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Earning billions in Russia - Something about Bidzina!

By Gela Vasadze, 29 September '12

Vladimir Ivanidze, is an independent investigative journalist. He works for "Novaia Gazeta" (Russia) and other well-know publications. He gave interview to Gela Vasadze at "Libertarian Radio". The topic of discussion was the leader of the "Georgian Dream" collation Bidzina Ivanishvili - his connections and some details from his Russian activities.

Vladimir Ivanidze: I conducted several investigations and in some of them Bidzina (Boris Grigoryevich) appears with his bank "Russian Credit" and partners. The thing is, when Bidzina suddenly declared that he was starting a political career, I was very surprised, as Ivanishvili was considered the most closed of all the oligarchs, he never gave interviews, never made announcements and lived in a shadow, nobody knew anything about him, even his appearance was unknown.

Gela Vasadze: When Forbes magazine published his photo, everyone was trying to see the copy. I don't know about his reputation. But I know about "Russian Credit" – it was one of the strongest banks in Russia. In Georgia he didn't do business, except his financial group "Cartu" which in the end of 90s was called "Cartu-Russian Credit".

It is interesting in general, the group "Russian Credit" – what was its name associated with in Russia?

Vladimir Ivanidze: The thing is that I look at things from narrow perspective. The financial reports that are published and are discussed by financial analysts, to be honest, do not impress me. All this trash is published with one purpose - to hide the reality. I'm not trying to spoil anyone's reputation on purpose, but I need to look at things harshly, otherwise it is difficult to do investigation.

I can tell you one thing: the bank "Russian Credit" and Ivanishvili are connected with whole criminal epochs and not just isolated criminal cases.

Have you heard about criminal scandal "Angolagate" in France? The whole administration of Angola was involved in the scandal and it was about illegal supply of weapons from Russia. The main figure was Arkady Gaidamak – a shady dealer from Russia – he had sued me earlier, but all went fine. The main partner of Gaidamak in this deal was "Russian Credit" and Ivanishvili himself, as without him and his connections to the government of Russia and the army, all this would have been impossible.

Not so long ago, I received a copy of the court verdict and the accusations in this case. Of course, now Gaidamak, like all other mafia leaders is hiding in Moscow because of this case, but the point is, that Russian Credit is a private bank, it is the main bank through which money was laundered for the "Angolagate."

Gela Vasadze: Many haven't heard about "Angolagate". To be honest, I don't know the details either, what was it about?

Vladimir Ivanidze: In short, in the early 90s and in the second half of the 90s Gaidamak, born in the USSR (in the late 80s he first travelled to Israel and then moved to France.) was engaged in a various activities, and then created a translation agency. By the end of 800s he suddenly got money and connections. Many believe that this is due to the fact that he was cooperating with the Soviet intelligence.

But that is not the point. He had excellent connections with organized crime groups. The thing is that he was helping well-known criminal boss Alimzhan Tokhtakhunov (a.k.a Taiwanchik or Little Taiwanese). He helped him to settle in France. Recently the FBI wanted to get him from Italians, who arrested him (he bribed the judges in the skating competition). The thing is that there were other charges that did not appear in the press. Press likes stereotypes, it was necessary to dig deeper, so this didn't appear.

Among the telephone conversations, recorded by Italian police, were conversations with people of Misha Chorny - he lives in Israel and had created an empire that used to be called "Siberian Aluminum", and then "Russian Aluminum". Now there is a trial on this topic.

So, Tokhtakhunov, explained on the phone that the issue of transfer of shares of ArmenAl aluminum plant in Armenia will be resolved. There was one problem - the one who owned this plant, did not want to give up his shares. Then he was killed, and RusAl announced that the ArmenAl plant joined the Empire. This didn't appear in the press because information was limited. Taiwanchik, who is now attending every reception in Moscow – served all these. So, Gaidamak, who was the main partner of Ivanishvili, had helped Taiwanchik.

Recently Ivanishvili was interviewed and in this interview he was asked about Gaidamak, who in 2000 became the chairman of the board of "Russian Credit" bank. This was at a time when Israel opened a case against him for fraud. Ivanishvili said, Gaidamak needed money, and Ivanishvili was ready to sell 25% of the bank for USD200 million. It was when the bank was practically dead.

