A Trial in Abstentia

Since the prospects that the British will hand over Boris Berezovsky are pretty much nil, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office has decided to try BAB in absentia. Prosecutors told RIA Novosti that Berezovsky will be tried for “embezzling over 214 million rubles ($8.3 million) of the [Aeroflot’s] funds and laundering over 16 million rubles ($620,000).” A conviction caries a 10 year prison sentence.

If you will remember, Paul Klebnikov called the monetary raping of Aeroflot part of the tripartite process of Russian gangster capitalism: 1) the privatization the profits; 2) the privatization of the property; and 3) the privatization of the debts. In a 1999 article in Forbes, Klebnikov described Berezovsky’s Aeroflot scam as a “textbook example” of the first.

The scam worked like this. Berezovsky and his partner Nikolai Glushkov created two front companies to handle Aeroflot’s funds. The first, an unknown Swedish supported outfit called Andava secretly handled Aeroflot’s treasury charging a commission of 3.125% on all funds it handled. Further, Andava basically loaned Aeroflot its own money. In 1997 it “loaned” $11 million. The interest rate was unspecified. Who owed Andava? As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise, surprise, surprise.” Berezovsky and Glushkov owned 37% and 34% of Andava respectively.

The next scam involved another Andava front company called Finansovaya Obedinennaya Kompaniya (FOK). FOK was charged with paying Aeroflot foreign debts. FOK passed these bills on to another font company called Grangeland Holdings Ltd. Klebnikov describes how the FOK-Grangeland scam worked:

Say Aeroflot had a $500,000 bill to pay to British Petroleum for jet fuel. Instead of paying the bill directly, Aeroflot passed the bill to FOK in Moscow, which passed it to Grangeland in Dublin. Grangeland paid the bill. The payment was considered a loan from Grangeland to FOK, with annual interest of 30% in dollars. FOK passed this interest expense on to Aeroflot, tacking on a 65% annual interest rate in rubles (since the ruble was declining only a bit against the dollar at the time, that amounted to about 46% in dollar terms). By the time Aeroflot finally paid for the fuel it bought from BP, it was paying about a 90% annual rate (in dollar terms) on its loans.

If Aeroflot was getting shafted by the FOK-Grangeland relationship, the Russian tax authorities were left empty-handed as well. According to its confidential 1996 annual report, FOK wiped out 97% of its pretax profits with “foreign exchange losses.” (Yes, those losses were Grangeland’s gain — that much is clear from the annual report.)

And what is Grangeland? The Dublin address is just a postbox. We don’t know who owns Grangeland, except that the shareholders include two Panamanian companies. Grangeland has two directors; both are employed by the small Swiss accounting firm that services Andava.

Fast forward to 2007. Klebnikov is dead. Shot gangster style in 2004. The trial of
Kazbek Dukuzov, his suspected killer, is in limbo because he’s disappeared. (And I would be surprised if his “disappearance” isn’t permanent.) I personally think Klebnikov real killer is Berezovsky himself. As for the former “Godfather in the Kremlin,” he castigates the Putin Administration from his cushy digs in London. Digs he pays for out of all the cash he scammed out of the Russian government and people.

Berezovsky’s response to his possible trial in absentia? His lawyer Andrei Borovkov has this to say: “We have requested that the case be dropped as there is absolutely no evidence substantiating Berezovsky’s guilt.”

Is he joking?

Update: The spectacle that is BAB never ceases. The news site right wing NewsMax.com reports that in an interview with journalists in London last week, Berezovsky predicted that Hillary Clinton will win the US Presidency in 2008. If only his political chicken bone reading stopped there. He also suggested that “if Hillary Clinton wins the next election, Putin will simply install his wife Ludmilla as president of Russia.”

He also reiterated his request that the West overthrow the Putin government. “He also said that it will be necessary for the West – meaning the U.S. and Britain – to “use force” to effect “regime change” in Russia. According to Berezovsky, Putin will never give up power because he knows “he would be liable to be prosecuted for his many crimes,” including the murder of Litvinenko.”

Now I have a real serious question to ask. Is Berezovsky high? And more importantly, how do I get some?