits in which Deripaska has been engaged since 2005.  They also missed the story of Deripaska’s failure to obtain permission of the London stock market regulators to list and sell shares of his aluminium company Rusal in 2007.

Slicker is not exactly a cribber, and the Gillards don’t investigate in languages not their own, not even with the aid of Google Translate.  They didn’t begin to catch up with Deripaska until the US Government began publicly targeted him, especially since he, Rusal, EN+ and other companies he controls were proscribed by the US Treasury last April. Deripaska is not the target of European Union or British Government sanctions, but the efforts by the US Government and its secret services to pressure the financial institutions of the City into informally following the US sanctions, even expand on them, are not an operation the Slicker has remarked in print.

In the latest edition of Private Eye Slicker reports that Deripaska has been “disinvited from January’s annual Davos billionaires’ greedfest  because of US sanctions.”  Slicker then produced a precis of Chernukhin’s High Court claim against Deripaska for $95 million in compensation for shares allegedly stolen from him by Deripaska.  The facts in the case go back to 2005. The proceedings in London started almost two years ago, in February 2017. For the details, read this.

Chernukhin is remembered among his Moscow business associates for a Maxim gun which he used to display in his office at the state’s Vnesheconombank (VEB).  To them  it was unclear whether he intended this as a show of firepower, a menace or  a joke. Chernukhin, 50 years old next month, spent most of his brief career working his way to the top of VEB, helped along by the Finance Minister, then Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.  For a time in Putin’s first term, Chernukhin was deputy finance minister under Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin.

On the say-so of Kasyanov and Kudrin,  Chernukhin supervised VEB’s  takeover of most Russian pension fund contributions; management of Soviet-era  debts owed to Moscow by states like Czechoslovakia and Vietnam; and bail-out loans for companies designated by Kasyanov, Kudrin, or  Putin as politically valuable; these included state media companies. When Kasyanov began to threaten Putin with political competition, he was dismissed from the prime ministry in 2004. At the same time Chernukhin was fired from the chairmanship of VEB. He then moved to London. 

The High Court papers and media reports indicate that he took with him and then spent at least £150 million acquiring personal and commercial assets.  As he did that, Chernukhin was sheltered by the British Government which granted him British citizenship. In 2006 Moscow reporters were asking in print where Chernukhin’s money had come from.  “Why”, wrote Semyon Goncharov of KM.ru, “don’t the British authorities ask the Russian oligarchs the question: where, thanks to what, and at the expense of whom did they get their fortunes?… As for Vladimir Chernukhin, the British authorities may have been embarrassed to ask him where the former deputy Minister got 135 million dollars to buy the office building of Midland Bank, because his official salary is clearly not enough to collect such money.”   

Chernukhin was asked last month to clarify the appearance of this discrepancy and to account for the origin of his wealth in line with the current British statutes. He refused to reply.

Last Thursday Slicker reported Chernukhin had been a “former Putin deputy finance minister…sacked in 2004.” According to this report, he had fled to London “with a considerable fortune for a former chairman of a state-owned bank. His wife Lubov loves the Tories  so much that she has donated well over £600,000.”   The Maxim gun might well have escaped Slicker’s  search light. The “considerable fortune” didn’t quite, but Slicker omitted to ask Chernukhin to explain it.

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