Friday, September 21, 2007

What Happens When You Annoy a Bumpkin Billionaire?

This. And this. And this. (If those links are working by the time you read this, the crisis is over). Craig Murray's website, Tim Ireland's website, Bloggerheads, and that of Councillor Bob Piper, have been pulled by their service provider, Fasthosts Internet Ltd of Gloucester. The reason? Allegations made about Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov. (It transpires that a number of websites, including Bob Piper's and , were removed even though they said nothing about this topic, simply because they shared a server with Craig Murray and Tim Ireland. Fasthosts' conduct is predictable, but also a disgrace).

I do not, at present, know the content of these allegations. (Correction: now I do). Craig Murray, as former ambassador to Uzbekistan, has raised these claims on his website and was followed by a number of other blogs and message boards. Evidently, Usmanov feels threatened by them, and has employed the libel lawyers, Schillings, who have applied pressure to service providers to pull the websites in question - before a single thing has been tested in court. The issue as it now stands is not whether the allegations against Mr Usmanov are correct, but whether you should have a right to hear about them and whether the promise of the internet can be shut down by an affronted oligarch. It is one thing to expect a single post to be withdrawn, although even this is unconscionable if it results from straightforward goldplated bullying by a plutocrat. But to take down the whole site is outrageous. Fasthosts is not a free service: you pay to register the website, and you to pay for the web hosting. Whatever contractual stipulations they might use in their defence, Fasthosts ought to be compelled to defend the internet access of their customers and specifically to restore the websites in question. (Update: looking through the Google cache of some of Murray's articles mentioning this, I see that the service providers repeatedly edited his posts after threats from Schillings).

We've had repeated attempts to threaten and bully bloggers in this fashion. You may recall that when the revelations about Mazher Mahmood of the News of the World were released, Zak Newland, an employee of that Murdoch rag, threatened to sic the lawyers on us:



They didn't succeed, and nor should Mr Usmanov and his laywers. Here is Murray's article:

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

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:
http://www.craigmurray.co.uk/archives/2007/06/russian_journal.html

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.