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A falling out of thieves?

by djhabakkuk Tue Jun 16th, 2009 at 07:06:40 AM EST

As police clash with demonstrators calling for early elections in Tbilisi, and Der Spiegel reports that a European Union commission is likely to assign much of the blame for last August's war between Georgia and Russia to President Mikhail Saakashvili, news has been coming out of Belarus about a hunger strike by a U.S. lawyer imprisoned there.

Apparently unrelated, these developments in Georgia and Belarus are actually intimately intertwined. Together, they cast a damning light both on the real nature of Saakashvili's regime -- and the determination of many in the West to cling to fantasy versions of the complex realities of political struggle in the post-Soviet space, and accept disinformation about these.

The hunger strike by the lawyer Emanuel Zeltser is a response to the refusal of the Belarusian authorities to include him in an amnesty.  This refusal is in defiance of persistent pressure from the United States.  A website entitled Save Emanuel Zeltser, set up by his American supporters, features repeated calls for his release on humanitarian grounds from prominent Congressional figures and the State Department.  The Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, is said by her spokesman to be 'focused' on this 'very troubling situation'.

According to the website, Zeltser is the innocent victim of an extraordinary conspiracy orchestrated by the fugitive Russian billionaire oligarch Boris Berezovsky, now resident in Britain, and involving distinguished British lawyers.  

The purpose of this conspiracy, it is alleged, is to enable Berezovsky to steal half of the estate of the man whom, according to the Sunday Times, he described as the person 'closest to me in the whole world' -- the Georgian billionaire oligarch Arkadi 'Badri' Patarkatsishvili, his long-standing business partner.  Estimates of the worth of the estate vary -- the Sunday Times gives £6bn. (€7bn., $9.78bn.)

When Patarkatsishvili died of a massive heart attack in February last year, the website claims, he left his lawyer -- Zeltser -- in possession of a valid will.  If he was to steal half of the estate, it is alleged, Berezovsky had to suppress this will.  So he in effect kidnapped Zeltser, and delivered him over to the Belarusian KGB to be repeatedly tortured, and imprisoned on trumped-up charges.

It turns out however that a letter presented on the Save Emanuel Zeltser website as damning evidence of the oligarch's guilt has in fact been edited so as to obscure from view information demonstrating that Zeltser was not the innocent victim he is presented as being, but was himself involved in a conspiracy fraudulently to appropriate the estate of Patarkatsishvili.  Among those prominently involved in this conspiracy turns out to be Saakashvili.  Moreover, central elements of the indictment against Berezovsky can easily be shown to be a frame-up.

In a diary last December, I argued that Andrei Lugovoi, whose extradition to face charges of having deliberately poisoned Berezovsky's associate Alexander Litvinenko with polonium the British authorities have demanded, was the victim of a frame-up orchestrated by the oligarch and his associates.  But that Berezovsky himself has been involved in framing an innocent man does not provide grounds for allowing false accusations against him to pass unchallenged.  In subsequent diaries,meanwhile, I hope to show that there are links between the two frame-ups.

The campaign to free Emanuel Zeltser has drawn on the services of prominent Washington lobbyists and lawyers.  The contact given on press releases is Trent Duffy, a former spokesman for President George W. Bush.  A request for a formal investigation by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture was submitted in January by the well-known Washington legal firm of Patton Boggs LLP, following a Complaint against Belarus submitted by the same company the previous month to the UN's Human Rights Committee.

A press release announcing the request quoted Joseph L. Brand, the Patton Boggs partner responsible for the Complaint, making an extraordinary allegation:

''It is an outrage that an American citizen could be sipping coffee one minute in London only to find himself in the hands of the KGB the next,'' Mr. Brand said. "It's like watching a James Bond movie until it happens to you. Then you realize how quickly your life can be taken, even in London.''

Certain basic facts relating to the trial and imprisonment of Emanuel Zeltser, which are presented in the Complaint, are not in dispute -- and are certainly extraordinary enough.  Shortly after arriving in Minsk on a private plane -- one belonging to Berezovsky, although the Complaint does not say this -- on March 12, 2008, Zeltser was arrested.  He was charged with using false documents; a charge of possession of illegal drugs was added two months later and after a further month an additional charge of business or economic espionage.  

The drugs charge was dropped -- according to the Complaint, it referred to his 'physician-prescribed medications'.  But on August 11, 2008, Zeltser was convicted on charges of 'using false official documents' and 'economic espionage' at a trial held behind closed doors.  His appeal was subsequently denied, in another closed hearing.

Beyond this, however, it is alleged that Zeltser has been 'repeatedly tortured', as the press release puts it. Besides being subjected to 'harsh and inhumane conditions', according to the Complaint, he has been the victim of 'physical and mental abuse', and has been deprived of 'vital medical care', for his 'debilitating diabetes, heart problems, and severe arthritis.'  As a result, it is claimed, Zeltser's 'life is in jeopardy and he may not survive detention.'

