Longtime readers will recall that Yalensis has sort of a thing about Alexei Navalny, and worked harder than any real journalist I know of to get to the bottom of the KirovLes timber scandal for which he was found guilty of embezzlement. Navalny surfaced from time to time in the news after that, but any political gravitas he may have accumulated was spent when he failed in his gambit to win Mayor of Moscow. Although he actually made a surprisingly credible showing – largely thanks to Sobyanin’s not bothering to campaign – the government wisely gave him a suspended sentence for his financial crimes rather than jailing him, which I believe is what he hoped for. It would have allowed him to mount a political comeback by bleating that The Kremlin had locked him up to prevent his storming to victory in the election, while leaving him completely free to run gave him no excuse for failure except that the population of Moscow did not want him for mayor. He kind of hit the skids after that, largely disappearing from view except for cameo appearances to argue that sanctions are killing Russia, and basically adopting an opposite view to the official narrative, in an eerie imitation of the recently-assassinated Boris Nemtsov.
But he loves to be noticed, even if it’s just so that he can pretend he is a private person who doesn’t like being noticed. So we’re going to help a little, or Yalensis is. What follows is (potentially) yet a little more dirt on Navalny, a possible link between him and Hermitage Capital Management bad-boy William Browder, and a murky plot to discredit Russian businessman Denis Katsyv. Kastsyv is on the USA’s “Magnitsky List”, and the region in question is the Khimki Forest beloved of western lapdog Evgenia Chirikova. The final element in this crazy circus tent of disparate interests – furniture giant IKEA. I should mention that the case is currently before Arbitrage in Moscow, and ongoing. But I don’t imagine they will mind us kicking it around a little. Take it away, Yalensis!
IKEA, Browder, Navalny; A Tango For Three
Most of the material for this post comes from an interesting expose done by investigative journalist Oleg Lurie on his blog. The blogpost is entitled “IKEA, Browder, Navalny. A tango for three?”
Executive Summary: Lurie alleges that William Browder secretly requested Alexei Navalny to launch a specific media campaign against Denis Katsyv.
[yalensis: I checked Navalny’s blog, but a word search on “Katsyv” didn’t produce any results.]
Once upon a time there was a wealthy kolkhoz in the woods near Moscow named “Path of Ilyich” («Путь Ильича»), which held more than 3000 hectares of land. By the beginning of the 1990’s it was down to 1500 hectares, not all of them contiguous.
Later, this kolkhoz evolved into the “Collective Agricultural Enterprise” (КСХП) known as “Khimki Forest”. By 2010 Khimki was fully inventoried and reorganized as a contiguous public area, after resolving many disputes with former kolkhozniks and owners of private plots.
At the same time, mysteriously, 2 office buildings suddenly sprang up in one of the previously empty plots, around 20 hectares in size. In 2012, it was discovered that this plot of land containing the office buildings, had been surveyed and registered on behalf of IKEA. Apparently this plot had been sold to IKEA, which now held the title to it. The land deal was all the more lucrative, since the office buildings were also thrown into the deal, along with the land.
The Khimki Collective then initiated a lawsuit against IKEA, demanding the return of the plot of land, which they claim was fraudulently obtained by the latter. Currently the lawsuit is in its second phase, at the 10th Arbitrage Court of Moscow.
Allegations against the Katsyv Family
Khimki is represented in court by Natalia Veselnitskaya, whose law firm also represents the Katsyv family. Natalia is the wife of Alexander Mitusov, who is Assistant Prosecutor for Moscow Oblast. One of the commenters to Lurie’s piece, “Pakhomov” accuses Mitusov/Veselnitskaya and Katsyv families of being financially intertwined, although I am not sure any of this sounds actually illegal:
“Кстати, почему Вы не написали, что Наталья Владимировна Весельницкая – это жена Александра Митусова, первого зампрокурора Московской Области, а позже… первого заместителя Кацыва-старшего! А ещё Кацыв-старший будучи министром транспортам МО, а ранее – руководителем ГУП “Мострансавто”, передал обязанность взыскания денег за транспортное обслуживание этой организации с районов… адвокатской фирме Весельницкой! За 6%. Так что Весельницкая не только Кацывов защищает, а ещё себя и своего мужа. Похоже на то, что они все там финансово повязаны.”
