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Poisoned Russian linked to investigation of possible bribes by ex-Yukos official

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By Lucy Komisar
Dec 27, 2006

Poisoned Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko appears to have been involved in collecting information about Alexei Golubovich, a longtime associate of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former head of the Russian oil company, Yukos. Khodorkovsky is in jail in Russia for tax evasion. Golubovich was a top official of Yukos from 1992 to 2000 and is under house arrest in Italy at the request of Russia which has charged him with fraud and embezzlement.

A woman living in London told the press that she sought out Litvinenko for “book research” and that he told her that he was planning to blackmail some Russian oligarchs who had been targeted by the Russian Federal Security Service because they had looted the country. She did not tell the press that she worked for Golubovich, who fit that description.

The story about the investigation of Golubovich has not been published before.

Litvinenko died in London Nov. 23 from a lethal dose of radioactive polonium-210. He had reportedly been building dossiers on corrupt Russian businessmen.

Yevgeny Limarev, a Russian former intelligence officer who collaborated with Litvinenko, last year visited a couple in Paris — Elena Collongues-Popova, (shown here), who once worked for Golubovich,Elena Collongues-Popova and Roger Kinsbourg, who also had dealings with him — trying to obtain information about Golubovich, particularly about bribes that he might have paid to Lithuanian officials to get control of the state-owned Maziekiu Nafta oil refinery.

A majority share of the refinery was bought by Yukos and lodged in its Netherland subsidiary, Yukos International Ltd. The refinery is managed by Williams International, a US company.

Limarev, reached on his mobile phone, acknowledged meeting with the two. He declined to say anything more and sent an email referring a reporter to his press agent in Lithuania.

“Limarev wanted to know if we had any evidence of bribes being paid by the Golubovich gang or companies to high-ranking civil servants,” Collongues-Popova said by phone from Paris. “He wanted to know about Golubovich’s payments in the Baltic countries.”

Limarev’s name surfaced after the death of Litvinenko, because he reportedly provided to Mario Scaramella, a controversial consultant to an Italian parliamentary commission investigating Russian intelligence connections in Italy, a memo from Russian sources warning that the three men were on a death list organized by Russian secret service agents and ex-military. Scaramella says he informed Litvinenko three weeks before his death. Scaramella was arrested in Naples on Sunday on charges of international arms trafficking.

Limarev says he is an independent consultant, specializing in Russian politics and security issues. He lives in Cluses, France, just across the border from Geneva. Limarev told “Paris Match” this week that after he met Litvinenko in 2001, the two decided to exchange information about the activities of the Russian Mafia and former intelligence agents.

Limarev would have thought Collongues-Popova might know of bribes paid by Golubovich, because when she worked for Golubovich from 1996 to 2000, her job was moving money in and out of secret offshore bank accounts. The transfers, she says, involved insider trading of Russian stocks such as Yukos and also transfers for which she didn’t know the purpose.

The Limarev investigation of Golubovich leads in an unusual triangle back to Litvinenko. Julia Svetlichnaya, a Russian who identified herself as a student, told The (London) Observer this month that she had sought out Litvinenko while doing research for a book on Chechnya. She said that he had documents he planned to use to blackmail Russian businessmen and politicians and that she had emails in which he had tried to involve her in his plots.

However, Svetlichnaya’s interest in Litvinenko might have been more than coincidental. She was communication manager for Golubovich’s company, Russian Investors. Journalist Hilde Harbo wrote Dec. 6th in Aftenposten (Norway) that Svetlichnaya was listed on the Russian Investors website as a contact for its philanthropic equestrian project. Immediately after the article appeared, Svetlichnaya’s name disappeared from the website. However, Golubovich’s webmaster appears ignorant of the fact that nothing ever really gets erased from the internet, and one can find both the earlier and expurgated versions, shown below.

Russian Investors site with and without Julia Svetlichnaya's name
Kinsbourg said Limarev contacted him through a Geneva journalist who knew about Collongues-Popova’s conflict with Golubovich. French tax police had discovered large money transfers she was moving to and from offshore accounts owned by Golubovich, and authorities had ordered her to pay back taxes and penalties that now amount to $15 million. That includes $1 million from a criminal trial in Paris where she was sentenced to a year in prison, suspended provided she paid the taxes and penalties.