A press release sent out by Duffy suggests a reason why Berezovsky might have committed the terrible crimes attributed to him on the site.  In February this year, the Georgian Civil Court, reaffirming a decision originally made the previous May, accepted the claim made by Zeltser that Patarkatsishvili had left a will naming a distant relative, Joseph Kay, as executor of his estate.

The release by Duffy quotes an associate of Zeltser's claiming that this decision 'deals a striking blow to those who have challenged the legitimacy of claims by Joseph Kay and Emanuel Zeltser in this dispute' and 'should now open the door to his jail cell and lead to his immediate release'.

The 'Inside Story'?

The connection between this will supposedly left by Patarkatsishvili, and Zeltser's supposed entrapment and torture, and very definite trial and conviction, is not spelt out in the press release from Duffy.  But central to the 'Inside Story' of the affair, as recounted on the website by one 'A. Romanova, Harvard', and also to the account given in letters reproduced on the site from Emanuel Zeltser's brother Mark to various of those involved, is the claim that the need to suppress this will was behind Berezovsky's actions.

Having once been included in the list of the ten richest people on the planet, with an estimated $12bn., Romanova suggests, Berezovsky had lost 'over 90% of his wealth'.  The massive heart attack which killed Patarkatsishvili on February 12, 2008, she claims, gave him a way to restore his fortunes.  

According to a report in the London Evening Standard, the heart attack followed five hours spent in meetings at the City of London offices of Lord Peter Goldsmith, who after stepping down as Attorney General in Tony Blair's government had become European Litigation Chair with the U.S. legal firm Debevoise & Plimpton.  Also involved in these meetings was Berezovsky, and the former PR guru to Mrs Thatcher, Lord Tim Bell, who had played an important role in the Berezovsky camp's handling of the media over the Litvinenko affair.

But while Berezovsky accuses Putin of inflicting a terrible death by polonium poisoning on Litvinenko, Romanova accuses Berezovsky of organising the murder of his friend:  'all those' who knew the oligarch, she claims, 'had no doubt' that he had been 'directly involved' in the death.

The oligarch's plan to retrieve his financial fortunes by eliminating his friend was however -- according to Romanova -- jeopardised by the evidence produced by Emanuel Zeltser that Patarkatsishvili had appointed Kay as executor of his will.  Accordingly, she claims, Berezovsky's lawyer Michelle Duncan -- then a partner with the legal firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft -- wrote a letter to the Prosecutor General of Belarus whose sole purpose was to entrap Zeltser and Kay.  

The letter warned that the two might attempt to gain control of assets supposedly held by Patarkatsishvili in Belarus by the use of forged documents -- and was, it is claimed, intended to provide a pretext for his arrest, thus making possible the suppression of the authentic documents.

In the event, according to Mark Zeltser, his brother turned up in Belarus without any documents relating to the estate, so could not have been guilty of using such documents, even had they been forged.  Moreover, he claims, Patarkatsishvili had no assets in Belarus, so his brother had no occasion to go there, let along use documents, real or forged, to get hold of these non-existent assets.  But the absence of documents did not trouble the Belarusian authorities, who simply went ahead and convicted Emanuel Zeltser on the trumped-up charge originally leveled by Duncan.  

Torture was used, according to Mark Zeltser, to coerce his brother into an attempt to get Kay to follow him into the trap, bringing the documents with him.  It was further used in support of unsuccessfuly attempts to extract false testimony in support of Berezovsky's claim that the documents appointing Kay executor were forged.

And indeed, in a letter sent to Duncan in April last year, Mark Zeltser alleged that:

you personally visited Belarus Prosecutor General office in Minsk on March 19, 2008 in order to gain ''evidence'' obtained from Emanuel by KGB by way of torture. Upon belief and information from Minsk, you may have been present during at least one of his interrogation sessions. If Emanuel gets murdered in Belarus or dies of ''natural causes'' (the method perfected by Boris Berezovsky), I will not rest until you, along with Berezovsky, are extradited to the US and prosecuted for murder and conspiracy.

In fact, shortly after Duncan had written her letter to the Belarus Prosecutor General, Patarkatsishvili's widow Inna Gudavadze had relinquished her services and enlisted those of Lord Goldsmith. And when that April the question of whether the documents purporting to establish that Kay was Patarkatsishvili's legitimate executor was put to the test in a New York court, the plaintiffs were Gudavadze and her daughters, and the lawyers Debevoise & Plimpton.

In a letter to the Belarus Prosecutor General reproduced on the Save Emanuel Zeltser website, which was sent on March 19, 2008 -- a week after Zeltser's arrest -- Goldsmith explained that his company was now representing Gudavadze, supported the continuation of the Belarusian investigation, and offered collaboration.

