A little something for the (very few) supporters of Usmanov challenging Craig Murray to produce evidence:
Guardian - Government denies access to Usmanov reports: The Government has refused a parliamentary request for it to publish two official Foreign & Commonwealth Office reports about the activities of Alisher Usmanov, the Uzbek-born Russian billionaire who is now the second largest shareholder in Arsenal.... Murray said that he sent the two reports from the Uzbeki capital, Tashkent, to the foreign office by confidential telegram, the standard format for communications from overseas-based embassies. They were "quite highly classified" because of the risk of identifying the people Murray claims passed him the information. "It is true that there is no documentary evidence - how could there be on such a matter?" he said. "I think it is right that the reports be published, although in a form which would protect the identities of the sources."
Bartholomew - Journalist-Critic of Uzbek Regime Murdered: Twenty-six-year-old Uzbek journalist Alisher Saipov has been shot dead in the city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan, apparently by Uzbek security agents.
Craig Murray has more on both developments.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
A little something for the (very few) supporters of Usmanov challenging Craig Murray to produce evidence:
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
REVEL in the sheer hypocrisy of the Mail bringing up a past connection to the Nazis!
SHIVER in anticipation as Schillings advises their client to press any and all legal advantage in a way that's sure to bring more negative publicity!
SIGH in relief when that client reveals that - unlike certain ancestors - he can be quite sensible when the pressure is on.
Anorak - Schillings Update: On Alisher Usmanov, Peter Serafinowizc And Online PR
Schillings really have to learn that that they're no good at this PR lark.
Monday, October 22, 2007
SpyBlog - Alisher Usmanov Parliamentary Question rebuffed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office: The Labour government appears to be trying to protect Alisher Usmanov from public scrutiny... (Their) "personal data" excuse is also what the FCO appear to be relying on in their refusal to name the former Russian Federation and British and diplomats who were expelled over the Andrei Litvinenko Polonium-210 radioactive poisoning murder and contamination affair.
UPDATE - A 'see also' via Atlantic Free Press:
Brian Barder - The Telegraph on the gagging of ex-diplomats by the Foreign Office: Is the Foreign Office simply protecting its official secrets, or seeking to save ministers from embarrassment? Official secrets are protected by the Official Secrets Act, which rightly binds officials for life, both as government employees and after retirement. The new rules go much further, banning any unauthorised expression of opinion not just by serving officers but by also by retired diplomats for the rest of their lives, if it "draws on, or appears to draw on, official information or experience gained in the course of official duties", even if no breach of secrets is involved.
Independent - Arsenal move to block Usmanov: Arsenal's directors have extended the 'lockdown' to ward off a potential takeover – and are set to invite American sports tycoon Stan Kroenke to sign up to the agreement. The move is a clear snub to Alisher Usmanov, the Russian billionaire who controls Red & White Holdings which has a 23 per cent stake in the club, and cements Kroenke's favoured status with Arsenal. He was consulted on the lockdown while Usmanov wasn't.
Meanwhile, there's another lockdown of an entirely different nature going on...
John Helmer - Court documents reveal De Beers charges against Usmanov over Grib diamond pipe: A public relations blitz under way this month in London and the UK media has produced charges and counter-charges involving Alisher Usmanov, an iron-ore and steel magnate. He is accused of conspiring with other Russians to defraud a De Beers-affiliated company of its 40% stake in, and several hundred millions of dollars in future profits from, the only major diamond deposit newly discovered in northwestern Russia... This time Usmanov has been after possible control of the Arsenal Football Club. As the Corus board had done before them, the Arsenal shareholding defenders have attempted to persuade the London newspapers to publish items from Usmanov’s past career, thereby deterring shareholders from selling out, and creating an atmosphere hostile to Usmanov’s involvement in the affairs of the football club. As Usmanov had done before, he found his champion in a Moscow-based correspondent for the Sunday Times. What the latter omitted to report was a detailed dossier of court files from Sweden to the United States, the existence and meaning of which Usmanov has gone to great public care and private expense to deny. The wording of Usmanov’s denials is subtle; the only way to understand that is to read the court documents themselves. De Beers isn’t providing them. The diamond group is carefully avoiding being drawn publicly on the conflict, although it is indirectly connected to Arsenal through Sir Chips Keswick. A former Hambros banker, Keswick sits on both the De Beers and Arsenal boards. Keswick was last reported as owning 20 shares of Arsenal, amounting to 0.032% of the issued stock.
The Register - Judge orders football website to name 'libellous' posters
Guardian - Warning to abusive bloggers as judge tells site to reveal names
OUT-law News - Sheffield Wednesday can't unmask 'saloon-bar moaners', says libel judge
Bartholemew - Identities of Internet "Saloon-Bar Moaners" Protected
Please note that the following thoughts are based primarily on hypothectical circumstances more likely to relate to poorly-regulated weblogs than forums:
- What if the "seven of eleven individuals" who are protected are all the same individual and/or a small group deliberately using "trivial attack(s)" to bolster, boost or 'boot' the primary attack?
- Those running anonymous weblogs and/or poorly-regulated weblogs that allow for repeated anonymous
smears 'jokes' will want to take a long, hard look at the costs accrued in revealing the identities of those involved. There are ways of retrieving historical comment-related IP data from months back that you may not even be aware of, and most of them are extremely expensive.
- Expenses that seem prohibitive (to you) could conceivably prevent a libel action, but they could just as easily be dumped right in your lap.
Via Toby Bryans and Peter Risdon and James Graham and Tom Watson and Justin McKeating and... well, almost *everyone*, really:
DC’s Improbable Science - Society of Homeopaths: cowards and bullies: Many people now have written about the disgraceful and dangerous claims by homeopaths to be able to prevent and cure malaria... One of the best contributions was on the Quackometer blog, The Gentle Art of Homeopathic Killing. But the post vanished at midday on Thursday 11 October. Quackometer’s ISP has received threatening letters sent by lawyers on behalf of the Society of Homeopaths, who claim that the truth is defamatory, while being unwilling to say which statements are wrong.