Gela Vasadze: Was this after the crisis of 1998, when Ivanishvili said that his bank met all of its liabilities?

Vladimir Ivanidze: We shall return to this. I just want to say how honest Ivanishvili was in the interview. I have already mentioned "Angolagate". In the interview Ivanishvili says: "Gaidamak, apparently, did not believe that I was not going to bankrupt the bank. He worked with us for 3 months and saw with his own eyes all the difficulties of the bank and left. But when we learned that he was selling guns, I said that he will never appear in the bank again."

I've never heard more lies.

"Russian Credit" of Ivanishvili appears in the criminal case, the indictment and the sentence. This is not an accident of course. I do not remember the exact date of the interview with Ivanishvili, I think it was in 2001, and the criminal case was then on the heat.

Some were detained; some were hiding like Gaidamak and Falcone - his French partner. And Ivanishvili suddenly mentioned this episode. Why? Because he still intended to buy property in France and to obtain citizenship.

But this raises the question of how a direct participant in the biggest criminal case with the participation of the Interior Minister of France (big number of very important persons was involved) could get citizenship? (According to French Embassy is conducting closed inside investigation about Ivanishvili obtaining French citizenship).

Gela Vasadze: Is it possible that Bidzina wouldn't know about that arrangement, when these kind of arrangements were made through his bank?

Vladimir Ivanidze: That's absurd. It is impossible that he didn't know, because the same Malkin (his right hand in the bank – the face of the bank) together with Gaidamak later did money laundering from the Angola debt. To assume that Ivanishvili didn't know about that is just ridiculous.

Gela Vasadze: But still, look, in 2001 Ivanishvili starts living in Georgia peacefully and almost never leaves Georgia. What do you think this mean?

Vladimir Ivanidze: It is connected on one hand with "Angolagate", and the on the other hand - with claims of investors of the "Russian credit", who filed a claim in the courts of about USD300 million. They were going to collect these money from the "Russian credit". But there is a nuance here. All were confident that the "Russian Credit" would never rise again, and in the ratings Ivanishvili was even presented as the former owner of the Russian Credit. That is, everyone was convinced that "Russian Credit" didn't exist anymore. In fact, RC came under the management of "Arco" and settled accounts with major creditors through this company. It is known whose money paid it, but now is not the time to talk about it.

Then the bank continued existing in amoebic condition - there were complicated schemes there. In 2004, the bank went out of management of "Arco" and started to work as an investment bank. Not having the right to open accounts for individuals and legal entities, the bank began to work actively in interbank credits. Where from Bidzina [Ivanishvili] took money for this - is not clear. There was another bank "Impex-bank" - the reincarnation of the "Russian Credit", people of Ivanishvili worked there as well.

The scheme was very convenient. It was possible to carry out risky operations in two major banks. Ivanishvili then sold the "Impex bank" for 600 million to "Raiffeisen Bank". This is huge sum for the bank, which had a huge number of problematic loans. How could Ivanishvili easily sell a troubled bank? I can guess where this ability comes from.

Gela Vasadze: And still from where?

Vladimir Ivanidze: We will return to the subject of organized crime later and talk about abilities. I was struck by one thing. From 1997 Bidzina Ivanishvili, or rather his bank, was a co-owner or a partner with 10% share of the group "Tochnost". Apart from "Russian Credit" it included other serious enterprises - producers of weapons and military equipment. Naturally, this bank served all these huge enterprises. In 2008, when there was a war in Georgia, the bank "Russian Credit" continued to work with Russian companies that produced small and medium size weapons, plus produced weapons for the Navy and Air Forces. This bank was pivotal- contracts went through it and it served these businesses.

Gela Vasadze: Bidzina financed the war in Georgia?

Vladimir Ivanidze: To some extent, yes. He didn't leave the group. Moreover, according to the Central Bank, in a number of offshores he controlled RC fully. Whether he financed the war - I do not know, but he sponsored or co-sponsored enterprises that were engaged in shooting in Georgia.

Gela Vasadze: Here the question is, could "Angolagate" be a reason why Ivanishvili did not leave Georgia?