When Golubovich refused to take responsibility for the taxes in deals detailed in cartons of documents police seized from her home, she sought to take control of a Swiss account she had run for him but which was listed in her name. That has led to legal battles with her former boss and his wife.

“Limarev’s main interest was to find out if we had proof of Roger Kinsbourg corruption by people in the Russian government,” said Kinsbourg, (shown here). “Golubovich had been involved with Lithuanian Prime Minister [Algirdas] Brazauskas, and Limarev was [also] interested in bribes he might have paid to officials there.” Brazauskas is no longer prime minister.

Kinsbourg explained, “I went to the Baltic countries with Golubovich when we were friends, and we dealt with banks. There were lots of transfers from his offshore companies to the banks in the Baltics.” He added, “Kristina, the wife of the prime minister of Lithuania, was a good friend of Olga Mirimskaya, the wife of Golubovich. Mirimskaya was doing some kind of ‘private banking’ for them.”

According to a report about Golubovich that Limarev gave Collongues-Popova and Kinsbourg, Golubovich gave Kristina Brazauskas “the possibility to use his different offshore accounts for transactions without the setting up of a legal entity and bookkeeping.” The report, in an English translation obtained by Kinsbourg, says, “The SVR [Russian Special Secret Service] is aware of the relationship of Brazauskas and his spouse with Golubovich and Mirimskaya. Possibly, this information could be used as pressure means against Brazauskas.”

“The information he had seemed to be from Lithuanian intelligence dealing with Russian intelligence,” Kinsbourg commented. “He came and brought this information. He was expecting we would give him some information he could negotiate or leverage somewhere else. He was very shady, moody, not a guy you would trust.”

Kinsbourg recalled, “I said to Limarev, ‘Listen, money was transferred to offshore companies, but we didn’t know who were the beneficial owners.’ We gave him the names of the banks in the Baltics where money was sent. They were Saules Banka in Riga, Latvia (corresponding bank: Bankers Trust, New York), Estonia Forex Bank in Tallin, Estonia (Bankers Trust, New York) and Optiva Bank in Tallin, Estonia (Bankers Trust, New York). We have a lot of information about transfers to banks when Golubovich was signing in lieu of Elena because of Elena’s [tax] problem here.” Corresponding banks run accounts for foreign banks, allowing them to move clients’ money into the corresponding bank’s country.

More connections to the Russian government appear in the report Limarev provided. It says, “It is very important to note that within the framework of Yukos suits, Golubovich was taken to court neither [as] the accused nor [as] the witness. But he became the important confidential adviser to the FSB [Russian intelligence].”

Golubovich needed Russian friends because he was in conflict with former Yukos associates, Leonid Nevzlin and Mikhail Brudno, over control of the Maziekiu Nafta (MN) oil refinery as well as over his share of Yukos assets in Holland, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. The report says, “Golubovich is negotiating with [the] Kremlin represented by Igor Sechin and the siloviki [former KGB agents]. He is trying to get support from them to take Nevzlin[‘s] share away from Yukos (including MN),with the following transfer of these assets to RussNeft/Setchin.”

The report continued, “The problem is the Kremlin doesn’t trust Golubovich and is suspicious that he is playing a double game (on behalf of Nevzlin) or he is trying to get Yukos’s remaining assets.”

Russian companies had wanted the plant, which was built to run on Russian crude oil. However, when Lithuania privatized the refinery in 1999, it looked for a non-Russian buyer in order to reduce Moscow’s influence in Lithuania. It sold a strategic stake to the American firm, Williams. That company had financial difficulties and sold control to Yukos.

Kinsbourg added, “Limarev was also trying to find out information about Stephen Curtis.” Curtis was the London-based Yukos official who was killed in a suspicious helicopter crash in 2004. He had been involved in organizing offshore shell companies and bank accounts through which Yukos and other Menatep companies cheated minority investors and tax authorities.

A third Yukos connection comes in the media reports from Spain that Litvinenko had provided information that contributed to the arrest in May of nine members of the Russian mafia, including Alexander Gofstein, a lawyer for Yukos.