Bad Science - A corporate conspiracy to silence alternative medicine?: Did the SoH engage with these criticisms? Reflect on them? Challenge and rebutt them? No. They sent a threatening legal letter. Did this threatening legal letter say what was wrong with Dr Lewis’s post? No. It wasn’t even sent to him, it was sent to his hosting company Netcetera, demanding they take his page down. He contacted the SoH, very politely (I mean incredibly politely, read it here), to ask them what the problems were with his comments. No response. Instead their lawyers sent another angry letter to his hosting company, who of course cannot investigate this in full, are strictly speaking liable, and so – good call - the page was taken down. Corporate conspiracy silences the little man: except of course his piece has now been replicated a hundred times across the internet by an army of smirking bloggers.
You can read that awfully polite but sadly ignored letter in full here:
Quackometer - Unanswered Questions
You can read the offending post at any one of these fabulous new locations, but the best version is hosted by none other than James Randi, who helpfully points out where in the article the Society of Homeopaths might seek to gain legal advantage through the equally-misunderstood art of Semantic Origami:
James Randi - Criticize Carefully
Yes, with the exception of possible differences in body count, it's the Alisher Usmanov affair all over again.
The body of what Andy Lewis had to say was not challenged in any genuine legal sense by Homiety of Sociopaths; in fact, there appears to have been a determined effort to prevent Andy Lewis from seeing the body of the challenge in order to deny him the possibility of challenging it. Bodily. (Nurse! The sugar pills!)
Thursday, October 18, 2007
First this happens:
The Register - Fasthosts admits email destruction fiasco
The Register - Fasthosts customer? Change your password now
Davblog - Password Basics
Bloggerheads - Yet another reason to avoid Fasthosts like the plague
I'm not entirely sure, but I think I may have found a contributing factor to this and other problems...
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
The Register - Fasthosts falls for phisherman's ruse: Anti-fraud site turfed offline after Joe Job attack
Bloggerheads - Fasthosts and UKreg: why you should look elsewhere
Chicken Yoghurt - Fasthosts: At it again
PigDogFucker - Possibly fast, definitely shit
Monday, October 15, 2007
Hang on... what's going on here, then?
The Times - (August 30, 2007): Mr Usmanov, who is married and has two children...
The Times - (October 14, 2007): (Usmanov says); “I have everything, except children. That’s the only thing missing in my life."
For clarity on this point, we turn to the Telegraph....
The Telegraph - (31 August, 2007): He is married to Irina Viner, one of the leading trainers of Russian rhythmic gymnastics, who has two children from a previous marriage...
... who therefore do not count.
He's got a heart as big as all outdoors, this one.
Via Arseblog and Arsenal Times comes news of a lone blogger taking the 'middle' ground and saying;
"It's a bit sad that Craig Murray says Franchetti was bought off with a good meal. A bit of a low blow personally because Franchetti has given a balanced account..."Speaks for itself, doesn't it?
Arsenal Muse has had a lot to say about Craig Murray in recent weeks, and here's a highlight that shows the balance and clarity of thought that he brings to the table;
"I know Craig Murray. He was removed from his job after profiting from the instability in the middle east to lead a party lifestyle in Uzbekistan. This led to instability in the foreign office in Uzbekistan and numerous operation problems occurred when the British and I would say that includes you and I and the rest of the world during the Middle East conflict, needed as much stability in the region."'Arsenal Muse' does not allow comments on his weblog, and has a charmingly desperate 'shotgun' approach to keyword placement in headlines. There is also a shocking allegation on the loose that he is a bit of a muppet... but don't let that put you off giving him a fair hearing.
Over time, Shaun Custis appears to have allowed Usmanov's largesse to slip his mind...
The Sun - Alisher is dead set on Arsenal: Alisher Usmanov, the Russian billionaire trying to get hold of Arsenal, has adopted a macabre tactic - plundering the dead. Usmanov, who has a 23 per cent stake in the Gunners, is attempting to buy all the shares owned by folk who have died. It is believed nearly one per cent of shares are owned by those who have passed away. And, while that may not sound a lot, it is a significant amount in the current power battle. Usmanov is just two per cent away from a 25 per cent shareholding which, he believes, would give him a say in the club.
An extraordinary article has appeared in the Sunday Times, which appears to be the first shot fired with the aid of PR firm Finsbury Limited. Please note that differs from an earlier PR push in that the journalist involved actually makes a note of the opulent circumstances surrounding the interview. In fact, he seems positively hypnotised by them at times...
The Times - Arsenal billionaire, Alisher Usmanov, recalls six years in penal colony
Mark Franchetti, Moscow
When Alisher Usmanov was sent to an Uzbek penal colony stuffed with 3,500 inmates, including murderers and rapists, he came face to face with two dozen hardened criminals who had been prosecuted by his father. Few thought he would get out alive. “When they realised that my dad was Uzbekistan’s deputy prosecutor-general they wanted to rip me to shreds,” Usmanov recalled last week in his first full interview since he bought a £120m stake in Arsenal football club. “My life was in serious danger and I was shocked at what had happened to me. After a privileged upbringing I suddenly found myself in a tuberculosis-infested maximum security penal colony. Conditions were appalling and I had to survive day by day. But in time the inmates learnt to respect me and I managed to stay true to myself. I stayed alive and remained an honest person.”
Pollyanna plays the victim. Next!
Usmanov was 33 when he was released, six years into an eight-year sentence for fraud and embezzlement, in 1986. The convictions were later overturned by Uzbekistan’s Supreme Court, which ordered his police record to be expunged.
This would appear to run contrary to Usmanov's earlier statements that he was "a political prisoner who was then freed and granted a full pardon once Mikhail Gorbachev came to power as president." In fact, in the article by Craig Murray that kicked this whole thing off (now republished in full here), Murray says quite clearly; "The lawyers cunningly evoke Gorbachev, a name respected in the West, to make us think that justice prevailed. That is completely untrue. Usmanov's pardon was nothing to do with Gorbachev. It was achieved through the growing autonomy of another thug, President Karimov, at first President of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic and from 1991 President of Uzbekistan. Karimov ordered the 'Pardon' because of his alliance with Usmanov's mentor, Uzbek mafia boss and major international heroin overlord Gafur Rakimov."