Subsequently, Mark Zeltser wrote to Goldsmith, accusing him of attempting to use 'evidence' gained by torture in support of fraudulent claims made against his brother and Joseph Kay in the New York Court case -- brought in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York.  Having accused Goldsmith of being responsible for his brother's transfer to a state psychiatric hospital, Mark Zeltser went on:

Apparently, the KGB Special Interrogation Unit was unable to extract sufficient ''evidence'' that you need to support your claims in the lawsuit filed in New York by way of physical torture, so the Belarus authorities resorted to the best Soviet era traditions: mental torture.

According to a report in the London Times, Goldsmith's spokesman 'has insisted that, after mistreatment allegations were made, he urged that Mr Zeltser be dealt with properly and withdrew the offer to help.'

A curious aspect of the affair, given the enormity of the crimes attributed to him, is that Berezovsky has not sued -- and this is all the more so, given that the suggestion by Romanova that Patarkatsishvili's death was not from natural causes was dismissed by the British police.

Missing paragraphs.

Ironically, however, any serious critical scrutiny of the claim that there was a conspiracy to entrap Zeltser reveals that a central element in it is disinformation.  Crucial to the case made on the Save Emanuel Zeltser website, as I have noted, is the letter sent on March 3, 2008 by Michelle Duncan.  What purports to be the original text of this is reproduced in the 'correspondence' section of the website.

But this version does not match the actual original text of the letter, which is available elsewhere on the internet, and of which I reproduce the opening page:

Compare this with the version on the Save Emanuel Zeltser website.  Although it appears to read as a continuous letter, a whole section starting with the line 'Our concerns have arisen largely as a result of the following:' has been omitted.  The remnants have then been edited together, so as to obscure the fact that Duncan provided evidence that Kay and Zeltser were fraudsters.

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The missing paragraphs provide an extended description of the attempts by Kay and Zeltser to secure information about and control of Patarkatsishvili's assets, in the United Kingdom, Gibraltar and Georgia, immediately following the oligarch's death.  

Amplified, and with some minor modifications, this account is also presented in the Verified Complaint which Debevoise & Plimpton submitted in support of Inna Gudavadze's case against Zeltser and Kay.

According to the account given in Michelle Duncan's letter, and the Verified Complaint, Zeltser and Joseph Kay started by demanding information from companies in London and Gibraltar on the basis of two-page document purporting to be a Durable Power of Attorney.  This document, which is reproduced at the end one of the court documents available on the net -- is extraordinary in a number of ways.

The page reproduced below, which purports to contain Patarkatsishvi's signature, is separate from the page containing the signature of the notary before whom the document was supposedly signed --  which caused Duncan to suggest in her March 3 letter that the document was probably forged.

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The most remarkable feature of document however is the fourth paragraph, which specifies that the grant of the power of attorney under it 'shall not be affected by my subsequent death, disability or incompetence.'  Under English or American law, the kind of document by which someone gives powers of attorney during his or her lifetime is sharply distinct from the kind of document by which someone gives an executor power to administer his or her estate after death.

Accordingly, even if the document was absolutely genuine, and irrespective of what Patarkatsishvili had or not intended, it could not provide a legal basis in either the United Kingdom or the United States for the claim that Kay was Patarkatsishvili's legitimate executor.

In addition, according to the Verified Complaint, all that Zeltser produced were scans of the document on his laptop and a copy sent by email-- not originals or a certified copies.  

It was, according to Duncan's letter and the Verified Complaint, only when it was pointed out that the Durable Power of Attorney could not grant the powers Kay was claiming that he and Zeltser produced documents purporting to be a 'Deed of Appointment of Executor' and a 'Letter of Wishes' -- and again, what were produced were scans on a computer screen, rather than originals or certified copies.  

These documents were supposed to have been signed by Patarkatsishvili in New York on November 14, 2007 -- but according to Duncan's letter and the Verified Complaint, he did not arrive in New York until late that evening, was constantly engaged for the remainder of the day with friends and business associates, and did not meet Zeltser.  According to Duncan, these friends and associates would testify to that effect.

What follows is that there was perfectly good reason for Duncan to believe that Kay and Zeltser were fraudsters.  Moreover, there were perfectly good grounds to warn the authorities in countries where Patarkatsishvili might have had assets that the fraudsters might try to get hold of these, as they had done in London, Gibraltar -- and, as we shall see in a moment, Georgia.

Ironically, moreover, associates of Zeltser have undermined some of the crucial claims made on the website.  A long interview given by his secretary Vladlena Funk, who travelled with him to Belarus, and was also arrested and sentenced to a year in prison, appeared recently (June 11, 2009) on the Belarusian Charter97 website.

According to Funk, 'the original will of Patarkatsishvii didn't appear in the case, we were tried for a scanned copy which was kept in Emanuel's computer.'  Under Belarusian law, she claims, 'a copy cannot be considered an official document, as it does not have authentic signatures and stamps.'