Golubovich indicated in an interview with the Russian daily, Moskovsky Komsomolets, in December 2005, that he was being pushed out and prevented from having his share of Menatep assets and that he had been threatened by some Menatep shareholders. He noted, “I prefer to go to court rather than wait for an explosion or poisoning.” However, this year Golubovich was forced to sell his shares in Group Menatep.

At the same time, Golubovich’s good relationship with the Russian authorities appears to have collapsed. In May after he flew into Pisa, Italy, he was detained at the request of Russian authorities who accused him of fraud and embezzlement of $283 million, the amount that Menatep, the Khodorkovsky holding company which also owns Yukos, reneged on investing when it bought Apatit, Russia’s largest fertilizer company. Platon Lebedev, one of Yukos’s major shareholders, was charged with the same offense and is now in prison.

If Limarev and Litvinenko were investigating Golubovich, they had more than one likely client.

© Lucy Komisar / The Komisar Scoop
Photos of Collongues-Popova and Kinsbourg by Lucy Komisar.
For permission to reprint this article or use photos, contact editors (at) thekomisarscoop.com.

7 Responses for “Poisoned Russian linked to investigation of possible bribes by ex-Yukos official”

  1. Ivan says:

    I knew Limarev. He is not just a “shady” character – he is a paranoidally scared of everything and every person. Every time we talked he would come up with a different “enemy” stalking him. His site, http://www.rusglobus.net, was a joke. It had several levels of “security”, and regular registered visitors were not allowed to see his “files” named “KGB Patriots”. People who “contributed” to his “files” often were painfully obvious psychiatric cases.

    Limarev was selling silver and semiprecious encrusted items such as Quorans, icons and daggers on his site. Since it was illegal to bring them to France legally, he smuggled his merchandise. In his conversations with me he told me that since Muslims prefer to pay by cash, it is a safe and profitable business for him and his potential agents.

    Unfortunately, a friend of mine who introduced me to him fell out with Mr. Limarev shortly thereafter. A few months later she was killed in a single car accident on the quiet road in Northern France. It is a shadowy world these people inhabit, indeed.

  2. Ivan says:

    BTW, Limarev has never been a KGB or FSB agent. His father worked in the penal system of Russia as a psychiatrist. Limarev graduated from MGIMO (Moscow State University of International Relations”)

    After graduation he worked as an interpreter for a sugar factory, where several carloads of sugar were supposedly “redirected” by him and sold for a profit. Later on he used his knowledge of foreign languages to become acquainted with the Duma (Russian Parliament) then Leader Mr. Seleznev.

    In the shady days of Yeltzin’s “free economy” they managed to get their hands on a good chunk of IMF money to establish the Foundation of Sustained Development of Russia. Surprisingly, it was registered in Switzerland! Limarev left Russia, Seleznev visited him several times, and the Foundation quietly disappeared….

  3. Mariposa says:

    Lucy, very good post! Just as you did, I found Julia Svetlichnaya/Svetlichnaja on the OAO Russian Investors site. It is extremely interesting that she connects to Alexey Golubovich (Menatep/Yukos), who founded OAO Russian Investors and is still listed as director of their company. (In addition, I believe OAO Russian Investors is now part of Russneft.)

    Golubovich, as you say on your site, currently resides under house arrest in Pisa, although the Italian courts recently denied Russia its extradition request. In addition, Golubovich claims (Yukos) Leonid Nevzlin has tried to kill him and his wife.

    Nevzlin (and Yuri Shvets, as well) claims Litvinenko delivered “a dossier” to him in person in Israel about 6-8 weeks before he was murdered. Nevzlin turned the dossier over to Scotland Yard.

    Shvets performs investor risk management due diligence investigations, and stated in an interview with Tom Mangold on BBC radio in December 2006 that Litvinenko also performed such work.

    According to Larisa Alexandrovna at Raw Story, Litvinenko was under contract with Erinys. http://www.rawstory.com/news/2006/Exclusive_Murdered_ExKGB_Officer_Worked_for_1211.html

    Erinys International/ Titon International, both located at 25 Grosvenor and connected through Major General John Holmes, were visited by Litvinenko and his Russian security associates Andrei Lugovoi and Dimitri Kovtun; this site was contaminated by exposure to polonium 210.