Transfattyacid later noted that; "it could not possibly have been Mikhail Gorbachev who annulled his convictions, as he was overthrown by Boris Yeltsin in 1991: 9 years before (the Soviet conviction was annulled by the Uzbekistan supreme court in 2000)."
So there are two clear reasons to distrust this new line;
a) It has clearly changed after an early attempt at spin
b) It's remarkably coy about details such as the past and present level of corruption in Uzbekistan that is so deep-rooted that some fear any comprehensive effort to correct it could topple the economy.
[Those with an eye for detail may want to search for 'uzbekitsan' on this website.]
Little more than 20 years after he was freed, he has amassed an estimated £5 billion fortune and is ranked 18th in the list of Russia’s richest. He runs a metals to media business empire that spans three continents. There are properties in Moscow, Surrey and Sardinia and a “mega-yacht” with its own helipad. As a senior adviser to Gazprom, the world’s biggest extractor of natural gas, and the president of one of its subsidiaries, Usmanov also maintains regular contact with influential figures in the Russian government. He is on good personal terms with President Vladimir Putin and is often summoned to the Kremlin by officials seeking his opinion. Unlike some Russian tycoons who dabbled in politics, angered Putin and ended up in exile or in jail, Usmanov has stuck to business. He describes Putin as a “blessing for Russia” and spends £20m a year supporting Russian sport and culture, including the Bolshoi ballet. Last month he bought the entire art collection of the late cellist Mstislav Rostropovich for a reported £30m to stop it being broken up and sold abroad. The 450 works were donated to the Russian state.
He is rich. He is generous. If you're having difficulty containing your awe, then consider that some might think that because he is so obscenely rich he can afford to throw obscene amounts of money around in an effort to be seen as generous.
Now 53, Usmanov appears to have led a charmed existence since he was released from detention. But he remains haunted by his years of incarceration on the outskirts of Tashkent, the Uzbek capital. Although he was fully absolved in 2000 and no longer has a criminal record, rumours about his past persist. Usmanov believes they are promulgated by business rivals and feels wronged by his portrayal in Britain since he bought 23% of Arsenal during the summer.
Diddums. First he's imprisoned because everybody had it in for him and now his past is being thrown in his face because everybody has it in for him. Is there no justice?
Craig Murray, the outspoken former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, has accused Usmanov of links with organised crime but has offered no proof. Usmanov rejected the charges and threatened to sue Murray “if he can first prove that he is completely sane”.
An extraordinary ad hominem attack, which Mark Franchetti (an alleged journalist) passes on without comment or qualification. In fact, Franchetti even seeks to kick it along with his use of the ever-reliable codeword 'outspoken'.
And it comes complete with an empty threat; a spokesperson for his law firm Schillings made it clear recently that; "they did not intend to sue Murray directly."
[Personal Note - Many of you will be familiar with this particular brand of ad hominem attack, used repeatedly by many sock-puppeting losers during the recent Bit Of Necessary. Usmanov will no doubt be calling Murray an 'obsessive stalker' next.]
It was partly in an attempt to curb claims of a shady past that he invited me to his Moscow mansion and agreed to talk for the first time about the circumstances that led to his being imprisoned in 1980.
Our first hint that Mark Franchetti's helmet has handlebars.
“I was jailed on trumped-up charges and lost six years of my life as a result of infighting within the KGB,” he said. “It took another 14 years to clear my name and prove that I was framed. All my career I’ve been confronted with prejudiced people who are determined to turn me into a stereotype, a central Asian thief.
Apparently, one who acknowledges institutionalised corruption is prejudiced. Perhaps even a borderline racist.
“I’m fed up with having to answer these slurs. Not only did I never do anything criminal but I managed to stay honest and become one of the world’s most successful businessmen, despite being locked up with criminals for six years. It’s high time that those who continue to insinuate things about me recognised that.”
I would like to state for the record that I fully recognise that Alisher Usmanov has become one of the world’s most successful businessmen, despite being locked up with criminals for six years. As for his being honest before going into prison, remaining honest throughout, and emerging possibly even more honest than ever... well, we'll get to that right after the money shot.
Usmanov runs his empire from the headquarters of Metal-loinvest, his main company, in a lavish building in central Moscow fitted with Italian marble and heavy chandeliers. From there I was driven 30 miles along Rublovka, a road that cuts through a forest of firs to a “billionaires’ row” where Usmanov has a 30-acre estate beside the Moscow river. A 16ft-high metal fence encircles the property. Usmanov, who never leaves home without a retinue of bodyguards armed with machine-guns, was working in a large, single-storey wooden villa which he has built as a private office next to his palatial house. Casually dressed in a Lacoste polo shirt, tracksuit bottoms and leather slippers, he was sitting in an armchair, advising a friend on the telephone on how best to clinch a £1m deal. In front of him was a small table and a bell with which to summon staff. In the next room, his personal adviser on equities was checking the latest share prices on a 30in computer screen. Sipping tea after his phone call, Usmanov studied the screen with the analyst as they discussed whether to sell a large holding in a Russian bank. A butler delivered frequent messages or passed on one of several mobile phones on which the tycoon fielded further calls.
Translation: Alisher Usmanov does not own a cat.
“I’m less excited now by day-to-day business,” he explained as he kept an eye on a news bulletin on a gigantic flat-screen television. “One thing I’ll always have a drive for, though, is the equity market. Intellectually I find the markets deeply stimulating. And then there are things like Arsenal. That’s a passion. It’s a fantastic team and a wonderful game I want to be a part of.” Usmanov said that when the chance of buying into the club arose, he consulted Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea, who told him: “It’s a great club, go for it.”
Translation: Alisher Usmanov wishes you to know that he is a philanthropist at heart.
“I’m very surprised by all the press hostility,” Usmanov added. “The more I say that I’ve no intention of launching a hostile bid, the more people claim that it’s precisely what I want to do. I just don’t get it.”
Hmmm. Perhaps they've somehow arrived at the conclusion that he's a ruthless businessman and congenital liar. That might make it a little easier to understand.