Vladimir Ivanidze: This is my assumption. The thing is, in Georgia, at that time it was possible to live quietly with his connections and the manner of live, and to wait out the storm over the "Russian Credit" (which was almost destroyed and then pumped with money from the state, thanks to connections), and then he outlasted the storm and ruled his empire from his own village.

Gela Vasadze: Can we suppose that Ivanishvili had connections with Russian military establishment?

Vladimir Ivanidze: You know, the thing is that the militaries are not so important on their own, even the highest ranking ones. Even if high military officials are connected with someone, they always enlist the support of those we call politicians. I can say that with all his modesty, he has one more unique thing – he has a company "RosKredFinans" registered in 1994 in Geneva. The funny thing is that it was created by the same people who created Menatep, Runikom (associated with Khodorkovsky and Gaidamak). The thing is, these people, who created these front companies, or let's say "shadow companies" where the money went and were redistributed from, they were also connected with the French. Christian Michelle was there, Bidzina should remember him.

Michelle worked for Khodorkovsky, then for Abramovich and Berezovsky. Gaidamak, who was a partner of Ivanishvili ... You need to understand, when the second person in the DST (Direction de la surveillance du territoire, French Intelligence) is associated with Gaidamak with these kind of interests, that means this man is corrupt. Through Gaidamak, Ivanishvili had connections in France - including the second person in the DST and the Minister of Internal Affairs and politicians.

I deviated a little …

Gela Vasadze: No, no. Who had power in France than?

Vladimir Ivanidze: socialists and the right-wing politicians were in power in France. When Gaydamak started his activities, there was still [Francois] Mitterrand, and then the rights came. But this does not change much. In France when it comes to specific cases, if they are corrupt "right" and "left" [differences] disappear and they get involved in machinations.

Gela Vasadze: We did not quite turn away. Yesterday footage by the French investigation about the links of Georgian opposition to the "thieves-in-law" was released, and today the French Embassy expressed their dissatisfaction with this publicity. I do not understand, if the government had information about links with criminals, the government should be interested in publicizing it, right? French Ambassador even asked Vano Merabishvili [Georgian PM] not to reveal the facts.

Vladimir Ivanidze: Among the friends of the French ambassador, are people who strongly dislike [President of Georgia Mikheil] Saakashvili? What is the reason? The reason is that investigation is going on. It does not concern him. Investigation decides what to do. Given the shock that occurred in Georgia, I think the authorities did the right thing - to make public what they've got.

I understand that there is pre-election period, there is little time. But I do not see anything wrong with that. It's not just about election. It about clashes in the streets, vandalism and return of the criminal world. This had to be stopped. Everything was done correctly. It is another thing, that some parts should have been published earlier and not now.

Гела Васадзе: Going back to France. Ivanishvili has many connections. With former French ambassador, for example. At the same time France stated that Ivanishvili is its citizen and the country ensures his safety.

Vladimir Ivanidze: I'm interested when he became the citizen of France. The thing is, this information has never been published.

Гела Васадзе: Nobody knew that until he said so.

Vladimir Ivanidze: Yes, I understand. There are things that I do not know, but I can say that in the documents of his company in France, he is mentioned in one episode as a citizen of Georgia, and the other time - as a citizen (native) of Russia. There is a certain procedure, especially if you do not marry a French citizen and haven't lived there for five years, then you do not get citizenship. So I ask myself, how did he arrange his citizenship?

Гела Васадзе: This is important if he received citizenship through the embassy…

Vladimir Ivanidze: He must have lived in France all the time.

Gela Vasadze: We found violation of French law?

Vladimir Ivanidze: I guess some French officials were bribed. Objectively, he must have lived in France. He could not receive even residence permit while living in other country.

Gela Vasadze: And property and money?

Vladimir Ivanidze: He has the right to obtain a residence card, but would need to renew it each year. That's all. He can buy real estate, but with certain conditions. I know who works for him. There is one person there, who is engaged in the French-English language schools in Moscow. He is also the director of real estate management of Ivanishvili in France. He seems to be involved in this. This is impossible to understand without a thorough investigation.