    In addition, Litvinenko, Lugovoi, and Kovtun also visited RISC (Management) at No. 1 Cavendish Place; this site was contaminated as well. RISC used to be ISC Global Security — lawyer Stephen Curtis’s security company — the same Curtis with Yukos ties and associates, and whose untimely death was investigated as suspicious. Nevzlin is also associated with ISC Global.
    http://www.mail-archive.com/[email protected]/msg06668.html

    Who knows where this will end up?

  4. Mariposa says:

    Svetlichnaja’s getting litigious:

    The Litvinenko Investigation – Julia Svetlichnaja and Legal Action against the Press

    She confirmed in answer to questioning concerning her employment with a company alleged to be linked to the Russian State, that she had a part-time job from May 2005 to April 2006 (whilst working on her PhD) obtained through a London employment agency. She was employed as a journalist/webmaster for Diamond Bridge Advisory Services – a company based in London. She was dismissed without reason in April 2006 and took legal action against the company which claimed that she never worked for it.

    Julia Svetlichnaja is taking legal action against The Sunday Times newspaper and Aftenposten, a Norwegian publisher in relation to these inaccuracies. Any further inaccuracies will result in additional legal action.

    http://www.collyerbristow.com/Default.aspx?sID=53&cID=431&ctID=43&lID=0

  5. Mariposa says:

    Correcting an error in my first comment —

    The association I found for OAO Russian Investors, also known as JSC Russian Investors, is with Transneft (the Russian pipeline company currently embroiled with Belarus), not Russneft. The connection is here in Transneft’s own stock documents online:

    http://www.transneft.ru/press/Default.asp?LANG=EN&ATYPE=9&PG=3&ID=3752
    Fact of signing the Prospectus by the financial advisor on the securities market:
    the Bonds Prospectus has been signed by the financial advisor on the securities market – Open Joint Stock Company “Russian investors” ;
    The full name of the financial advisor on the securities market:
    Open Joint Stock Company “Russian investors”
    Short name of the financial advisor on the securities market:
    OAO Russian investors;
    Location of the financial advisor on the securities market:
    Bldg. 14, 35, Perovsky Proezd, Moscow, Russia;
    Date of state registration of issue (additional issue) of securities:
    31.10.2003;

    ***

    Alexey Golubovich, now in exile, founded and chaired OAO Russian Investors. http://www.investors.ru/en/About_Company/Our_Leadership/

    This was on their website as of October 16, 2006:

    ” Julia Svetlichnaja, Communication Manager
    [email protected]

    Svetlichnaja-Svetlichnaya and her attorneys have made statements about “Diamond Bridge Advisory Services,” but have said nothing about the connection to Russian Investors, or how that group may connect to Diamond Advisory. Also, note that the statement from Svetlichnaya’s law firm Collyer Bristow, above, specifically states that she has taken “legal action against the company [Diamond Bridge Advisory Services in London — Mariposa] which claimed she never worked for it.”

    Interesting mess, and as far as I can tell, Svetlichnaja-Svetlichnaya still presents no proof of her blackmail allegations against Litvinenko.

  6. Ivan says:

    I believe Limarev was digging dirt on Golubovich at the request of Mr.Nevzlin. Just recently Nevzlin wrote in his LiveJournal that “he started reading in the news that Mr.Golub…has died”, and his heart skipped a beat. “Again I will be blamed!”. But then he realised it was Mr. Golubev, “a good man”, who has died.

    Golubovich has agreed to testify against Khodorkovsky and Nevzlin, and voluntarily returned to Russia, btw. But now, with the Mr.Valdez-Garcia’s escape from the protective custody in Moscow, Russian prosecutors lost his main witness. Another mess!

    Here is what Oleg Gordievsky says about the Limarev’s role in this mess:

    Speaking about Mario Scaramella, Gordievsky says he is not guilty. According to him, Litvinenko’s Italian contact “was manipulated by the well-known Limarev, who started to send him warnings: a murder is under preparation, do warn him, and ask for an appointment…” Gordievsky says it was a purely distracting action and Litvinenko had realized that Scaramella had brought him just some nonsense. http://www.axisglobe.com/article.asp?article=1207

  7. Ivan says:

    The question remains: why Limarev insisted that Scaramella met Litvinenko in person? Why did it happen on the day of the Litvinenko’s poisoning?

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