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Western Media Gets Yevtushenkov Affair Wrong


This post first appeared on Russia Insider

Last week the arrest of Russian billionaire Yevtushenkov kick started a new round of western fantasy about Russia that has nothing to do with facts.

Yevtushenkov was arrested for his involvement in the sale of Bashneft to his own holding company Sistema.  There are claims that the sale was corrupt and illegal.  There have also been claims that Yevtushenkov was trying to obstruct the investigation into the sale.

<figcaption>Yevtushenkov Faces a Maximum Seven Years in Jail if Convicted</figcaption>
Yevtushenkov Faces a Maximum Seven Years in Jail if Convicted

The western media has ignored all this.  Instead it prefers to float farfetched and fact free conspiracy theories about what bears every sign of being simply a straightforward criminal investigation.   The Financial Times and the BBC for example turn to Khodorkovsky, who in an interview accused Rosneft and the Russian government of attempting "to nationalise Bashneft on the cheap" making the arrest sound like part of an illegal confiscation or seizure of Bashnet by the government. Khodorkosvky insinuates that certain Kremlin connected individuals, notably Igor Sechin, are looking to benefit personally from it.  The BBC summarises it all in this way:

"Mr Khodorkovsky, in an interview with Russian business daily Vedomosti (owned by the Financial Times), said the Sistema chairmain's arrest involved "purely commercial interests" rather than political motives. It also showed that President Putin had lost control and was not aware of what was happening".

Khodorkovsky was recently released after spending 10 years in prison following convictions for very serious crimes.  In repeated Judgments that in the West scarcely get mentioned the European Court of Human Rights has said he is guilty and that there was no political motive to his case.   He nonetheless continues to say the case brought against him was politically motivated and was about the government illegally seizing his company, Yukos, in the same way he now accuses the government of trying to seize Bashneft .   He continues to blame Putin and Sechin for what he says was done to him.  This hardly makes him a credible or objective source on anything related to Putin or Sechin.

The western media however persist in wrongly assuming his innocence and treat him as an impartial and objective source.  One is reminded of Berezovsky, someone the western media once treated in the same way, who Mrs. Justice Gloster of the British High Court found was actually "unreliable", "deliberately dishonest" and someone "who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could be moulded to suit his current purposes".  Judging from what the European Court of Human Rights has said about him Khodorkovsky is no different. 

The Guardian for its part turns for an explanation of the case to William Browder.  Browder is another person the western media considers a martyr. In Russia by contrast he is someone convicted of large scale financial fraud and tax evasion.  Browder for his part has made farfetched and unsubstantiated claims that the death in a Russian prison from natural causes of his former lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was the result of an elaborate political and criminal conspiracy.  He too is hardly a credible or impartial source. 

As it happens Browder as quoted in the Guardian article contradicts Khodorkovsky's claims by saying Yevtushenkov's arrest was politically motivated, the suggestion here being that it is intended as a "warning" to Russia's oligarchs not to launch a "palace coup" against Putin because of the Ukrainian crisis:

Bill Browder said the arrest of Yevtushenkov was intended to send a message to any Oligarchs plotting moves against Putin. It was more motivated by political paranoia than any demand for a particular asset. 

It is clear from this that the western media has in fact no idea why Yevtushenkov was arrested. Yet rather than do the obvious thing, which is look at the train of events that led to the arrest, they prefer to turn for explanations to people like Khodorkovsky and Browder.

In reality the Bashneft sale has been under investigation for a long time.  Izmestyev, a former Russian senator, has testified that Harapetyan, the dealer who brokered the sale and who has also been arrested, received $50 million in illegal kickbacks from the sale.  There have been claims that Yevtushenkov has been trying to obstruct the investigation.  Though one cannot know the full facts until the investigation is over there is no reason to think that this is not a straightforward investigation into a possibly corrupt and illegal sale.  

Certainly there is no reason to turn to people like Khodorkovsky and Browder for farfetched conspiracy theories and lurid speculations about this affair when the known facts provide a perfectly sufficient explanation for it.

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