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Your Honor, It Was Really Just Business
By Yulia Latynina
February 28, 2001  
The Moscow Times

gore

The last victim of Russia's so-called "Aluminum Wars," Mikhail Zhivilo,
has been arrested in Paris. Zhivilo is accused of observing Russia's
national traditions: That is, they say that he attempted to take revenge
against those who stole his factories from him. Or, in translation from
feudal terms to legal ones, he is accused of "planning the assassination
of Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev."

Before 1999, the Zhivilo brothers were the most influential businessmen
in the Kuzbass region of western Siberia. They controlled the
Novokuznetsk Aluminum Plant and considerable coal reserves. They were
such close friends with the governor that in 1997 Tuleyev handed over to
them the bankrupt Kuznets Metallurgical Plant, which had already been
thoroughly pillaged by its previous managers.

But in 1999, the brothers and Tuleyev quarreled. Tuleyev learned that the
Zhivilo brothers were plotting to replace him as governor. Instead of
Tuleyev's Communists, the Zhivilo brothers had decided to back Moscow
Mayor Yury Luzhkov's Fatherland movement.

Tuleyev, for his part, turned to Oleg Deripaska's Siberian Aluminum,
which was closely connected to the Kremlin. Soon thereafter, Tuleyev
received a $50 million credit from Moscow.

In a nutshell, Siberian Aluminum paid Tuleyev for control of several
local factories that did not belong to Tuleyev. And they did it with
government money! Any idiot can buy a factory but only an oligarch can
get one for nothing.

As soon as this arrangement was consummated, it was discovered that the
Novokuznetsk Aluminum Plant had long been paying for its prodigious
electricity consumption at specially reduced rates. Deripaska's lawyers,
on behalf of Anatoly Chubais' Unified Energy Systems, immediately filed
suit to recover $30 million, which bankrupted the company.

In the end, Chubais handed over this plant - which did not belong to him
- to Deripaska, in exchange for money to which he had virtually no right
(since Unified Energy Systems had voluntarily granted the original
discounts). But the funniest bit is that Chubais never even got the
money. Because the suits were filed by Siberian Aluminum on Chubais'
behalf, Deripaska's lawyers were able to divert all the judgments to
Siberian Aluminum companies.

About this time, the forsaken Mikhail Zhivilo, it is alleged, decided to
take his revenge. But since killers as a rule don't like "forsaken"
people and since Siberian Aluminum was so closely tied to the Kremlin, it
was probably inevitable that the hitmen he hired would run immediately to
the FSB.

Around the same time, three offshore companies thought to be linked to
Zhivilo filed a $2.7 billion suit against Siberian Aluminum in a U.S.
court, hoping that American justice would not mind that Zhivilo was
"forsaken." In his petition, Zhivilo alleges that Oleg Deripaska
threatened him through an infamous local mobster.

According to the poor Zhivilo, his heart froze when he heard the
mobster's voice, although it is difficult to understand why if you credit
the accusations leveled against Zhivilo in Paris. After all, according to
the charges, he didn't exactly try to send Tuleyev a singing telegram.
One thing is obvious though. If Zhivilo is extradited to Russia, his U.S.
suit will be dropped immediately. Money is one thing, but one's life
means more.

So, now we are waiting for an American court to decide whether Deripaska
threatened Zhivilo and for a French court to decide whether Zhivilo
threatened Tuleyev.

But it seems to me that this is the same as asking some Western court to
condemn some wild South Pacific cannibals for headhunting. They wouldn't
have any idea what they were being accused of. After all, they were just
following their own national traditions.


Yulia Latynina is a journalist for ORT.

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