Boris Berezovsky

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Boris Berezovsky

Boris Abramovich Berezovsky (Бори́с Абра́мович Березо́вский) also Platon Elenin (January 23, 1946 - March 23, 2013), was a Russian billionaire and former mathematician. He was best known for his role as a Jewish oligarch, media tycoon and politician during the presidency of Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. He had been described by critics as the epitome of Russian "robber capitalism". Berezovsky was at the height of his power in the later Yeltsin years, when he was deputy secretary of Russia's security council, a friend of Boris Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana, and a member of the Yeltsin inner circle, or "family".[1]

Berezovsky made his fortune importing Mercedes cars into Russia in the 1990s and setting himself up as a middleman distributing cars made by Russia's Avtovaz. As well as taking ownership of the Sibneft oil company, he became the main shareholder in the country's main television channel, ORT, which he turned into a propaganda vehicle for Boris Yeltsin in the run-up to the 1996 presidential election. Although he helped Vladimir Putin enter the "family", and funded the party that formed Putin's parliamentary base, Putin moved to regain control of the ORT television station, and to curb the political ambitions of Russia's oligarchs, who were extremely unpopular with the average Russian.[2]

After the ascent of Putin to the Russian presidency, Berezovsky went into opposition and later fled to the United Kingdom where he was granted political asylum. He has since publicly stated that he is on a mission to bring down Putin "by force".[3][1] In the UK, he became associated with Akhmed Zakayev, Alexander Litvinenko and Alex Goldfarb in what has become known as the London Circle of Russian exiles. He is a founder of International Foundation for Civil Liberties.

Berezovsky was accused by Russian authorities of being involved in the murders of several other leading critics of the Putin's regime, including FSB defector Alexander Litvinenko and journalist Anna Politkovskaya, in an attempt to destabilize the country and discredit Putin. Arrest warrants for him have been issued in Russia[4] and Brazil[5] for allegations of fraud, embezzlement and money laundering, and he is currently under investigation by the Swiss Bundesanwaltschaft for money laundering.[6]

Contents

Early life and scientific research

Berezovsky was born into a Jewish[7] family in Moscow. He studied forestry and then applied mathematics, receiving his doctorate in 1983. He did research on Optimization and Control theory, publishing 16 books and articles between 1975 and 1989. He became a Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1991 and the chair of a laboratory in its Institute of Control Sciences.

Business career

Boris Berezovsky

Berezovsky started in business in 1989 under perestroika by buying and reselling automobiles from state manufacturer AutoVAZ. Officially, Berezovsky was called upon as an expert in development of optimized system of management of the enterprise. In 1992, a new middleman company, "LogoVAZ", was created with Berezovsky as its president. LogoVAZ became an exclusive consignment dealer of AutoVAZ, enabling a scheme (named "ReExport") in which cars were sold abroad and then bought back for sale on the internal market. Frequently cars also were not exported at all - all operations on export and import remained only on paper. Each car going through this scheme brought dealers an income of up to USD 1,500.[verification needed]

In May 1994, Berezovsky became head of the notorious Automobile All-Russia alliance "АVVА" ("АВВА" in Russian Cyrillic) and became known as the initiator of "the national car" project. This enterprise turned out to be merely a financial pyramid scheme. Shares of a nonexistent factory which has never been constructed were sold. On the data published in the Russian mass-media, the loss incurred by investors totalled USD 50 million.

He survived several assassination attempts,[8] including one in 1994, when a car bomb decapitated the chauffeur of his car (Berezovsky was not injured, as at the time of the attack he was in his LogoVAZ offices).

Political activity

During the 1991-1999 presidency of Boris Yeltsin, Berezovsky was among the businessmen who gained special access to the president. He used his political clout to acquire stakes in state companies including AutoVAZ itself, the state airline Aeroflot, and several oil properties that he organized into Sibneft, paying a mere fraction of the companies' book values. Berezovsky established a bank to finance his operations and acquired several news media holdings as well. These media holdings provided essential support for Yeltsin's re-election in 1996. Berezovsky's holdings included the television channels ORT and TV6, along with the newspapers Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Novye Izvestiya, Kommersant and national-patriotic Zavtra.

Berezovsky is a leading proponent of political and economic liberalization in Russia. He has frequently entered into politics by investing in the liberal media, financing liberal candidates, making political statements, and even seeking office himself. He was briefly executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and later a member of the Duma. Berezovsky had strong ties with Chechens through their Moscow diaspora connections. According to Ramzan Kadyrov, Berezovsky was strongly opposed to the Second Chechen War but nevertheless supported Vladimir Putin's 2000 presidential campaign. On June 15, 2000, The Times reported that Spanish police discovered Putin had secretly visited a villa in Spain belonging to Berezovsky on up to five different occasions in 1999.[9]