I think that these corrupt relations through the Minister of Interior and the second man in the intelligence. Gaidamak is pretty minor figure. Without connections this is not possible - you had to spend on "champagne and caviar." Here the bank "Russian Credit" appears. It is true that Gaidamak had his own bank; there were some interesting characters associated with the army, and some even sit in [Russian parliament] Duma. It was called - bank "Moscow." There was, by the way, Bidzina's another bank. It was called "Markolbank." Ask Bidzina about this bank.

Gela Vasadze: This is very interesting. Before, we did not have any evidence proving the reasons, which forced Ivanishvili to come into the politics. Let's discuss in more details. Ivanishvili have built communism in one village. Everybody admired him. In the theater, in the town hall. Ivanishvili reconstructed parks at his own expense. Critical masses of people saw him as a philanthropist. People spoke about him in rumors.

You have promised [to talk] about the criminal connections with the "Angolagate" deal and all the rest.

Vladimir Ivanidze: Regarding "Angolagate" - I'll explain the scale of [his] involvement. Tens of millions of dollars laundered by the bank from those transactions. Gaydamak performed on behalf of group of mediators (was there Ivanishvili?). that is just about the scale. Frequency of mentioning of the "Russian Credit" is often enough.

Regarding France - one more thing. I get the feeling that the French military intelligence operates in total isolation from the DST. At least in the case of "Angolagate" When reporters got material with papers on personalities and Gaydamak., among other things, there was one chapter, "Gaydamak's relations with Russian organized crime." Here's what the French side writes: "Gaydamak keeps relations with Taiwanchik and Boris Ivanishvili."

Gela Vasadze: So, they directly accused Bidzina in connections with organized crime?

Vladimir Ivanidze: This is mid 90's report. There were no paper on each of the personalities, but it was of course meant. Ivanishvili and Tokhtakhunov go after each other.

Gela Vasadze: How much Taiwanchik was connected with Georgian thieves-in-law?

Vladimir Ivanidze: The fact is that I have a copy of the report "Millennium" – it is a common title, differing only in the names. "Millennium" black, "Millennium Tokhtakhunov " – it is free information about the person, from various offices of Interpol. I have a file on Gaydamak. The Italians, I think, have even bigger record, although [Silvio] Berlusconi strongly pressured the judges to release Tokhtakhunov. Does not matter.

Naturally, Tokhtakhunov is a symbol the Russian criminal world. He appears in all reports. The frequency of mentioning his name in FBI report dated 1995 - just rolls over. Only Kobzon (Russian influential singer) could compete with him.

Gela Vasadze: that means that Georgian trace is not obvious?

Vladimir Ivanidze: If we talk about thieves-in-law, then it does not matter. Maybe now ethnicity is significant. Thief – is actually a role. No matter what nationality he is. A thief-in-law always remained a thief-in-law.

Gela Vasadze: I suspect that they still remain internationalists

Vladimir Ivanidze: Just now they have ambitions. In 90s they saw everything could be bought. They could not do it in the Soviet times. They can buy the whole states.

Gela Vasadze: The picture is not very pleasant, frankly speaking. Now Georgian government tries to prove that Ivanishvili, on the one hand, is supported by Moscow, and on the other hand – by organized crime. I am far from thinking that the opposition will listen to these words, and they will say that it is propaganda of Saakashvili. [But] I have a question: after all, could Georgian authorities, who used the services of Ivanishvili, not know who they were dealing with?

Vladimir Ivanidze: It's very easy to answer this question. We often idealize the governments. Of course, there are many bright characters, who are very smart and advanced in Georgia. The problem is absolutely different. I have not told the whole story about Bidzina yet. This kind of things are studies and investigated by institutions. Those institutions have computers with databases, through which people's lives can be traced. I suspect that very often these institutions do not exist. They do not exist, not only in Georgia, in other countries too.

Due to change of staff, fights, confrontations and other reasons there is no continuity. When I work for 20 years, I remember the history and it's easier for me, than for any current official police institution dealing with the analytics. There comes a man, who works for three years and then leaves. There are very few such people. It is not only in Georgia. Very often people do not know, who they are dealing with.