It is all a far cry from the teenaged Usmanov’s dream of becoming a diplomat. His father held a powerful post in the Uzbek judicial system, his mother was a Russian language teacher and as a child of the elite, he was sent away at the age of 18 to study at the State Institute for International Relations in Moscow. There, he read international law, Arabic and French and planned to join the Soviet diplomatic service in the Middle East. He also became close friends with fellow students Sergei Yastrzhembsky and Sergei Prikhodko, both now aides to Putin, and was later a pupil of Yevgeny Primakov, who went on to head Russia’s foreign intelligence service and was subsequently appointed foreign minister and prime minister.
Craig Murray points out here that; "(This) is the first published admission I have seen of the key Usmanov/Jastrzebski relationship. Franchetti shows that I was right about this, and about the origin of that relationship as students."
“People say now that I’m well connected in the Kremlin,” he said over a lunch of lamb stew and red wine served by the butler in one of his private dining rooms, a hall lined with gilded central Asian vases.
Our second hint that Mark Franchetti's helmet has handlebars.
“Some of the people I know in the Kremlin have been close friends for decades. I’m not an oligarch because I’ve never received any favours from the state. I’m a businessman and don’t do politics.” After graduating in 1976 Usmanov returned to Uzbekistan where he worked for the Komsomol, the Communist party youth organisation. But his ambitions of travelling the world as a diplomat came to an abrupt end when he was 27.
Tragic, really. The world needs more honest men in diplomatic service.
A power struggle broke out between the KGB in Moscow and its Uzbek arm over the appointment of a new chairman of the Uzbek KGB. The local secret police backed a general who was the father of Bakhodir Nasimov, one of Usmanov’s closest childhood friends. But Moscow favoured another candidate, who saw Nasimov’s father as a potential threat. According to Usmanov, the Moscow nominee sought to destroy his rival’s career by framing his son, the young Nasimov, who was a junior KGB officer. “Nasimov was sent on a covert operation,” recalled Usmanov as we strolled under the watchful eye of a guard from the wooden villa into his mansion, a two-storey stone and marble building with seven bedrooms, several large halls decorated with mosaics, a lift, an indoor swimming pool and a small cinema where the tycoon watches Arsenal’s matches. “His bosses told him he was to accept a bribe from a guy involved in contraband so as to catch him red-handed. The point was to prosecute him for bribery. Nasimov told me that since the guy knew we were friends he might try to pass me the money. ‘If he does – take it,’ he told me, ‘and bring it to me’.”
Usmanov takes the only bribe he has ever taken in his life in order to save his friend. Brings a lump to the throat, doesn't it?
Craig Murray points out here that; "Usmanov was never a political prisoner opposed to communism. He was indeed convicted for corrupt dealings. He claims he was the accidental victim of a friend being set up - even if that were true, it does not make him an anti-communist political prisoner, which is how Schillings attempted to portray him."
Note also how Mark Franchetti peppers this passage with further observations regarding his opulent surroundings. Almost as if he's under some kind of spell.
What a pity that his eye for detail remains firmly focused on the decor...
As Usmanov was able to prove two decades later when he was finally cleared...
Craig again; "being absolved by Uzbekistan's Supreme Court means nothing whatsoever. Uzbekistan is a totalitarian state and has absolutely nil judicial independence."
Mark Franchetti makes no mention of this factor at all. Perhaps for reasons of space?
... the man with the money was a KGB agent posing as a criminal who had been instructed to frame Nasimov. He approached Usmanov and offered him cash for Nasimov. Usmanov duly took it. Nasimov, Usmanov and another third friend who was the son of a high-ranking party official were arrested. “I was hauled in and told to sign a confession,” the billionaire recalled. “‘Confess that you took a bribe to pass on to Nasimov for his father.’ I refused and went on an eight-day hunger strike, fearing that they would try to poison me. “Then they told me that they’d just get rid of me. I thought they’d kill me so I signed.”
Remarkable. Usmanov appears to be describing institutionalised corruption here. Of course, in this scenario, he is an innocent victim, as a corrupt government is sure to reward those who are inherently corrupt themselves, right?
The three young men were sentenced by a military court to eight years for fraud and embezzlement of state property.
That they were jailed despite being the children of high-ranking officials demonstrated that the charges were politically motivated, Usmanov said. “If I’d really committed a crime, my father, as deputy prosecutor, was sufficiently influential to have spared me an eight-year sentence. He couldn’t come to my rescue because the charges were trumped up for political reasons.”
I'll hand you over to SpyBlog for this whopper; "The idea of a deputy prosecutor having any influence whatsoever in a case involving his own son, is an utter anathema to us here in the United Kingdom, and just shows the depth of corruption which Usmanov obviously still considers to be normal behaviour."
Instead of being sent to a relatively safe penal colony for state officials, he was locked up in an ordinary one. He survived after a prison strongman took a liking to him and warned others not to harm him.
Bait. We're supposed to make jokes about dropping soap in the showers here, while Usmanov plays the victim. Don't fall for it.
Nasimov was less fortunate. He lost his mind and according to Usmanov is still in a mental institution.
And Usmanov still bears the scars of this injustice. So much so that he'll seek to gain advantage in a debate by suggesting that his opponent might be insane.
“Prison is a world apart. It has its own rules and its own reality,” Usmanov said. “I was strong, believed in myself and didn’t get corrupted. I was helped by people inside and the fact that they were criminals is no reason to forget that they saved my life. To this day I’m angry that all those years were taken away from me and wasted.”
Translation: Alisher Usmanov is a forgiving soul... but there are limits.
Released as a result of reforms introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, Usmanov married his teenage sweetheart, Irina Viner, who later became an Olympic gymnast. He had proposed to Viner from prison. “He sent me a handkerchief which, according to Uzbek tradition, is a proposal of marriage,” she said recently. “I still keep it.”
A touching love story that carries a belated qualification to earlier spin. I'd like to see some specifics about these reforms... unless of course Usmanov is referring to Perestroika in general, in which case he can stick his renewed spin where the sun don't shine.