This is a technical claim about Belarusian law which may or may not be true.  But given the evidence that it was precisely by attempting to get such scanned copies treated as official documents that Zeltser and Kay had tried to get control of Patarkatsishvili's assets in London, what Funk says hardly provides reliable grounds to dismiss the possibility that an attempt to gain control of Patarkatsishvili's assets in Belarus accounted for the lawyer's presence there.

Crucial to the dismissal of this possibility on the Save Emanuel Zeltser website is the claim -- endorsed by Joseph Brand of Patton Boggs LLP -- that Zeltser was in effect kidnapped.  This charge is repeated by Funk, who suggests that at a meeting with Berezovsky 'some drug was added in our food or drinks', and 'as a result, I found myself in Berezovsky's jet that was flying to Minsk, and unconscious Zeltser was beside me.'

One might ask how Berezovsky managed to spirit not one but two unconscious bodies through Customs and the heavy security found at all London airports.  Be that as it may, however, as far back as March 2008, in an interview with a Georgian newspaper, Kay himself had told a quite different story.  

Tricked -- not kidnapped?

According to Kay, Zeltser was tricked into going on Berezovsky's plane, not kidnapped.  What he claims Berezovsky told Zeltser was that he and Patarkishvili had purchased an oil refinery in Belarus, and the deal had to be completed with a final payment immediately or it would lapse, and both money and factory be lost.

This suggestion, obviously, conflicts with the suggestion made on the Save Emanuel Zeltser website that it was common knowledge to all concerned that Patarkatsishvili had no assets in Belarus.  Both the website and Funk support this claim by pointing out that the documentation submitted by Lord Goldsmith's company in the New York court case made no mention of any assets in Belarus.  

But according to Kay, Berezovsky told Zeltser that he possessed 'information about Badri's assets that you may never be able to find', and that if Zeltser made a deal with him, and 'let him have shares', he would share this information.  The clear implication of Kay's claim is that there was genuine uncertainty about what assets Patarkatsishvili had and where.  If this is the case, the absence of any mention of assets in Belarus in the New York suit establishes nothing.

One piece of Funk's testimony that does fit with other evidence is her claim that her KGB interrogators told her that 'Berezovsky is on friendly terms with the top leadership of Belarus' -- and her contention that the oligarch testified in the closed court hearing that Patarkasishvili had indeed invested $150m. in the oil refining industry there.  The charge of 'economic espionage', she suggests, was supposed to be related to attempts by Zeltser to get information about the oil refining industry in Belarus.

That Berezovsky had close relations with the top leadership in Belarus -- and in particularly, President Alexander Lukashenka -- does seem evident:  otherwise, why should the latter have collaborated in what does clearly seem to have been an entrapment?  But precisely because of this, although nothing Kay says is to be accepted without question, if he is right in his claim that Zeltser was not kidnapped, it would seem likely that the lawyer thought he had some kind of deal with Berezovsky.  

If Zeltser was really committed to trying to prevent Berezovsky securing any part of Patarkatsishvili's estate, it is difficult to see how he would willingly have travelled to a country ruled by someone with close relations to the oligarch, on the oligarch's private plane.

If in fact Zeltser had thought he and Berezovsky could make a deal, one would be most interested to know whether Zeltser intended to cut Kay in on this arrangement -- or to double-cross his partner in fraud. Given Kay's willingness to undercut the case made on the Save Emanuel Zeltser website, it is difficult to discount the latter possibility.

Be that as it may, a further reason for thinking that Zeltser intended to make use of the copies of the supposed estate documents which were found on the laptop he took with him to Belarus, but had some kind of deal with Berezovsky in mind, is that such copies had been used by him and Kay to good effect in Georgia:  but this was only possible, because the pair had the cooperation of the top leadership in the country.  

Immediately after his and Zeltser's first approaches in London, we learn from the part of Duncan's letter which is edited out on the Save Emanuel Zeltser website, Kay had flown to Tibilisi, where he 'apparently met with Georgian government officials regarding Mr Patarkatsishvili's assets and estate in Georgia.'  

Expropriating Imedi.

A controlling interest in the Imedi television station was held by a parent company, JMG Consulting Group, in which Patarkatsishvili's shares were held for his benefit by a friend, Giorgi Jaoshvili.  According to both Duncan's letter and the Verified Complaint, Jaoshvili was then persuaded, on the basis of the same dubious documents which Zeltser and Kay had attempted unsuccessfully to use in London, to transfer Jaoshvili's shares to Kay.  

Not content with claiming the rights of an executor to handle Patarkatsishvili's assets without presenting even copies of documents to any recognised court anywhere, moreover, Kay then purchased the shares, so removing them from the estate -- according to his own public statements, as quoted in the Verified Complaint.

It was only in December 2008 that Debevoise & Plimpton were able to obtain a full statement from Jaoshvili about how he had come to cooperate with Kay's dubious proceedings.  In the statement, having discussed the 'general pressure applied by the authorities to the business of Badri Patarkatsishvili', Jaoshvili went on to claim that Kay was working in collusion with Saakashvili.

