- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Western businessmen have been attempting to discern the underlying causes of the arrest and imprisonment of former Yukos oil company Chief Executive Officer Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was detained on Oct. 25.

Mr. Khodorkovsky, reputedly Russia’s richest man with an estimated fortune of $8 billion, previously had been questioned twice on accusations of fraud and tax evasion.

The Tax Ministry determined that Yukos underpaid its taxes by $5 billion. Because Mr. Khodorkovsky owns 44 percent of the company stock, he is the prime target in any fraud investigation.

Mr. Khodorkovsky has been denied bail, hearings have been conducted in closed sessions, and if convicted on seven fraud charges, the billionaire faces up to a decade in prison.

The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta recently published an interview with an officer in the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor agency to the KGB, involved in the case.

The anonymous testimony provides a fascinating look into the murky nexus between money and power in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

When asked whether the government was prosecuting Mr. Khodorkovsky to make an example of him, the officer replied, “Khodorkovsky was asking for it. He annoyed everyone. He was a real jerk.”

What really infuriated the FSB officer and his colleagues was when Mr. Khodorkovsky said he would rather be a political prisoner than a political refugee. When asked how long they would continue to pressure Mr. Khodorkovsky, the officer answered, “Until they stop us.”

Far from the case being an instance of an overzealous security operation, the officer noted, “Everything is decided at the very top.”

“We just carry out orders. They said ‘go,’ and we did. If they say ‘stop,’ we will … . We’ll make him sweat as long as we can, and then we’ll let him go.”

The officer offhandedly noted that someone who has as much money as Mr. Khodorkovsky will buy his way out. “But it will be a pity if they let him off so easy.”

The officer dated the corruption in the Russian economy back to former President Boris Yeltsin and his crony capitalism: “Back under Yeltsin, certain things came to be accepted as dogma.

“The notion that private property is sacred, for example. That’s rubbish. Do you really believe that all of these liberal values are here to stay?

“Don’t get used to these illusions. All of the rules can still be reviewed — and they will be reviewed. In the past, everything was predictable: If someone made a move against an oligarch, he would give some money to the media, and the journalists would rally around him. … Now, none of the oligarchs can predict all of the consequences. … The rules of the game are changing. Now they are afraid of us, because they don’t know what to expect.”

The officer divided oligarchs into “good” and “bad.”

The bad ones, he said, were those who weren’t “home-based in Russia,” referring to their loyalties as being in the United States and Israel. “This is a real fifth column we’re talking about.”

The officer called Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky, two oligarchs whose legal woes forced them into exile, Israeli agents.

When pressed for the name of a “good” oligarch, he identified Aleksei Mordashov, chief executive officer of steel giant Severstal: “He’s a Russian.”

Most startling is the officer’s stark anti-Semitism.

“All Jews are traitors. They all lean toward the West. This was always the case. … For them, nationality is more important than citizenship.”

The officer was quite blunt when asked about democracy, saying simply, “Oh, democracy is a bluff. The only thing that counts is power.”

He said Mr. Khodorkovsky was “driven by ambition.”

“Just look how much money he gave to oppositionist parties. He must be quashed, with no questions asked.”

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