Having lost any chance of a diplomatic career, Usmanov quickly took advantage of the business opportunities that opened up in the early days of perestroika. His first venture was making plastic shopping bags. “It was a lucrative business which taught me a lot,” he said. When Russian banks began to offer loans in the early 1990s, he borrowed several million dollars and displayed a talent for share-dealing. “I quickly realised that the equity market offered a sea of opportunities. We sold and bought whatever we could. We had a few failures and many successes. To me it was like an education and few things are as intellectually stimulating as getting a deal right.” Usmanov bought up former Soviet assets. He engineered leveraged buy-outs of the Oskolsky Electric Metallurgical Combine, the Lebedinsky Mining Combine and the Olenegorsk Combine. The deals made him a leading force in the iron and steel industry. "Those were tough and dangerous times,” he recalled. “Getting the right security and protection was paramount. Everything is much easier now. The legal framework is there and thanks to Putin, the country is back on track.” Usmanov snapped up another lucrative 15% stake in the UK-based steel maker Corus in 2002. He bought Gazprom shares, at a time when others had little faith in the gas giant’s future and went on to become president of GazpromInvest-Holding and owner of the Gaz-Metall/Metalloinvest Group, which controls 40% of iron ore production in Russia and two of the country’s largest steelworks.
Self-made man. Inspiring struggle. Yadda yadda yadda. You can't trust anything from Russia's past, but everything that happens in the present is strictly above board.
He has since expanded his empire by buying a stake in Russia’s third-largest mobile phone network and recently purchased Kommersant, an influential daily newspaper, for £100m. The paper used to be owned by Boris Berezovsky, the London-based tycoon and fierce critic of Putin.
Used to be. This is Usmanov dressing himself in the reputation of others (again), and playing games with his magic time machine (again).
It has since been reported that; "The chief editor of Kommersant, one of Russia’s leading dailies, quit over differences with new owner Alisher Usmanov. Former editor Vladislav Borodulin broke with the paper one month after tycoon Usmanov took the reins... The loss of Borodulin could mean a more restricted paper as the Kommersant aligns with other Kremlin-friendly Russian media."
Well, that's one way of putting it. One might suspect that this was going to happen anyway, and was the main reason why Borodulin left.
“I’ve been very blessed in life,” said Usmanov as he showed me a collection of Soviet art, a cellar stacked with rare wines, and a large mural depicting figures from Uzbek folklore.
Again, Mark Franchetti, keeps his eye for detail firmly on the decor, but this time manages to miss something that's right in front of his face; that large mural doesn't do a lot to support Usmanov's recent attempts to visibly distance himself from Uzbekistan.
“I have everything, except children. That’s the only thing missing in my life."
More bait. We're meant to say something horrible that will allow Usmanov to play the victim. Either that, or it's an intriguing invitation to single women who would like box seats for Arsenal games.
"Those who know me and have done business with me know that I’m an honest person. I’ve proven that what happened to me as a young man was the result of political infighting. I was a victim and when I came out I realised I had one last chance to make a success of my life."
Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!
As for his contention that he's an honest person, he himself provides evidence that is far from honest. Here comes the money shot...
"I won’t fall so low as to fight those who want to blacken my name."
This is a direct and double-bladed contradiction; earlier Usmanov threatens to sue Murray “if he can first prove that he is completely sane."
In one statement he says he will fight, and stoops to blackening the name of his opponent in the same breath.
In the other he says he won't fight, purely on the basis that he refuses to engage in name-blackening games.
"Let their slurs weigh on their conscience. Mine is clean.”
He's not only a liar, he's a bloody shameless one.
UPDATE: Usmanov's narrative only covers the (*ahem*) trumped-up charge relating to bribery... Where's the heart-warming background story to the trumped-up charges of extortion and rape? Is he saving those for later? Perhaps with brandy and cigars?
UPDATE: A quick link for those who are confused about Usmanov's "I have everything, except children" statement.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
LexisNexis in association with Schillings present:It seems to me that we should have a representative at that meeting... are there any volunteers?
A roundtable breakfast briefing on how to avert a public crisis and protect your company’s brand, reputation and share price
Wednesday 24 October 2007
Halsbury House, 35 Chancery Lane, London
This highly practical roundtable breakfast will give you an opportunity to:
- Understand how to utilise the laws of defamation, privacy and intellectual property to safeguard your company’s reputation
- Gain tactical advice on how to strategically deploy injunctions
- Learn how you can exploit the Reynolds defence
- Discover how to “out” anonymous attackers
- Appreciate on-line threats and how to protect against internet attacks
This LexisNexis roundtable breakfast briefing in association with Schillings will provide you with the knowledge you need to either avert a crisis before it arises or mitigate its effect. The roundtable is by invitation only and will give you the opportunity to obtain expert practical advice on handling such a crisis and compare notes with your fellow in-house counsel under Chatham House rules on how such disasters can be averted.
Slate - Michael Weiss: Civil Disobedience on the WebBritish bloggers stand up to threats of libel lawsuits: British libel law is notorious for its ability to silence critics of wealthy - and often shady - public figures. One would think, then, that bloggers with neither the deep pockets nor the lawyers of their mainstream media compatriots would be even less willing to fight accusations of libel. But, as two recent cases point out, they might be ideally suited to undermining the institution that precipitated the downfall of Oscar Wilde.
Let's hope so.
(See also: Roy Greenslade)
The recent report on the diamond-fraud row revealed that Alisher Usamov is now using the services of the financial public-relations firm Finsbury Limited.
Perhaps this will work out better than, say, having the law firm Schillings double as his PR team.
(Matt Wardman has a report on their effectiveness in this role here and a recent follow-up here.)
Are Finsbury up to it? Well, that question is only part of the equation, as you'll soon see...
Via the comments over at Craig's site and Sourcewatch comes the following:
2001 - The government is accused of making taxpayers pay twice for spin, when it emerges that Finsbury have been hired to effectively take on the work of special adviser Jo Moore in promoting ministers' rescue plan for Railtrack. Later, questions are asked in the House of Lords relating to the appropriateness of hiring Finsbury to represent Railtrack.
2002 - British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) hire Finsbury for corporate and financial PR support. This appointment coincided with the fallout (sorry) from the return a load of defective nuclear fuel. Finsbury also appears to have been part of the later effort to sell the idea of 'new and safe' nuclear power to the public.
2004 - Roland Rudd's financial PR firm Finsbury is receiving taxpayers' money as part of a lucrative contract with university vice-chancellors to sell the Tony Blair's plans for university top-up fees.
2004 - Shell, already using Finsbury for PR, for some reason take on an additional PR firm to help them deal with the crisis that emerged following their massive overstatement of the amount of natural resources in their reserves.
