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, who once worked for Golubovich, 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.
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 corruption by people in the Russian government,” said Kinsbourg. “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.