According to Jaoshvili, having shown him with a photocopy of the 'Deed of Appointment' -- but not given him one to keep -- Kay:

informed me that in the interests of Badri Patarkatsishvili's business it was necessary to urgently settle the conflict with the authorities of Georgia;  he had a meeting scheduled with the President of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, at 2.pm. in the Office of the President, at which all current problems between Badri Patarkatsishvili's business and the government authority of Georgia would be resolved.  For the authorities of Georgia, the most essential and politically important of Patarkatsishvili's assets was the TV company Imedi.  Joseph Kay explained to me that for an agreement with the authorities of Georgia to be achieved and Badri Patarkatsishvili's business problems to cease, it was necessary to immediately transfer the shares of JMG, of which I was the nominal owner, to the name of Joseph Kay.  He did not explain to me how and in whose interests he would manage the shares in future, but to me it was obvious that such management would be carried out in the interests of the authorities of Georgia.

And the sale of the shares, according to Jaoshvili, was made under duress.

This evidence however cut no ice with the Georgian Civil Court, when it reaffirmed its faith in the authenticity of the documents presented by Zeltser and Kay last February:  still without having had sight of the supposed originals.  The 'original will' had been in the possession of Emanuel Zeltser, according to Vladlena Funk, but she asserts she did not know whether he had it on him when he arrived in Minsk -- and explains that 'since March 11, 2008 nobody saw that document in London any more.'

On the basis of the copies of this supposed original, however, the well-known American Forensic Document Examiner Gus R. Lesnevich 'unequivocally concluded' that the supposed signatures of Badri Patarkatsishvili on all the documents were forged -- but this did not impress the Georgian court.

So the claim in the release by Trent Duffy that the decision of the Georgian Court constitutes a vindication of Emanuel Zeltser is questionable, to say the least.  By a curious irony, however, as it is Emanuel Zeltser who knows where the original documents -- if such actually exist -- are to be found, the sorting out of the position over Patarkatsishvili's estate in the New York court, where such legal niceties matter more than in Georgia, had to be put on hold pending Emanuel Zeltser's return from Belarus.

However, even before the Georgian court had given its verdict, on December 10, 2008 a claim against the Georgian government had been filed by Lord Goldsmith's company on behalf of Patarksishvili's family with The International Court of Arbitration, alleging that Imedi had been expropriated.  The television station was described by the family's spokesperson as 'a popular forum for political opposition and widely known for its critical reporting on government misbehaviour.'

Also among other assets of Patarkasishvili which the Georgian government is reported to have taken over is Mtatsminda Park in Tbilisi -- and this is also alleged to have been expropriated in the action in The International Court of Arbitration.  This brings us on to a puzzling claim in the interview with Funk. According to reports from Georgia controlling interests both in Imedi and Mtatsminda Park have been sold off to subsidaries of the investment fund of Ras Al Khaimah, which is part of the United Arab Emirates.  According to Funk, however, Patarkatsishvili's estate 'hasn't been received by anybody yet.'

Although there was a report on the BBC in March, no further information about the progress of The International Court of Arbitration action seems available.

A change of mind.

But here, one more twist in this extraordinary story may be of relevance.  Some of the most telling evidence against the claim that Berezovsky simply framed an innocent Zeltser, as we have seen, has been presented by Goldsmith's company in championing the claims of Gudavadze. At the same time, however, Gudavadze and Goldsmith have now fallen in with one of the central claims on the Save Emanuel Zeltser site: that Berezovsky has been attempting to assert a fraudulent claim to a half share in Patarkatsishvili's estate to which he is not entitled.

According to the Sunday Times report quoted earlier, the day after her husband died, Berezovsky asked Gudavadze to sign a statement acknowledging that half the estate belonged to him -- which she did.

But, as noted earlier, Patarkatsishvili's widow quite rapidly had second thoughts about her decision -- taken immediately after her husband's death -- to seek advice from Michelle Duncan, who was also Berezovsky's lawyer, and replaced her with Lord Goldsmith. Furthermore, she also had second thoughts about her acquiescence in Berezovsky's claim to a half share in the estate, and sought to have the document she had signed annulled.

To grasp what this second case is about, one needs to recall that Berezovsky and Patarkatsishvili had indeed been a very close partnership -- so close that there is nothing remotely surprising about the notion that they held important assets jointly, and that on the death of one of them, his heirs would only be entitled to half of these assets.  And of course, in principle, if this was so, arguments about the will of the deceased would be irrelevant to the position of the survivor.

However, it was generally understood that, at some time point in early 2006, Berezovsky and Patarkatsishvili had decided to dissolve their business partnership -- and that a separation of their assets had taken place over the months that followed, which would have been completed by the time of Patarkatsishvili's heart attack.  

And of course, if such a split had happened, then those assets which were part of the dead man's estate would be sharply separate from those of Berezovsky, who would have no claim on them.

