Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Hail to the Thief:
The New York Times Defends Mikhail Khodorkovsky
By Stephen Lendman
Al-Jazeera, CCUN, January 3, 2011
On October 25, 2003, Khodorkovsky (below called MK) was arrested
for tax evasion and corruption, dating from when the Soviet Union dissolved
and state privatizations followed. "Behind every great fortune lies a great
crime," explained Honore de Balzac. Billionaire Russian oligarchs, like MK,
illegitimately amassed great fortunes, avoiding prosecution during Yeltsin's
tenure (1991 - 1999).
Beginning in 1991, various socio-economic
measures were implemented without public discussion or parliamentary
approval. Most important were Yeltsin's personal directives, creating a
billionaire aristocracy handed the economy's most important, profitable
sectors, free of charge - literally a license to loot.
slowly under Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, though not easily. The rot
is so widespread and deep. Oligarchs like Boris Berezovsky fled to London,
Moscow2, taking with them great fortunes. Others staying behind wish they'd
after Medvedev announced during an October 2008 Council to Combat Corruption
"Corruption in our nation has not simply become
wide-scale. It has become a common, everyday phenomenon which characterizes
the very life of our society. We are not simply talking about commonplace
bribery. We are talking about a severe illness which is corroding the
economy and corrupting all society."
As a result, prosecutions
followed. Some 2009 examples against bureaucrats included:
Nevelsk Mayor Vladimir Pak's suspension and charge of embezzling 56 million
rubles ($1.5 million);
-- two Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD)
Main Directorate officers detained on suspicion of accepting over $100,000
in bribes; and
-- MVD Lt. Col. Dmitry Luzgin charged with extorting
$1 million from Russian Real Estate House management.
MVD figures, annual Russian corruption ranges from $20 - $40 billion. In
2006, Alexander Buksman, deputy general prosecutor first deputy, estimated
annual corruption at $240 billion, involving business and bureaucrats.
However, a combination of legal loopholes and close private-public alliances
lets most offenses go unpunished.
Major Media Defend MK
On October 29, (four days after his arrest), a
New York Times editorial headlined, "Putin's Old-Style KGB Tactics," saying:
"After laboring to project the image of a rational, law-abiding
statesman, President Vladimir Putin of Russia has reverted to the vengeful
violence of his old employer....(Arresting MK) was a serious mistake,"
citing market plunges "on the fear that the Kremlin was showing its true
An earlier August 13, 2003 Times editorial
headlined, "Moscow Machinations," saying:
"....nobody knows for sure
whether President Vladimir Putin is personally behind the sudden crackdown
on the giant oil company Yukos....What is clear is that the Kremlin's
strong-arm tactics have little to do with battling economic crime and a lot
to do with power and the coming elections in Russia."
An October 28
Washington Post editorial claimed "no one is safe from arbitrary
prosecution, or from the political whims of the Kremlin, and the US State
Department suggested that MK's arrest involved "selective prosecution,"
adding that "We are concerned about the rule of law, about maintaining the
basic freedom of Russians."
In fact, MK was summoned for
questioning. At the time he headed Yukos and was Russia's richest oligarch,
ranking 16th on Forbes billionaires list. Today, he faces years more in
prison. More on that below.
The Times railed about "masked agents" arresting him instead of
pursuing him in court. In fact, he defied a court order to appear before
prosecutors. Only then did arrest follow. Other allegations suggested Yukos
involvement in murders or attempted ones, targeting bureaucrats or business
competitors who interfered with company operations. One was committed on
MK's birthday, apparently a gift to the boss.
He began as a Stalinist bureaucrat. In 1987, he used his Komsomol district
committee control to organize Menatep, a commercial enterprise to promote
inventions and industrial innovations. It later became one of Russia's
largest banks. In the 1990s, through ties with Kremlin bureaucrats, he used
funds stolen from the state and unwary investors to amass huge holdings in
formerly state-owned enterprises at a fraction of their value. In 1995 he
bought Yukos assets for $300 million. In 2003, its market value was $30
billion, a 100-fold ill-gotten gain.
Why MK Was Targeted
Besides corruption and tax evasion, political motives were also in play.
Allegedly he was bankrolling opposition parties, breaking an unwritten
agreement to stay out of politics in return for the state keeping quiet
about illicitly gotten riches.
Key also were deals he was
negotiating with ExxonMobil and Chevron for up to a 50% stake in Yukos,
violating Kremlin policy to keep Russian control of state resources in
government or home-grown private hands. In addition, MK had White House
political ties. For example, before becoming Bush's National Security
Advisor and Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice was a Chevron board member
for 10 years and had a tanker named in her honor. It was then quietly
renamed the "Altair Voyager."
Another factor was public hostility
toward oligarchs, so pervasive that prosecuting them is politically popular.
US anger is a combination of geopolitics and defending predatory
capitalism's rapaciousness, notably because of America's own criminal class.
For decades, a Washington-corporate cabal shifted trillions of public wealth
to private hands, especially to omnipotent Wall Street. At issue is
shielding them at all costs so corrupt practices can continue until
everything worth owning is stolen.
Before MK's arrest, Yukos was
privately held. Afterwards, company assets were bought by state-controlled
Rosneft. Then, the majority state-owned Gazprom (the world's largest natural
gas company) bought oil giant Sibneft. In 2006, Putin decided against
further nationalizations, but continued oil/gas industry control by having
industry giants like Lukoil maintain close government connections.
Moreover, to stay in charge, state-owned Transneft controls pipeline
transportation. In fact, it's the largest Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC)
shareholder. Russia wants its production leveraged to control transport and
refining to maintain power over EU and neighboring state customers.
As a result, the idea of selling large Yukos or other major resource company
assets to foreign buyers is anathema, especially to Big Oil giants. MK also
wanted Russia's pipeline monopoly broken with a private one to shift the
flow of oil. It was like declaring war on the state and got him
On May 31, 2005, he was convicted of fraud and tax
evasion and sentenced to nine years in prison, later reduced to eight years.
In March 2009, he and Platon Lebedev (billionaire, former Group Menatep CEO
and close MK associate) were tried for embezzlement and money laundering. On
December 27, 2010, both men were convicted, and on December 30 sentenced to
14 years imprisonment, including time served. Lebedev also was convicted in
Rallying Round the Thief
Again, The New York Times
came to MK's defense in a December 28 editorial headlined, "What Rule of
President Dmitri Medvedev can prove his "rule of law"
credentials "by using his pardon power to ensure that (MK) faces no
additional prison time after being convicted on trumped-up embezzlement
charges this week. (He's) already served seven years as a result of Mr.
Putin's judicial vendetta against him."
Fairness and truth were
never NYT long suits, editorially defending a world-class criminal, guilty
of predatory rapaciousness. On December 28, the White House said:
"We are deeply concerned that a Russian judge today has indicated that for
the second time (MK) and Platon Lebedev will be convicted. We are troubled
by the allegations of serious due process violations, and what appears to be
an abusive use of the legal system for improper ends."
more egregiously violates rule of law principles than America at home and
abroad. No other more heinously spurns human rights, civil liberties, due
process, judicial fairness, and democratic values. None also are more
No broadsheet is more hypocritical
than The Times, tainted by decades of supporting wealth, corporate
interests, and imperial wars. Daily, its agenda is visible, arrogantly
supporting power over popular interests, even mega-criminals deserving
condemnation. Indeed, truth and fairness were never NYT long suits. Nor
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