“Why didn’t you [Lurie] mention, that Natalia Vladimirovna Veselnitskaya is the wife of Alexander Mitusov, the Deputy Director of the Moscow Oblast Prosecutor’s Office, as well as the Deputy of Katsyv the Elder! And also, Katysv the Elder while he was Minister of Transport for Moscow Oblast (…) hired the services of Veselnitskaya’s firm, granting them 6% commission for finding new funding sources. In other words, Veselnitskaya defends not only the Katsyv family, but also herself and her husband. It seems like they are all financially intertwined.”
The younger Katsyv, Denis, is notorious for being on the Magnitsky List. As Lurie points out, these past few months, as the Khimki lawsuit heats up, the liberal part of the Russian press has been flooded with a stream of articles “all with identical talking points”, exposing the Katsyv family and their connections.
Here is a link to one of these typical exposes, from the “Moscow Post”:
Here is a summary of the talking points made by the anti-Katsyv press:
Petr Katsyv is the (retired) ex-Minister of Transport for Moscow oblast. His son Denis is a prominent businessman. Both are suspected of massive corruption. Fearing prosecution, they have fled the country. Petr lives in Israel, allegedly frequenting gay nightclubs, along with his male secretary “Ilya”; while son Denis is hiding out in the U.S. One of their associates, a business partner of Denis and former top manager of Sberbank, Alexander Altunin, is suspected of being complicit in the bankruptcy of the Moscow bank Elektronika. The bankruptcy was investigated by Novaya Gazeta. The Moscow Post piece goes on to list other scandals associated with Denis Katsyv and his associates. A rogue’s gallery, including Vasily Dupak and Alexei Kuznetsov, and others.
Meanwhile, in 2013, Denis Katsyv was put on the American Magnitsky List. The Americans claim that the company called “Prevezon Holdings Ltd”, which is registered in Cyprus and lists Denis Katsyv as the sole stockholder, laundered $230 million. As alleged by the auditor Sergei Magnitsky, this money was allegedly stolen from the Russian state budget and laundered by Katsyv. Katsyv’s “laundromat” allegedly consisted of freezing the liquid cash into New York City real estate. As a result of being put on the Magnitsky List, Katsyv had his American accounts confiscated. He initially contested the confiscations in American court, but later withdrew his suit.
According to Lurie, the recent flood of anti-Katsyv exposes, and the regurgitating of all the Magnitsky List charges, is just part of a new propaganda war waged by IKEA supporters. One of the main talking points is that “foreign investors” such as IKEA are being persecuted in Russia. Trying to deprive Russian citizens of that wonderful Swedish furniture.
The pro-IKEA articles in the Russian press all say the same thing, and all attack the same people. Specifically, two people: (1) Denis Katsyv; and (2) Katsyv’s attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya.
Oleg Lurie interviewed Veselnitskaya, which interview makes up the body of this interesting blogpost. According to Veselnitskaya, she has discovered the Holy Grail: namely, a direct connection between Alexei Navalny and William Browder.
Before we get to the Veselnitskaya interview, let us take a trip down memory lane, to around 2010-2011.
See, for example, this link, which leads to a PDF file:
“The Great Combinator” Ashurkov figures prominently in Navalny’s biography. Ashurkov has always been there, acting as Navalny’s puppet-master and middleman. According to some, he actually created Navalny in a secret laboratory. Their email correspondence, laying out various money-making and political scheming, was brought to light by notorious hacker “Hell”.
Recall that Hell hacked into Navalny’s google-mail account, probably just by stealing or guessing Navalny’s password. The archive of hacked emails later became the basis for Navalny’s successful prosecution in the KirovLes case. But KirovLes constitutes only a fraction of Navalny’s prolific opus.
Navalny’s emails with Ashurkov show that Navalny did not know Browder personally. However, Navalny HAD met with Jamison Firestone. Also, Ashurkov acted as intermediary of Browder’s interests, within the “Navalny Project”, which was created by Ashurkov’s “Alfa-Group”. The peak of this project occurred in the years 2010-2011, AFTER Navalny had been forced to flee Kirov, finding sanctuary at Yale University. At the time, Browder was involved in various conflicts with Gazprom and Price-Waterhouse. Navalny’s assignment, apparently, was to use his “anti-corruption” blog, Rospil, to attack companies on Ashurkov/Browder’s hit list, and also to support the various projects of the Alfa Group.