A ruse to fool Putin?

What however Berezovsky now claims is that the supposed parting of ways was simply 'a ruse, a public gesture meant for the Kremlin'.  If this was so, then of course, what appeared to be assets wholly owned by Patarkatsishvili would not really be so, but in fact still be assets in which a half share was held by Berezovsky.

But why, one might ask, should the ruse have been necessary?  The answer is that it could have made perfectly good sense, if in fact some kind of modus vivendi appeared possible between Patarkatsishvili and Putin, while Berezovsky and Putin remained irreconcileable. In such circumstances, to pretend that assets in Russia which the two still held jointly were now the exclusive property of Patarkatsishvili would prevent these being targeted by the Kremlin.  And according to Berezovsky, this was what happened; it is, he has asserted, 'easy to prove' that no real steps were ever taken to split the partnership.

That this is 'easy to prove' is, of course, precisely what Gudavadze and Goldsmith are contesting.  So, in essence, they are claiming that there really was a parting of ways in business between Patarkatsishvili and Berezovsky.  If this is true, while much of the indictment against Berezovsky on the Save Emanuel Zeltser website can be discounted, the claim that he, just as much as Kay and Zeltser, was attempting to defraud Patarkatsishvili's heirs cannot be.  

It is also important meanwhile to stress that Berezovsky's claim, fraudulent or not, is not necessarily in fundamental tension with that of Zeltser and Kay, in that if the former's claim to a half share were accepted by the latter two, he would not stand to lose by their fraud. Certainly, it is hardly implausible to suggest that the possibility of some kind of accommodation occurred to Zeltser -- and that Berezovsky at least pretended to entertain it, even if only as a means of entrapping Zeltser.

Moreover, what emerges from this is that some kind of accommodation between Patarkatsishvili and Putin clearly was at issue in 2006-7 -- even though the question of whether this was trickery on the part of the oligarch remains an open one.  And here, one more fascinating piece of information needs to be accommodated in the puzzle.  

Lugovoi disagrees ...

Among those who have suggested that there really was a parting of ways in business between Patarkatsishvili and Berezovsky is Litvinenko's supposed murderer, Andrei Lugovoi -- who also happens to have been a close associate of Patarkatsishvili.  Moreover, in an interview he gave to Izvestiya immediately after the press conference on May 31, 2007 where he repudiated the allegations against him, Lugovoi suggested that it was the parting of ways in business between Patarkatsishvili and Berezovsky which had led the latter to frame him.

It is perhaps unsurprising that Lugovoi's claim has been ignored in the Western press, given that, taken in isolation, it appears bizarre.  But if in fact there had some kind of rapprochement between Patarksishvili and Putin, it would seem eminently possible that in some way or other Lugovoi was involved.

Such a rapprochement would not have provided grounds for Lugovoi to take part in a supposed plot to eliminate Litvinenko by poisoning him with polonium.  It could very well have provided grounds for him to be a less than enthusiastic participant in some of the activities in which Litvinenko was trying to enlist his support.  

Among these could perhaps have been the kind of disinformation peddling involving nuclear scaremongering scenarios which de Gondi and I have already suggested was being practised by Litvinenko and his Italian associate Mario Scaramella.

It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Lugovoi might have given information about the activities of Berezovsky and his circle to the Russian authorities.  And even if he had not, it is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that members of that circle might have suspected that he had.

In future diaries, de Gondi and I will look more closely at the disinformation campaigns in which Litvinenko and Scaramella were involved, exploring among other things the pair's connections to networks in the United States.  We will produce further evidence that Lugovoi was framed, and try to make his role intelligible by locating it in the complex and shifting patterns of alliance involved in the politics of the former Soviet space.  

We will have a great deal more to say about the extraordinary legal tangles over the estate of Badri Patarkatsishvili.  And we will attempt to locate both the Zeltser and Litvinenko affairs in the context where they belong -- that of the vain fantasies of unilateral U.S. global domination that have dominated both American and British policy over the past years.

For the moment, however, it is perhaps worth stressing an irony.  Central to the history of the Litvinenko affair has been the willingness of significant elements in British elites to accept disinformation put out by Berezovsky and his associates.  Central to the history of events in Georgia has been the willingness of substantial sections of American elites -- and also European and British elites -- to accept disinformation put out by Saakashvili and his fellow 'rose revolutionaries'.

As a result of credulous acceptance of disinformation, the belief that Alexander Litvinenko was the victim of a pioneer act of nuclear terrorism orchestrated by the Russian security services -- for which not a shred of reliable evidence has been publicly produced -- has become a conventional wisdom in Britain.  As a result of credulous acceptance of disinformation, policymakers in Washington committed themselves to the incorporation of Georgia in NATO, at a time when the facts about Saakashvili's recklessness should have been obvious.  As a member of the EU Commission on last August's war commented, such Western support 'inadvertently promoted Georgia's collision course.'