2006 - Tony Blair's eldest son Euan spent a fortnight at Rudd's company Finsbury on a work experience placement.
(Psst! I threw that last one in for David Icke and his followers. But it's true.)
It would appear to me that Finsbury have a long track record of defending the indefensible, with most notable clients taking them on when they are in the deepest shit imaginable.
The following question was asked under comments over at Craig's weblog:
Is it significant that Finsbury have +accepted+ Usmanov as a client? They have their own reputation to protect too no?My view is that it is significant, but the primary impact is on Usmanov's reputation; this appointment sends a message to a savvy audience that he is:
a) seeking to defend the indefensible
b) in the deepest shit imaginable
I realise that British-based ISPs are behind the eight-ball with UK libel law as it stands, which is why I want to work with the local industry to effect change.
However, there are a few actions by Fasthosts that I personally find hard to forgive:
1) Their sudden and OTT closure of an entire account involving sites and servers unconnected to the complaints made by Schillings.
2) Their refusal to engage in dialogue (when this was offered, they simply closed the account and walked away).
3) The misleading statements issued to the press suggesting that we had been less than co-operative when we were in no position to call them on their bullshit.
4) Their subsequent refusal to say anything at all when we could (and did) call them on their bullshit.
I'm sure you can spot the common thread here, and Fasthosts have recently withdrawn even further.
As most of you should be aware, a weblog is more than a content management system; it is (or at the very least should be) a contract with the public that offers open dialogue.
But after pissing off most of the blogosphere and making it clear that they had no intention of defending their actions or the initial statements attempting same, Fasthosts have done something that I think is fair to describe as typical of their attitude:
Instead of facing or embracing dialogue on their weblog (which has been in operation since late 2006), Fasthosts have simply deactivated it.
The weblog used to be here. It is now gone. Kaput. No more.
Of course, it's possible that this is only a temporary technical hitch... but it's far more likely that this is a clear signal from Fasthosts that they would rather avoid contact with bloggers in future.
If you own a weblog that is currently hosted by Fasthosts, take note.
A recent poll on this website put the following to readers:
ANSWER ONLY IF YOU SUPPORT CHANGES TO EXISTING UK LIBEL LAW:- If a snap election is called, how do you plan on voting?
The Alliance Party - 1 (0%)
Conservatives - 52 (19%)
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) - 0 (0%)
Greens - 23 (8%)
Labour - 61 (22%)
Liberal Democrats - 72 (26%)
Plaid Cymru - 8 (2%)
Sinn Féin (SF) - 3 (1%)
Social Democratic & Labour Party (SDLP) - 3 (1%)
SNP - 28 (10%)
Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) - 0 (0%)
Other - 20 (7%)
Total Votes: 271
This confirms what most of us already knew; that there's considerable support across the political spectrum for changes to UK libel law .
We are also in a situation where we have the support of some individual journalists (with some notable exceptions), but very few editors.
(I don't think it's at all paranoid to acknowledge that old media have a vested interest in keeping new media on a tight leash.)
These are the two reasons why I think that this could be a watershed moments for bloggers; we're largely on our own, but we're willing to stand together.
A group of us are right now working on a proposal that will involve manageable and carefully prioritised changes.
We'll be putting something to the public soon. Watch this space.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Monday, October 8, 2007
International Herald Tribune - Bloggers beware when you criticize the rich and powerful: The daily Web log, or blog, of the former U.K. ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, vanished after Murray's British Internet provider received a flurry of ominous legal letters demanding the removal of "potentially defamatory" information about Alisher Usmanov, a mining mogul with a rising stake in the English soccer club Arsenal. Two weeks later, Murray is not blogging, but his blistering opinions are about to surface again through a Dutch Internet provider that offers refuge to controversial bloggers in the United States and in England, where libel laws are more lax. And with that journey, Murray has stirred support and a common outrage among bloggers and Internet service providers who complain that chilling demands from companies are becoming more frequent in a number of countries.
In other news, Craig Murray's site is now back online, and we can probably expect to hear something from him later today.
It looks like this is going to be an unhappy week for Mr Usmanov.
While Usmanov butters up journalists and maintains his 'water of a duck's back' charade, the willing flunkies at Schillings have resumed their attacks on websites vulnerable to their quasi-legal challenges:
Indymedia UK Facing Legal Censorship… again!
Justin and Septicisle have more.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Via Arsenal News Review (with one extra added by moi) a list of
9* 8 of the 10 journalists reported to have been flown to and from Moscow by Alisher Usmanov on a Gulfstream 550 private jet and put up at the five-star Kempinski Hotel:
Roger Blitz (Financial Times): Blitz wrote two articles, here and here, but did not mention the rather notable travel and accommodation arrangements in either. [MINI-UPDATE: See response from FT below.]
David Bond (The Daily Telegraph): The resulting article makes much of Usmanov's 'knowledge' of Arsenal, describes Murray's allegations as "an extraordinary attack" and our only hint about travel and accommodation is given in the following passage; "...in an effort to dispel the mystery and set the record straight, Usmanov invited British journalists to Moscow, to explain his side of the story."
Jason Burt (The Independent): Two articles here and here, but no mention of travel or accommodation.
Shaun Custis (The Sun): The resulting article is very light on detail when discussing Usmanov's past, which this 'journalist' describes as 'smears'. There is no mention of travel or accommodation.
Matt Dickinson (The Times): The resulting article mentions travel, but not accommodation. [MINI-UPDATE: Another article gives readers some clue as to what's going on by using the words "charm offensive".... but makes no mention of some rather important specifics that show how offensive it is.]
Richard Galpin (BBC) The resulting article says that "in the cramped conference room were British newspaper journalists intrigued to discover more about Russia's 18th richest man," but fails to mention that they were not intrigued enough to make the journey under their own steam. [snip] [*MINI-UPDATE: Richard Galpin himself is based on Moscow. See comments.]
Martin Lipton (The Mirror): Articles headed 'Martin Lipton in Moscow' here and here, but no mention of how he got there, and no mention of any fuss over Usmanov's past. All the folks at home get is "Alisher loves Arsenal." Way to go, Martin Lipton.