More recently, Ashurkov himself was indicted, and fled to Great Britain, where he was granted asylum.
How was Ashurkov finally nailed? Not for any of his major schemes, involving big money. For just a minor scheme, involving only 1 million rubes! For creative methods of campaign financing.
Recall that Ashurkov, along with Navalny, when the latter was running for Mayor of Moscow, came up with a cute scheme, whereby Navalny’s often passionate and dedicated supporters simply transferred (via Yandex) their small donations into HIS (Ashurkov’s) bank account, thus bypassing the campaign-funding laws! Which state that a special bank account must be set up to receive campaign contributions.
In retrospect, it is a sure bet, that Navalny’s run for Mayor was simply another money-making project for this duo of rogues. To their credit, they figured out the secret alchemy: how to turn thousands of small donations into a nice little stash of cash: 1 million rubles – not big money, but still money, and not bad for a pilot project. Thus, as Leonid Volkov noted, proving that money for political donations can be raised over the internet.
Imagine how Ashurkov/Navalny must have sweated, when it started to look like Navalny might actually receive enough votes to pass through to the second round! If Navalny had actually won the election and become Mayor of Moscow, that would have been a disaster for him, on the scale of Max Bialystock actually producing a successful Broadway show!
The Veselnitskaya Interview
With this historical background in mind, let us return to the Lurie material, and the interview with the attorney Veselnitskaya.
Veselnitskaya: “A month ago I received some information from our private investigators (who operate abroad); they reported on contacts between Browder and certain Russian citizens, who were called [in the correspondence] by the mysterious initials FBK. Of which one of the individuals involved was referred to by initials NAA. The aim of these contacts was to plant into Russian media negative exposes about Denis Katsyv and also his father, Petr Katsyv (….). And also negative exposes about myself, Katsyv’s attorney. The communications even included instructions about which media outlets to use, and the talking points to employ.”
“And then the penny dropped,” Veselnitskaya continues, “that Browder’s so-called FBK shares the same initials with Navalny’s “Fund for Fighting Corruption” (Russian «Фонда борьбы с коррупцией»). And the initials NAA: Navalny Alexei Anatolievich! The media attacks against Denis and myself came from the usual ‘independent’ publications, such as Moscow Post, Novaya Gazeta, Vek, and others. Moreoever, the text and talking points are identical to those laid out in the ‘theses’ of William Browder.”
Lurie: “So where does IKEA come into all this?”
Veselnitskaya: “As the attorney, I defend the interests of Khimki, which is suing in Arbitrage Court for the return of those 20 hectares, illegally taken by IKEA. Therefore, as far as IKEA is concerned, I am the enemy. They don’t want to lose this golden plot of land! (….)
Lurie: “ But why did Browder feel the need to launch this information war against you and Denis Katsyv at this moment in time?”
Veselnitskaya: “For the first time in all the years since he launched this Magnitsky campaign, Citizen Browder was actually questioned in a courtroom. An American courtroom. In connection with some companies belonging to Denis Katsyv, a case initiated by Browder himself on the basis of the so-called Magnitsky Act.”
And any person who reads the record of his testimony will see, that Browder did not present one shred of evidence, that Katsyv’s companies have even the faintest connection to criminal money. To every question posed to him [in the courtroom] Browder replied that ‘he doesn’t know, he doesn’t remember, he doesn’t understand…’ This is the whole basis of his ‘proof’ against Katsyv, and moreoever, this is identical to Browder’s ‘proof’ in the Magnitsky case too. A transcript of Browder’s testimony is available, by the way. (….)”
Lurie concludes his blogpost by issuing a challenge to Alexei Navalny. Lurie claims he has read the the “technical instructions” issued by William Browder to his agent “NAA” at “FBK”, and challenges Navalny to either confirm or deny, that he, Navalny was the recipient of Browder’s instructions to launch a media campaign against Denis Katsyv.
It’s me again; fascinating, Yalensis, and thanks for giving us a glimpse of a gripping legal yarn most English-speakers will never see. Considering it involves William Browder, alleged criminal and international fly-by-night, I dare to hope it might even lure our old and recently-wed friend, Alexander Mercouris, here for a visit. I miss him, and it would be good to hear from him again.