Just as the accusations made against Lugovoi have in no way benefited British interests, so unquestioning support for Saakashvili has in no way benefited either American interests, or Western interests more generally.

Perhaps it is time a lot of people were a little less credulous!

In preparing this diary, I have made use of some very valuable information unearthed by de Gondi -- who has also supplied much wise advice, and very helpful technical assistance.

Any chance you could prepare the "executive summary" version?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Jun 17th, 2009 at 05:39:46 AM EST
This is epic internet journalism at its best!! Thank you for posting!! A true web of deceits, gangsterism and political conundrums - it reads like a thriller...

I'd echo Jerome in this wether it's possible for you to create a brief wrap-up... For anyone new this diary is a hard nut to crack at the first (even second) reading. (It took me three...) I'm probably not the only one who'd like to put your work more exposure by putting it on the front page.

Personally the sudden twist in regard to the role of Georgia, the Georgian court in relation to seemingly forged documents and the gullible attitude of the west to Saakashvili are, IMO, one of the most fascinating angles to an already captivating story.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Wed Jun 17th, 2009 at 07:22:09 AM EST
Thanks for your kind words.  I will certainly take your and Jérôme Guillet's advice, and prepare a brief wrap-up, which I hope to put up tomorrow.  I am going to crosspost onto Booman and Daily Kos, and probably the best thing to do is simply to post the wrap-up on those sites, and link to the main piece here.

I was aware that the exorbitant length of my diary was going to test the patience of readers -- as in previous posts of mine on the Litvinenko mystery.  There is however an element of genuine difficulty.  When one is dealing with stories relating to intrigue in the post-Soviet space, and also with stories about disinformation peddlers taking advantage of the gullibility unfortunately found in large areas of the MSM in the West, separating out fact from fiction is not easy.  

So it can be necessary to go into the minutiae of evidence at rather greater length than one might like, if one is to find any kind of firm ground.  And this is all the more so, as one does not want to give people in the MSM any grounds for ignoring or disputing one's conclusions, on the basis that people in the blogosphere are not rigorous in their handling of evidence.

The importance of the whole subject of disinformation peddling -- and the very radical ways in which it subverts constitutional government -- is something which I myself have only recently been beginning to grasp, although it has I think been apparent to de Gondi for much longer.  The demonstrated capacity of disinformation involving nuclear scaremongering to make Western countries do very silly things is frightening.

In this connection, the story of the Niger uranium forgeries, and the quite specious allegations repeatedly levelled by anonymous 'security sources' in the UK that the Russian authorities have pioneered nuclear terrorism, belong to a pattern -- into which the continuing stream of disinformation about the Iranian nuclear programme fits.  (Despite the awful warning provided by Iraq, it is still quite possible that disinformation about Iran will succeed in precipitating a disastrous U.S. attack on that country.)

Disinformation moreover commonly turns out to be generated by transnational networks, which can get away with the most flagrant distortion because the incredibility of claims made about one country is not apparent to people in another.  For instance, the MSM in Britain have recycled Berezovsky-inspired disinformation on the Litvinenko affair, partly because they have been fed it by the American and Italian branches of the networks with which he is involved, and do not grasp the dubious nature of the sources.

If, in the period immediately after the Litvinenko story broke, the MSM in the UK had paid attention to de Gondi's posts on this site on his Italian associate Mario Scaramella, they might not have swallowed the incredible claims put our by some of the more unscrupulous of our spooks.

by djhabakkuk (david daught habakkuk at o two daught co daught uk) on Wed Jun 17th, 2009 at 10:04:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I can see that the long version is essential.  A more summary exposition could result in your being labeled as "obsessed with conspiracies.  My usual rejoinder to those who label such subjects as you are exposing as just "conspiracy theories" is to ask then if I am required then to believe that the course of history has been determined by single individuals acting alone or by groups acting together in perfectly legal manners.  A lot of people don't want to hear this.  Perhaps a wiki style summary with hypertext footnotes to relevant excerpts from this and your previous diary would be the most readable yet muscular presentation available.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Jun 17th, 2009 at 11:32:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That is very helpful -- it is precisely the balance between the demands of accessibility and those of authoritativeness which is difficult.  It requires more inventiveness than I have shown, to date.

Incidentally, my own instinctive preference has been for cock-up explanations, rather than explanations in terms of conspiracies.

But there certainly are conspiracies.  Consider, for example, an
article which appeared on the 'FrontPage' site last January, entitled 'The Putin-Osama Connection'.

This is the same nuclear scaremongering which de Gondi unearthed in the wiretaps of Scaramella's conversations with Paolo Guzzanti, recycled for a U.S. audience, on an influential U.S. neoconservative site -- also the disinformation against Romano Prodi.