Berezovsky was also involved in talks with terrorists on freeing hostages as a mediator and allegedly transferred large sums of money in exchange for hostages. In 1997, he delivered $2 million of governmental money in cash to Shamil Basayev who was then in charge of reconstruction of Chechnya. Berezovsky said that "we saved at least fifty people, who otherwise would have been killed; most of them were simple soldiers. And believe me, all of this was strictly official, with the full knowledge and consent of the Kremlin."[10] However Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov accused Berezovsky and Russian government of collusion with the hostage-takers.[10]

According to Alex Goldfarb, Berezovsky secured Putin's appointment to Prime Minister position as a result of a secret agreement, where Putin promised his loyality to Yeltsin and his closest circle including Berezovsky himself.[10] However Putin later broke the agreement, when he was infuriated by the critical coverage of Russian submarine Kursk explosion by Russian ORT TV channel owned by Berezovsky. Putin forced Berezovsky to sell his ORT shares, partly in exchange for promise to free Nikolai Glushkov, a former manager of Aeroflot company and close associate of Berezovsky, according to Goldfarb.[10]

Exile in Britain

Boris Berezovsky

Russia neither welcomed Berezovsky's views on Chechnya, nor his political clout and opened investigations into Berezovsky's business activities. Fearing arrest, Berezovsky fled to London in 2001, where he was granted political asylum. He has been charged with fraud and political corruption, but the Russian government has been unable to get him extradited. From his new home in the U.K., he has strongly criticized the current Russian administration.

In 2003 Boris Berezovsky formally changed his name to Platon Elenin ("Platon" being Russian for Plato, and Elena is the name of his wife) in the British courts. No reason has been given - but Platon is the name of the lead character in a film Tycoon based on his life. In December 2003 he was allowed to travel under his new name to Georgia, provoking a row between Russia and Georgia.

In recent years, Berezovsky has gone into business with Neil Bush, the younger brother of U.S. President George W. Bush. Berezovsky has been an investor in Bush's Ignite! Learning, an educational software corporation, since at least 2003.[1] In 2005, Neil Bush met with Berezovsky in Latvia, causing tension with Russia due to Berezovsky's fugitive status.[2] Neil Bush has also been seen in Berezovsky's box at the Emirates Stadium, the home of British soccer club Arsenal F.C., for a game.[3] There has been speculation in the English language Moscow Times that the relationship may cause tension in Russo-American bilateral relations.[4]

In September 2005, soon after the Ukrainian government led by prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was dismissed by president Viktor Yushchenko, former president of the Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk accused Berezovsky of financing Yushchenko's presidential election campaign, and provided copies of documents showing money transfers from companies he said are controlled by Berezovsky to companies controlled by Yuschenko's official backers. Berezovsky has confirmed that he met Yushchenko's representatives in London before the election, and that the money was transferred from his companies, but he refused to confirm or deny that the companies that received the money were used in Yushchenko's campaign. Financing of election campaigns by foreign citizens is illegal in Ukraine.[5] In September 2007, Berezovsky launched lawsuits against two Ukrainian politicians, Oleksandr Tretyakov, a former presidential aid, and David Zhvaniya, a former emergencies minister.[11] Berezovsky is suing the men for nearly $23 million US, accusing them of misusing the money he had allocated in 2004 to fund the Orange Revolution.

Anti-Putin activities

In January 2006, Berezovsky stated in an interview to a Moscow based radio station that he was working on overthrowing the administration of Vladimir Putin by force [6]. In November 2006, Berezovsky accused Putin of ordering the poisoning of FSB defector and fellow dissident Alexander Litvinenko, who also lived in exile in the UK. The two were close associates. [7] Berezovsky said he had no doubts that Russian authorities were behind the poisoning.[8]

On April 13, 2007, in an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian, Berezovsky declared that he is plotting a new Russian revolution to overthrow the regime of Vladimir Putin by financing important people in Putin's administration.

"We need to use force to change this regime," he said. "It isn't possible to change this regime through democratic means. There can be no change without force, pressure." Asked if he was effectively fomenting a revolution, he said: "You are absolutely correct."[12]

During the interview, however, he did not mention violence and cited the recent nonviolent revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia as examples for Russia. He also admitted that during the last six years he struggled much to "destroy the positive image of Putin" and tried to portray him whenever possible as a dangerously anti-democratic figure. On April 13th Berezovsky told the Associated Press by telephone in Britain, "Putin has created an authoritarian regime against the Russian constitution. (...) I don't know how it will happen, but authoritarian regimes only collapse by force."[13]

The Russian Prosecutor General's Office has launched a criminal investigation against Berezovsky to find whether his comments can be considered a "seizure of power by force", as outlined in the Russian Criminal Code. If convicted, an offender is facing up to 20 years of imprisonment.

