Alisher Usmanov, potential Arsenal chairman, is a Vicious Thug, Criminal, Racketeer, Heroin Trafficker and Accused Rapist

Reposted from Craig Murray (Original post date was 6th September 2007)

"I thought I should make my views on Alisher Usmanov quite plain to you. You are unlikely to see much plain talking on Usmanov elsewhere in the media becuase he has already used his billions and his lawyers in a pre-emptive strike. They have written to all major UK newspapers, including the latter:
“Mr Usmanov was imprisoned for various offences under the old Soviet regime. We wish to make it clear our client did not commit any of the offences with which he was charged. He was fully pardoned after President Mikhail Gorbachev took office. All references to these matters have now been expunged from police records . . . Mr Usmanov does not have any criminal record.”

Let me make it quite clear that Alisher Usmanov is a criminal. He was in no sense a political prisoner, but a gangster and racketeer who rightly did six years in jail. 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 Socilist 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. Far from being on Gorbachev's side, Karimov was one of the Politburo hardliners who had Gorbachev arrested in the attempted coup that was thwarted by Yeltsin standing on the tanks outside the White House.

Usmanov is just a criminal whose gangster connections with one of the World's most corrupt regimes got him out of jail. He then plunged into the "privatisation" process at a time when gangster muscle was used to secure physical control of assets, and the alliance between the Russian Mafia and Russian security services was being formed.

Usmanov has two key alliances. he is very close indeed to President Karimov, and especially to his daughter Gulnara. It was Usmanov who engineered the 2005 diplomatic reversal in which the United States was kicked out of its airbase in Uzbekistan and Gazprom took over the country's natural gas assets. Usmanov, as chairman of Gazprom Investholdings paid a bribe of $88 million to Gulnara Karimova to secure this. This is set out on page 366 of Murder in Samarkand.

Alisher Usmanov had risen to chair of Gazprom Investholdings because of his close personal friendship with Putin, He had accessed Putin through Putin's long time secretary and now chef de cabinet, Piotr Jastrzebski. Usmanov and Jastrzebski were roommates at college. Gazprominvestholdings is the group that handles Gazproms interests outside Russia, Usmanov's role is, in effect, to handle Gazprom's bribery and sleaze on the international arena, and the use of gas supply cuts as a threat to uncooperative satellite states.

Gazprom has also been the tool which Putin has used to attack internal democracy and close down the independent media in Russia. Gazprom has bought out - with the owners having no choice - the only independent national TV station and numerous rgional TV stations, several radio stations and two formerly independent national newspapers. These have been changed into slavish adulation of Putin. Usmanov helped accomplish this through Gazprom. The major financial newspaper, Kommersant, he bought personally. He immediately replaced the editor-in-chief with a pro-Putin hack, and three months later the long-serving campaigning defence correspondent, Ivan Safronov, mysteriously fell to his death from a window.

All this, both on Gazprom and the journalist's death, is set out in great detail here:

Usmanov is also dogged by the widespread belief in Uzbekistan that he was guilty of a particularly atrocious rape, which was covered up and the victim and others in the know disappeared. The sad thing is that this is not particularly remarkable. Rape by the powerful is an everyday hazard in Uzbekistan, again as outlined in Murder in Samarkand page 120. If anyone has more detail on the specific case involving Usmanov please add a comment.

I reported back in 2002 or 2003 in an Ambassadorial top secret telegram to the Foreign Office that Usmanov was the most likely favoured successor of President Karimov as totalitarian leader of Uzbekistan. I also outlined the Gazprom deal (before it happened) and the present by Usmanov to Putin (though in Jastrzebski's name) of half of Mapobank, a Russian commercial bank owned by Usmanov. I will never forget the priceless reply from our Embassy in Moscow. They said that they had never even heard of Alisher Usmanov, and that Jastrzebski was a jolly nice friend of the Ambassador who would never do anything crooked.

Sadly, I expect the football authorities will be as purblind. Football now is about nothing but money, and even Arsenal supporters - as tight-knit and homespun a football community as any - can be heard saying they don't care where the money comes from as long as they can compete with Chelsea.

I fear that is very wrong. Letting as diseased a figure as Alisher Usmanov into your club can only do harm in the long term."

Opposition leader tortured with drugs

Reposted from Craig Murray who first posted this on 30th October 2005. Post retrieved via Arsenal Football News

Today Sanjar Umarov lies, cold, unclothed, drugged and beaten, on the bare floor of a solitary confinement cell in Tashkent.

Last month I had dinner with Sanjar Umarov at Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington, just across from the White House. Sanjar leads Uzbekistan’s newest and best publicised opposition grouping, Sunshine Uzbekistan, which had largely taken over the Peasants and Entrepreneurs’ Party, itself a fairly recent addition to the opposition ranks.

There was a great deal of suspicion about Umarov from longer standing opposition figures. Umarov was an oligarch, from one of the leading regime families. He had made money in oil and cotton trading, both sectors which cannot be accessed without an inside political track. He had also been involved in the Uzdunrobita mobile telephone company, in which the major Uzbek partner was Gulnara Karimova, the President’s daughter. In March 2004 Karimova sold her shares in Uzdunrobita to a Russian company for 212 million dollars, a figure which places a much higher than realistic value on the company.

This transaction was an important stage in the peculiar business dealings between Russia and the Karimov family, which culminated in last November’s deal to allocate the bulk of Uzbekistan’s natural gas reserves to Gazprom. This deal was negotiated between Gulnara Karimova and Alisher Usmanov, the Uzbek born Russian oligarch who bought a substantial number of shares in Corus, the British steel company. Usmanov is also a Director of Gazprom responsible for their affairs in the former Soviet Union outside Russia.