Charlie Sale (The Daily Mail): Sale is quite specific about travel and accommodation here and here, but he dutifully states in his main article that; "Usmanov was pardoned by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev" (all that jetting about can't have left much time for research).
Matt Scott (The Guardian): The resulting article airs more detail than most, but does not mention travel or accommodation.
9* 8 out of a reported 10 journalists, flown to and from Moscow by Alisher Usmanov on a Gulfstream 550 private jet and put up at the five-star Kempinski Hotel. Only one of them is completely honest with their readers about the extraordinary and luxurious circumstances surrounding the interview.
One can only assume that their editors approve.
Are you impressed? I'm impressed.
UPDATE - Gulfstream 550s look nice. So do Kempinski Hotels. Go on... have a little imaginary wallow and see what it feels like. Incidentally, a single room at the Hotel Baltschug Kempinski Moscow will set you back about 25,000 Russian Rubles excluding tax per night (or about £500 if you ever have cause to pay for one yourself).
UPDATE (05 Oct) - Last night, I wrote letters to most of the newspapers involved. Today, I received a reply from the Financial Times. It appears in full below:
Dear Mr IrelandI asked for clarification on "the cost of an air fare" and was told; "Our policy is to pay a full commercial rate on a scheduled airline since we do not regard the mode of travel as a perk in itself, merely a means of access."
Thank you for your letter. You raise an extremely important point and one we take very seriously. The answer to your question is that Roger Blitz did indeed travel on the jet and stay at the Kempinski. This was because of the access to a number of executives and others that travelling on the plane offered. However, in accordance with our strict policy on hospitality, the FT refunded the cost of an air fare and insisted on paying the hotel bill ourselves. Mr Usmanov also made Mr Blitz - and I assume others - a gift of a book on Russian art. Again, in accordance with our policy on gifts above a nominal value, the book will be put into the FT's christmas raffle, the proceeds of which go to charity. In the name of full disclosure, I should say that he did accept a meal from Mr Usmanov but otherwise we paid our own way. I hope you feel that this answers your important question and answers it to your satisfaction. I trust you will amend your blog to take account of this answer.
UPDATE (08 Oct) - I do the work and Dale gets the credit, which is par for the course. Still, we at least we now have a complete rundown of the perks some journalists would rather not mention:
In the interests of transparency here is a full breakdown of Usmanov's largess: Luton to Moscow on private Gulfstream 550 jet with lunch and drinks, transfer to five-star Kempinski hotel, dinner plus drinks, transfer to bar for drinks. Then one night in Kempinski, lunch in a Russian restaurant, transfer to Usmanov office, Metro trip, coffee and teas in Usmanov office, gift of art book, Gulfstream return to Stansted with cold supper.
Matt Wardman on Lynne Featherstone
Unity in a second post on UK libel law as it stands
Septicisle on Alisher Usmanov's pathetic PR push
On the latter matter, I think Usmanov missed a trick by jetting journalists over to his lair for a moving monologue.
Instead, he should have kidnapped some bloggers and subjected them to a heavy beating followed by a light supper, before outlining every detail of his evil plan and then slowly lowering us into a pool of hungry sturgeon. Perhaps while stroking a cat.
[Tip - What Usmanov really needs to do is tackle the charges head-on in a tough, no-holds-barred interview. If he wishes to take this path, he should contact Cactus TV Studios and ask to be booked on the next edition of Richard and Judy.]
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Times - Enthusiastic magnate buys into Wenger’s collection of fine art: There has been a lot of rummaging around his past and various dark murmurings about his businesses, some of it from the Arsenal board, and his response this week was to fly a group of journalists from England to his metals company in Moscow by private jet to explain that, while he may be an imposing bear of a man, he is not threatening or ill-intentioned. He did so sitting in his vast office at his metals company... Usmanov’s past includes six years in prison in his native Uzbekistan in the 1980s, but he said that he had been locked up on politically motivated and unfounded charges cooked up by his enemies in the KGB. That was life, he said, for many under the old Communist regime. “I spent 20 years fighting for my name,” Usmanov said. “Money is nothing compared to my name.” He also dismissed allegations by Thomas Wise, an English MEP, that his money was tainted. “People talk about me as Uzbekistan businessman involved with shady dealings, with narcotics,” Usmanov said. “It is beneath my dignity to respond to all the allegations. People like my parents could not bring up a gangster and racketeer.”
That, and his Mum thinks he's cute.
1. This article shows how serious a blow this speech was to Usmanov. Relish at your leisure.
2. What are the chances, do you think, of getting a list of the journalists who went jetting? Anybody?
3. Craig will be back soon and I *know* he's got a thing or two to say that will put Usmanov's claims about his past into perspective. Stay tuned.
UPDATE - Don't put those tissues away, folks... there's more
tears wank on the way:
Telegraph - Alisher Usmanov: I'm no Roman Abramovich: Speaking from his office, on the top floor of Metalloinvest, his mining company, which has a staggering turnover of $4bn a year, he said: "You cannot respond in kind to everything everyone directs at you. My conviction was false and it was proved to be a provocation by the Uzbeki KGB. I don't live in Uzbekistan. I am not even a citizen of Uzbekistan. I only visit the graves of my parents once a year. People talking about me as an Uzbeki businessman with shady dealings in narcotics? It's beyond my dignity to respond to all these allegations. One of the papers quoted Craig Murray, the ex UK ambassador, I don't even want to qualify what Mr Murray says about me. I respect the chairman. He said something about me that made me very uncomfortable. But afterwards he spoke to us and we understand why he said it."