The British Foreign Office has denounced Berezovsky's statements, warning him that his status of a political refugee may be reconsidered, should he continue to make similar remarks. Furthermore, Scotland Yard has announced that it will investigate whether Berezovsky's statements are in violation of the law.[14]

Assassination attempt in London

In June 2007 Berezovsky fled Britain on the advice of Scotland Yard, amid reports that he was the target of an assassination attempt by a suspected Russian hitman. July 18 2007 reports claimed that a would-be assassin was captured by the police at the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane.[9] These reports were later confirmed by the officials. The suspect, arrested by the anti-terrorist police after being tracked for a week by MI5, was deported to Russia.[10] Berezovsky accused Vladimir Putin of being behind a plot to assassinate him.[11] The Kremlin has denied similar claims in the past.[12]

In November 2006, Alexander Litvinenko, an associate of Berezovsky's who was a former Russian agent of the security forces and a British citizen, died after he was fatally poisoned with the radioactive isotope polonium-210. Before his death Litvinenko accused Putin of ordering his murder, and British police believes he was killed by Andrei Lugovoy, a millionaire and former Russian intelligence officer.[13][14] According to Alex Goldfarb, another Russian SVR agent in London was making preparations to assassinate Berezovsky with a binary weapon in September 2003. This alleged plot was discovered by then alive Alexander Litvinenko and reported to British police. [10] However, in a statement to the House of Commons, Hazel Blears, then a Home Office Minister, said that inquiries made [into these claims] were "unable to either substantiate this information or find evidence of any criminal offences having been committed".[15]

In addition, British police placed a squad of uniformed officers around the Chechen dissident Akhmed Zakayev's house in north London. They also phoned the widow after Litvinenko, Marina, to urge her to take greater security precautions. Berezovsky said he was told the assassin would be someone he knew, who would shoot him in the head and then surrender to the police.[16]

Allegations of corruption and subversive activity

Litigation with Forbes

A 1996 Forbes magazine article titled Godfather of the Kremlin?, by Paul Klebnikov, portrayed Berezovsky as a mafia boss who had his rivals murdered. Berezovsky sued the magazine for libel, and the dispute was ultimately settled with the magazine retracting both claims. Klebnikov expanded the article into a book, Godfather of the Kremlin, that Berezovsky did not contest in court. Klebnikov subsequently became the editor of the Russian edition of Forbes, but he was murdered in Moscow on July 9, 2004.

Russian arrest warrant

After his self-exile, prosecutors in Russia had accused Berezovsky of a host of crimes, including fraud and preparing a violent overthrow of Putin's government. Berezovsky denies all the allegations.[8] On September 5, 2007, a trial in absentia began in Moscow. Berezovsky is accused of embezzling money from the Russian airline carrier Aeroflot in the 1990s.[15]

Brazil arrest warrant

On July 12, 2007, a Brazilian judge issued an arrest warrant for Berezovsky and a number of other British and Brazilian suspects in connection with an investigation against the Media Sports Investments group, which is suspected of money laundering.[16] Berezovsky is accused of being the main financial backer of MSI. Since Berezovsky, Iranian-born Kia Joorabchian and Noyan Bedru were not in Brazil at the time, warrants for their arrest were forwarded to Interpol. Berezovsky dismissed the Brazilian investigation as a part of the Kremlin's "politicized campaign" against him.[17]

Netherlands money laundering investigation

In August 2007, a criminal case was initiated against Berezovsky in The Netherlands on the charge of money laundering.[18] Russian Deputy Prosecutor General claimed that the Dutch tax police had visited Moscow in connection with the case. Berezovsky responded by saying that he had no business in Holland.


References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Profile: Boris Berezovsky BBC News Retrieved on April 5, 2008
  2. [http://www.guardian.co.uk/russia/article/0,,1655229,00.html What a carve-up!] The Guardian Retrieved on April 5, 2008
  3. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named los
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  7. Communist Party Leader Attacks Jews. Washington Post, December 25, 1998
  8. 8.0 8.1 Jordan, Mary; Peter Finn (December 9 2006). "Russian Billionaire's Bitter Feud With Putin A Plot Line in Poisoning" (in English). The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/08/AR2006120800446_2.html. Retrieved 2006-12-09. 
  9. Tremlett, Giles (June 15 2000). "Leader's secret holidays to Spain" (in English). The Times. Archived from the original on 2012-06-29. https://archive.is/DJtq. Retrieved 2007-04-29. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Alex Goldfarb and Marina Litvinenko. Death of a dissident: The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB, The Free Press (2007) ISBN 1-416-55165-4
  11. Two Our Ukraine lawmakers summoned to court upon Berezovskiy`s lawsuit, UNIAN, September 3, 2007.
  12. 'I am plotting a new Russian revolution', The Guardian, April 13, 2007
  13. Kremlin foe calls for Putin's Ouster, Yahoo! News, April 13, 2007.
  14. Scotland Yard to Examine Berezovsky’s Interview. Kommersant, April 14, 2007.
  15. "Berezovsky embezzlement trial starts in Moscow", Forbes, September 5, 2007.
  16. "Arrest order issued for Tevez's agent accused of money laundering", Guardian Unlimited, July 13, 2007.
  17. "Berezovsky links Brazilian arrest order to Kremlin'", Reuters, July 13, 2007.
  18. "Berezovsky under Trail in Holland", Kommersant, August 29, 2007.

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