And part of the wickedness is that British intel people -- who are probably engaged in a CYA operation -- give this kind of dangerous rubbish credibility by continuing to disseminate the preposterous claims that Litvinenko was the victim of a state-sponsored assassination.  As also does much of the British media -- the only real sceptic about the whole farrago of nonense I have come across is Mary Dejevsky of The Independent.

by djhabakkuk (david daught habakkuk at o two daught co daught uk) on Wed Jun 17th, 2009 at 12:11:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Almost by definition it is through a cock-up that we learn of a conspiracy.  Wonder how that percentage compares to the number of drug busts vs. the total traffic?

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Jun 17th, 2009 at 01:44:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In regard to the Litvinenko affair, it does seem likely that it was through a cock-up that a conspiracy came into public view.  Because when a vessel containing polonium is opened tiny particles are liable to spray out, it is lethally easy to poison oneself with it, which is the most plausible explanation of how Litvinenko died.

Cock-ups can also generate conspiracies.  In the light of the information de Gondi provided about the nuclear scaremongering activities of Litvinenko and Scaramella in Italy, it seems likely that the presence of polonium in London was linked in some way to these.  The most notable use of polonium is as a 'trigger' in relatively primitive nuclear devices.

To have light cast on such murky goings-on would have left many in London with egg on their faces, so it is highly likely that CYA became the order of the day. As a result we ended up with a torrent of preposterous disinformation, designed to pretend that an accident was murder -- one conspiracy to cover up another.

Some very diverse -- and interesting -- people have been exploring disinformation networks, among other matters, on both sides of the Atlantic.  In the UK, much interesting information has appeared on site called Spinwatcha site called Spinwatch, which is linked to a kind of Wiki called Spinprofiles.

by djhabakkuk (david daught habakkuk at o two daught co daught uk) on Thu Jun 18th, 2009 at 04:59:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was going to say (1) Good grief! (2) How de Gondiesque! and finally (3) What terrific work!

As one who admires the twists and turns of a good spy novel, these real life stories festooned with potent doses of somber intrigue performed in the back rooms of Europe's mysterious East hold me as spellbound as the players themselves.  Like Nomad, I plan to read it several times to gather in all the rich details.    

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Thu Jun 18th, 2009 at 02:04:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You are of course referring to the real De Gondi, Cardinal de Retz, whose Memoires are a must for the literary-minded.
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Thu Jun 18th, 2009 at 05:14:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ha, alas I referred to you Sir, but perhaps the good Cardinal would be more deserving of the comment.  Afterall, it appears he was a dedicated practicioner of intrigue and I can imagine that his memoires must reflect that.  I'll let you know my opinion once I've read them.  I see they are available here for download.

Yes, we have our share of intrigue in Washington, but nothing to compare with the 17th Century.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Thu Jun 18th, 2009 at 11:46:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
somber intrigue performed in the back rooms of Europe's mysterious East

I would also add, America's mysterious East.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Thu Jun 18th, 2009 at 05:17:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not nec. the length but the way it is written that I find difficult to get through.  Something this long needs good composition & formatting.  Or to be broken down in parts.  I'm thinking that if I, who will normally read anything on such topics, can't bring myself to diving this diary, well...  You know, writing isn't simply a matter of providing information.  In the end, you have to make people want to read what you write.  You have to tell them right up front why they should care.  You are competing with an almost infinite number of stories on-line!  

Also, I don't know if I am alone in this, but I have difficulty reading very long texts on the computer.  It is unpleasant.  I have to print something like this out if I actually intend to read it.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Wed Jun 17th, 2009 at 02:56:50 PM EST
You know, I think reading long texts on a screen is a skill. You need to practice - we had to learn to read paper as well.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jun 17th, 2009 at 03:04:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe.  But staring at the screen too long makes me ill.  Plus I'm relegated to a desk-top.  Plus you can't jot notes in the margins.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Wed Jun 17th, 2009 at 03:28:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am finding that reading free texts on my monitor screen has its advantages. With a 17"+ screen and zoom control legibility is no problem.  I don't particularly have a problem with eye fatigue, and being able to hyper link to a footnote has its advantages.  I can keep the on-line texts I frequent most in a bookmark folder and easily insert excerpts into compositions, vs. having to type and proof read.  Many older texts are available free online.  I have yet to find an adequate substitute for my old habit of inserting bits of paper at the top of pages of interest, so going back in a long text is a pain, but I am much more favorable to text on video than I would have thought a few years ago.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Jun 17th, 2009 at 03:31:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Zoom control is important. I normally make the text really big so I can sit well back from the screen and read.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jun 17th, 2009 at 03:33:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the part of the problem with diaries like this is psychological - the format of the site encourages substantial, but not too long, diares. I started reading it with no idea how long it would be, found it very interesting, but didn't have time to study it carefully once I realized that it looked as though it would never end. A warning that it is long might help (but I might just skip the warning...). Another possibility might be to split the diaries inyo several of moderate length, and post them with a short interval between them. That might even encourage people to discuss the content of the diary, rather than its form.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Wed Jun 17th, 2009 at 04:08:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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