Gulnara received a large cash payment - $88 million, according to my sources – on completion of the Gazpron deal, with further payments to come as gas is exported. Alisher Usmanov gave Putin a sweetener of 40% of the shares in Mapo Bank, an important Russian business bank with a close relationship to several blue chip western firms operating in Russia. The shares were made over to Piotr Jastrejebski, Putin’s private secretary who was a college friend of Alisher Usmanov and shared a flat with him.

This web is closely associated with Karimov’s succession strategy. He is desperate for Gulnara to succeed him, and the cash and Russian support is building up her power base. Some sort of Alisher Usmanov/Gulnara Karimova alliance is Karimov’s first choice to take over, in six or seven years time. This is the background to the diplomatic revolution of the last six months, with Karimov abandoning the US and turning back to the embrace of Mother Russia.

It is worth recalling that the Karimov regime had been aggressively anti-Russian, in terms of both propaganda, and of practical measures of linguistic discrimination. Approximately two million ethnic Russians have fled Uzbekistan since independence in 1991; about 400,000 are left.

This reorientation towards Russia went along with fierce anti-enterprise measures designed to stifle any entrepreneurial activity not under direct control of the Karimov family. This explained the physical closures of borders and bazaars, the crackdown on crash transactions and the channelling of all commercial activity through the state banks.

These developments not only brought still greater economic hardship to the poor, they created losers among the wealthy elite. Sanjar Umarov is an archetypal example of such “New losers”.

Umarov had studied business administration in Tennessee on a US government scholarship. His trading interests had widened from their Uzbek base. He has a home in Memphis, and a green card. His children are US citizens. Among the Uzbek elite, a class had come into existence of people who could do business with the West. Their business was now being cut off by Karimov.

It would be wrong to credit Sanjar Umarov with purely selfish motives. Unlike so many of his countrymen, he has the education and experience to understand that Karimov’s policies are economically disastrous. Over dinner, we shared our frustration over this: Uzbekistan is not a naturally poor country. It is extremely well endowed with gas, gold, uranium, iron, coal and most rare minerals you can think of. It is historically fertile and could be so again once the government-dictated cotton monoculture is abandoned.

Uzbekistan’s plight is inflicted on it by appalling government. Umarov and I both believe it could recover surprisingly quickly once basic economic freedoms are established, of which the first must be to take the land from the state and give it to the peasant farmers. Over dinner we discussed other ideas, such as voucher privatisation schemes to enable the common people to benefit from Uzbekistan’s mineral wealth. I found Umarov attentive, interested and pro-active.

The outlawed Uzbek opposition has been fractured. There are genuine, historical differences between the Erk and Birlik parties, and those differences are vital to a democracy. But, until we achieve democracy, people need to work together against Karimov. The parties had moved to do that, to their great credit, but there was understandable resentment and suspicion from those who had suffered in opposition for years, towards a “Johnny Come Lately” like Sanjar Umarov.

Well, he is certainly suffering now in his Tashkent cell. And, if Karimov is to be overthrown, in practice some reform-minded “insiders” are going to be needed to build the necessary national unity for reconstruction. That has to be faced. There are several prominent Uzbek opposition leaders, and Umarov now joins such figures as Mohammed Salih, Abdurahim Polat and others. One day let us hope the Uzbek people will freely choose between their politicians. For now, personal ambition needs to be subordinated to the need to end Karimov’s reign of terror.

The urgent need now is for all the opposition parties, including the Sunshine Coalition, to agree a platform of basic reform in the economy, the constitution, the police and judiciary, agriculture, education and many other areas. The broad lines of change need to be ready to roll out once Karimov goes. The most useful thing donors and foreign NGOs could do now would be to set up a programme outside Uzbekistan working with all parties to agree a plan of basic reform.

I found Umarov engaging and enthusiastic. I urged him to be cautious about returning to Uzbekistan, and was rather puzzled by his apparent confidence that he could pursue his political aims inside Uzbekistan without personal danger. Plainly he had good contacts with US official circles – since Karimov turned against the US, a pro-Western oligarch is a saleable commodity in Washington.

That Umarov was arrested at the time of the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov to Tashkent is a sign of the strength and ugliness of the current Uzbek/Russian relationship. Umarov is being kept in solitary confinement. Nodira Khidatoyova of his party claims to have been told by an inside source that the Prokurator’s office have been instructed to destroy his mind through psychotropic drugs.

That is certainly feasible. There have been many examples of prisoners being forcibly injected, and Elena Urlaeva, another dissident I know, is currently undergoing such “treatment” in a psychiatric institution. Sanjar Umarov’s lawyer seems to provide some evidence for this. He found him naked, in solitary confinement, making repetitive movements and unable to communicate coherently.

The response of the international community to the brutal treatment of an opposition leader has been pathetic, as always with Uzbekistan. The UK, as EU Presidency, issued a pious statement hoping that “International norms of treatment would be respected”, when plainly they are not being.

Umarov is now being charged with “embezzlement”, and the UK hopes these charges will be “properly investigated”. How stupidly, utterly, inadequate! There is no “proper” investigation procedure in Uzbekistan, where 99% of those tried are convicted, and dissidents are framed literally every day, usually with narcotics or firearms offences. To pretend there is a shred of legitimacy to this treatment of Sanjar Umarov is a nonsense. Why is an alleged embezzler naked in solitary confinement?

If corruption is the real concern of the Uzbek authorities, Karimov and his daughter would be the first arrested. The international community, and the UK in particular, needs a much tougher response before Umarov dies in jail.