Guardian - Names escape him as Usmanov launches Arsenal charm offensive: With the investment came exposure. Craig Murray, the former ambassador to Usmanov's native Uzbekistan has raised questions about his probity. Even Arsenal's chairman made outspoken comments. "He is certainly not an open book," said Peter Hill-Wood last week. Business is murky in Uzbekistan. I would not want him to be the owner of the club." The allegations were principally motivated by the fact that Usmanov served six years of an eight-year sentence imposed in Tashkent. "My conviction was false and illegal," he said. "It is a fact that I was in prison but it was proved to be a provocation by possibly the Uzbek KGB because the friends of my parents were high-ranking KGB and my father was a high-ranking judicial official in Uzbekistan. Life is a sequence of events we cannot always control. Sometimes we are helpless against the circumstances life presents. Most obviously it manifested in the system we all lived under when the country was ruled by the Communist party." Usmanov has instructed lawyers to deal with allegations he considers "libellous". But yesterday's interview in his cavernous office was the product of a charm offensive. "I am not a vengeful man but I am not a whipping boy either," said Usmanov, who recently spent over £25m at Sotheby's in returning the Mstislav Rostropovich art collection to Russia. "Every time someone spits at you, you can't respond in kind. People are talking about me as having shady dealings with narcotics. Do I have to respond to everything? It's beyond my dignity to respond to this kind of allegation. I am dealing with the British ambassador to Moscow to run some huge cultural events. We are bringing great artists to exhibit in Russian museums. Why not ask him about the secret intelligence he has received on me?"
Financial Times - Usmanov goes gunning for Arsenal fight: Decrying the “prejudice material” written about him, Mr Usmanov says he is tiring of firing off various law suits. Asked whether the continuation of such allegations would make him think about walking away from Arsenal, he says: “I’ll think about it.” But enemies were left in no doubt he would not shirk a fight. “If it is initiated to drive me out, I stay.”
Ah... so, as well as playing the 'polticial motivation' card (again), Usmanov is assuring us that if we don't press the matter, he's more likely to leave of his own accord.
I'm also enjoying the notion that we should - at this suggestion - take the word of a current ambassador to Moscow over the word of a former ambassador to Uzbekistan... not least because Usmanov has little to do with Uzbekistan and (*sniff*) (*sob*) only goes there to visit the graves of his parents once a year.
UPDATE (04 Oct) - Arsenal News Review: On Tuesday, Alisher Usmanov flew the British press to Moscow in a private jet and put them up at the five-star Kempinski Hotel. An amazing stunt which many have dubbed a "charm offensive." The party of about 10 reporters included The Guardian (Matt Scott), The Daily Mail ( Charlie Sale),The Times (Matt Dickinson), The Sun (Shaun Custis), The Mirror (Martin Lipton), The Daily Telegraph (David Bond), the BBC (Richard Galpin) and The Independent (Jason Burt). The press conference at his Moscow HQ was widely reported on Wednesday morning but only Charlie Sale admitted they were all flown there in Usmanov's Gulfstream 550. This long-range business jet carries 10-12 passengers.
Actually, the jetted-out bit was mentioned by more than one reporter, but Sale does spell out the specifics admirably here and here.
IMPORTANT UPDATE - You will definitely want to read and share this. Having checked each article in detail, I can assure you that you will be less than impressed with this MSM performance.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
I think I'll let Chris Floyd field that one:
Chris Floyd - Back From the Hack, and Once More Into the Breach: In brief, Usmanov made with the legal hit-men, and strong-armed Murray's website host into pulling the plug. But Murray found a new home for his website, when our main man Rich stepped into the breach, offering to host the site on his server, in defiance of oligarchical bluster. This new Murray site was due to launch on Monday, October 1; but lo and behold, Rich's server was hit by the hacker firebomb on Sunday, September 30 – just hours before the Murray site was to go live. Certainly an interesting juxtaposition of events, to say the least.
To say the very least.
We also have some blah-blah to deal with on one of the domains, but this should be sorted shortly. Then we can all have some fun with that lovely Usmanov fellow.
Justin has a lovely piece about the Usmanov affair to date published over at the IOC website...
Index on Censorship - Britain: Bloggers unite against intimidation: It must be emphasised that this is not about bloggers claiming the right to say whatever they like with impunity and without fear of sanction. Bloggers are, rightly so, as accountable for what they write as journalists. Craig Murray is on record as saying he wants Usmanov to sue him for libel so the allegations can be put on the record. In a statement to the Guardian newspaper, a spokesman for Schillings said that they were not about to sue Murray because ‘they did not want to give him a platform to express his views’. Instead of fighting the case in the courts, Schillings tried to make the story go away completely. The allegations may be true, they may be false, but in the absence of a libel trial testing their veracity, thousands of people have formed their own conclusions.
Mike Power has used animoto to good effect to create a video for anyone who wants to wallow in the joy of the recent link storm.
Also (steel yourselves) I'm about to bring to your attention a discussion on this topic from 18DoughtyStreet.
My video is on the way; it needs to gestate just a *little* longer.
UPDATE - Having watched the relevant exchange, I think I should point out (again) that the account in question was held and managed by Clive Summerfield (who is now back online).
Monday, October 1, 2007
... I hope to be able to tell you more, but - for now - let's just say that we hoped for fewer complications than there actually were.
Some interesting parallels came to mind this morning, and this was one of them. It relates to determined efforts to silence Murray and not-quite-as-determined efforts to silence those who support him:
Bloggerheads: During the 2005 General Election... Craig Murray, standing as an independent candidate in (Jack) Straw's constituency of Blackburn, was excluded from a public debate. It wasn't until Murray was forcibly removed from the building that Jack Straw felt confident enough to deliver the following answer to this question:
Constituent: "This question is for Mr Straw; Have you ever read any documents where the intelligence has been procured through torturous means?"
Jack Straw: "Not to the best of my knowledge... let me make this clear... that the British government does not support torture in any circumstances. Full stop. We do not support the obtaining of intelligence by torture, or its use."
Jack Straw didn't dare face Craig Murray on the subject of torture in Uzbekistan; there was fear in that man's eyes until the moment Murray was locked out of the room.
At this point you're probably expecting a reference to certain other people who would do just about anything to avoid facing Murray on fair or open terms... but instead I think I'll just remind people that Jack Straw is now Secretary of State for Justice.
Lynne Featherstone - The perils of blogging: the Alisher Usmanov affair: First - I'm all for people who publish things online being held accountable for what they say - but people who publish online should also have reasonable protection. It is possible to get an injunction against a book, newspaper etc before going ahead with a full action for libel - but there are hurdles you have to meet and in the end you have to make your case in court and win if you want to stop the allegations being distributed. That's not what has happened here as far as I can see - one threatening legal letter, and that's it - bing! - the site went.
Actually, it was four threatening letters, but otherwise she's right. More news later this morning.