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How to rescue a rat

by djhabakkuk Fri Jul 3rd, 2009 at 04:21:45 AM EST

As reported in stories put up by de Gondi in the European Salon, the American lawyer Emanuel Zeltser, sentenced in Belarus last August on charges of 'using false official documents' and 'commercial espionage', was released on Tuesday, following a pardon by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

His release represents a victory for the energetic campaign on his behalf centred round the Save Emanuel Zeltser website.  This campaign, however, can be seen as a vindication of the cynical observation of the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich -- that the difference between a rat and a hamster is just a matter of public relations.

According to the version of the affair presented by his brother Mark on the website, Zeltser was an innocent victim of a conspiracy orchestrated by the fugitive Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky.  

But evidence I produced in a recent diary demonstrates that, far from being an innocent victim, Zeltser was a key figure in a conspiracy to steal the estate of the late Georgian billionaire oligarch Arkadi 'Badri' Patarkatsishvili, who died of a massive heart attack in February last year.  Deeply implicated in this conspiracy is the Georgian President, Mikhail Saakashvili.

Claims by Saakashvili at the time of last August's war between Georgia and Russia that he was an innocent victim of Russian aggression are now being definitively exposed as false by evidence gathered by the European Union commission looking into the war.  For U.S. policymakers who strongly supported his aspirations to join NATO, the evidence of Saakashvili's complicity in fraud is one embarrassment too many.

This story was given to de Gondi and me by a U.S. contact, Karon von Gerhke, whose 'inside information' showing that the official British version of how the former KGB operative Alexander Litvinenko died was a frame-up I discussed in a diary last December.  On the Zeltser affair, besides pointing to publicly available sources, she also provided 'inside information' -- centering around admissions made to her by Mark Zeltser.

As one would expect, the key admissions were made verbally, and the evidence that they were made comes in reports of what was said to interested parties from Karon von Gerhke.  Given the explosiveness of these disclosures, in our first diary we deliberately focused on the publicly available evidence supporting her claim that Zeltser and Saakashvili were co-conspirators in an attempt to steal Patarkatsishvili's estate.  As the evidence that this was so is overwhelming, we now move on to the 'inside story'.

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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.

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Not quite the 'perfect fix'?

by djhabakkuk Wed Dec 3rd, 2008 at 10:59:27 AM EST

In John Le Carré's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a disinformation operation by the KGB spymaster Karla creates what his adversary George Smiley calls 'the perfect fix' -- ensuring that MI6 misreads ambiguous evidence, and by silencing doubters making 'everyone wrong who's right', as Smiley graphically puts it.  

The Russian President (now prime minister) Vladimir Putin features in much Western coverage of the death of the former KGB operative Alexander Litvinenko as a kind of latter-day Karla without the subtlety -- sending his minion Andrei Lugovoi to London to inflict an agonising death on an heroic dissident whose only offence was to tell the truth.

In two previous diaries, building on the work of the veteran American investigative journalist Edward Jay Epstein, I argued that official British claims that Lugovoi deliberately poisoned Litvinenko with polonium in the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair on the late afternoon of November 1, 2006, were themselves the product of a 'fix'.

Further evidence has since emerged, illuminating both the nature of, and the background to, this 'fix'.  A crucial role in the whole affair appears to have been played by a Washington-based former KGB operative and associate of Litvinenko named Yuri Shvets.

An erstwhile associate of Shvets, Karon von Gerhke-Thompson, pinpointed his role in a vigorous response to a restatement of official British claims that Litvinenko's death was a 'state action' by the BBC journalist Mark Urban in July.

Her claims take on a wholly new significance in the light of evidence unearthed by European Tribune's own resident elucidator of Italian mysteries, de Gondi, about the nuclear scaremongering scenarios and bogus murder plots fabricated by Litvinenko and his Italian associate Mario Scaramella -- in which Shvets figures as a key source.

What emerges is that the official British version of how Litvinenko died represents a kind of Le Carré situation in reverse -- a hardly very perfect 'fix' created by the fugitive Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky and his associates has been recycled uncritically by the British authorities and the British media.

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'Flex players', and the 'forward strategy' ...

by djhabakkuk Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 07:53:18 AM EST

Two documents cited by de Gondi in his comments on my previous diary on the Litvinenko mystery provide a fascinating contrast.  Interviewed by La Repubblica in March 2005, Litvinenko presented himself as a whistleblower exposing the murderous criminality of Putin's regime -- a self-presentation widely accepted in Britain.

But the wiretaps of the conversations of Mario Scaramella show him and Litvinenko as key players in a cynical transnational disinformation operation.  Involved in this somehow is the Soviet-era defector Oleg Gordievsky, whose case officer when he was KGB resident in London was the current head of MI6, Sir John Scarlett.

Clearly, the Italian evidence needs to be put together with an exploration of Litvinenko's activities in what the veteran American investigative journalist Edward Jay Epstein has called the 'shadowy world of security consultants' in London.

The radiation trail which is supposed to establish that Andrei Lugovoi deliberately poisoned Litvinenko, Russian investigators claim, may actually derive from a leak at one of the companies the two visited, Erinys International.  According to Lugovoi, another company they visited, RISC Management, acted as a front for MI6 in attempts to recruit him to help secure compromising information on Putin.

These claims may -- as British 'security sources' have suggested -- be a smokescreen.  But in the light of the cogent critique made by Epstein of the official British version, one cannot take this for granted.  And this is all the more so given that, as I noted in my previous diary, Gordievsky's accounts strike at the basis of the British case.

An investigation of Litvinenko's activities in the 'shadowy world of security consultants' -- or as they are more generally known, private security companies -- may perhaps then cast light on how he came to die.  

It also brings us up against more general issues.  The American anthropologist Janine Wedel uses the terms 'flex groups' and 'flex players' to refer to organisations and individuals which manoeuvre between public and private roles, in so doing relaxing government rules of accountability, and business codes of competition.

Whether or not Lugovoi's claims about Erinys and RISC stand up, it is clear that the history of the two companies is involved with some particularly interesting 'flex players'.

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Murder in a Teapot?

by djhabakkuk Thu May 1st, 2008 at 10:34:11 AM EST

Posts by de Gondi on this site shed fascinating light on the activities in Italy of the former KGB operative Alexander Litvinenko, who died of polonium poisoning in November 2006. It has widely been assumed, however, that Litvinenko's death had nothing to do with his involvement, together with the disinformation peddler Mario Scaramella and the Soviet-era KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky, in smear campaigns directed at the opponents of Silvio Berlusconi.  

A story by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy in the Guardian in January called this assumption in question, suggesting that Litvinenko may have been murdered as a direct result of his activities in Italy. But their account presupposes that the British request for the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi to face trial for Litvinenko's murder is backed by compelling evidence.

According to the official British version, the radiation trails left by Lugovoi establish beyond reasonable doubt that he deliberately poisoned Litvinenko in the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair. But painstaking work by the bloggers AJStrata and copydude, and the veteran investigative journalist Edward Jay Epstein, has called in question both the strength of the evidence behind the indictment, and the good faith with which it was made.

In a post on 'Russia Blog' I have pointed to the extraordinary way in which Gordievsky and the London-based ex-Russian military intelligence operative Boris Volodarsky have been undermining the official British case.

Whether in smearing Berlusconi's opponents Gordievsky was acting in conjunction with elements in British intelligence remains unclear.  In insisting that Litvinenko was not poisoned in the Pine Bar, but at another meeting earlier the same day, however, Gordievsky is cutting the ground from under the official British version of how Litvinenko died.  So although some of what he and Volodarsky have claimed is clearly itself disinformation, it is worth exploring the possibility that some of what they say may be true.  

Doing so may help us get closer to understanding how Litvinenko died.  And it brings us up against a range of issues concerning the ambiguous relations between public and private institutions in what Epstein terms the 'shadowy world of security consultants'.  This obscure world, which has mushroomed in recent years, is one on which more light badly needs to be shed.

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