Gela Vasadze: I agree with you about institutions. It's just a disaster.

Vladimir Ivanidze: This is universal. Same happens in business and in other areas. Databank – that is important.

Let's narrow down our discussion about "Markolbank." It was not accidentally that asked to ask Bidzina about the bank. This is one of the most unique banks, which started operation in the early 90s. Problems with this bank started from the very first months. It lasted for 6 months and the Central Bank requested withdrawal of its license. At that time there was no appropriate legislation and despite the request, "Markolbank" continued operations, which Central Bank called risky and unlawful.

Actually, the bank was registered in March 1993. Dagestanis were also in management. Quite educated people, related to National Center of communication and information where Bidzina was the head of department. They used this Center to create a bank. The Bank was located on the address of fund, owned by the wife of Gorbachev. The trick was that the companies of the fund were eligible for benefits. It was a common practice in the criminal world. The first enterprises were registered as daughter-companies of the Fund.

Many businesses that have been created by this bank, had accounts in Kazakhstan. What is interesting about this bank? Not only that Central Bank tried to close it for bad operations, but that Ivanishvili was the head of the Board of Directors and represented the Centre and a Polish company Marpol. This institution was created by black money from Komsomol (Communist Party Youth Union). The first name of that all-Soviet Union commercial center was - All-Soviet Union Centre of Commercial Information of the Federation of Unprofessional Association of Cinematographers Society of Friends of USSR. We can only guess what was the post-graduate of a research institute doing there. The organization was established by professional unions of (Soviet Council of Trade Unions), Society of Friends of Cinema and the Central Committee of the Komsomol. This was the beginning, from where the bank has grown.

Then they started cashing the cooperatives (a form of private business, introduced by the end of the Soviet Union) – as all the Komsomol members did. In 1991 Kommersant NP published stories about large-scale searches of businesses that were connected to Bidzina Ivanishvili and his partners. As for the "Markolbank" - it was his first venture, which was related to raw materials, natural resources. This group belonged to "Markolbank" - "Severovsotok Ltd". It was a multi-purpose company. Thanks to Markolbank people from different criminal groups appeared in this group.

Gela Vasadze: This is very interesting, because just today leader of the [Georgian] Labour party accused Bidzina Ivanishvili in killing the brothers Kvantrishvili.

Vladimir Ivanidze: It's hard to judge. There are many versions. There had been a lot of criminal groups at the aluminum market, opposition was tough. All offices were filled by militants from various groups. It might not necessarily be Ivanishvili, I cannot say. The only thing I know - Ivanishvili was one of the owners of the Krasnoyarsk plant. Bykov was the co-owner of Rossiysky Kredit, and the partner of Ivanishvili was another man - Vasily Anisimov. Moreover, everyone knows about the company "Trans", which allegedly belonged to Anisimov, but Ivanishvili was also there [owner]. In fact, connections of Anisimov with organized criminal groups – are also Ivanishvili's connections.

Gela Vasadze: Now we see huge amount of information about Ivanishvili that was not known before. For a year the person, who was tied with almost all the main characters of the criminal chronicle from Russia's recent history, has been coming to power.

Vladimir Ivanidze: Let me finish about "Markolbank"... "East Ltd" was another interesting company, which is well known for specialists in the organized crime. It was called "Rambis". Co-founders: Arevadze, Berkovich and Slushaev. And one more co-founders - "Elegant Logic". According to the Russian Interior Ministry, Andrei Slushaev is leader of Bauman organized crime group. Of course, it is dangerous to trust the Ministry of Interior, but this is their information...

We will stick to facts. Mr. Slushaev is one of the leaders of Bauman criminal group. According to Russian Internal Ministry's Department for Combating Organized Crime (DCOC), at times when records and databases were not being cleaned, thanks to Slushaev huge factories in the Far East got into the same boat. As for the "Elegant Logic" – it is a company of Yaponchik [Russian criminal authority]. It is mentioned in the criminal case of Yaponchik. As for the "Rambis". The company was formed from the first letters of several names - Rabinovich, Arevadze, Mamiashvili, Berkowitz and Slushaev.

Gela Vasadze: Mamiashvili - is that the wrestler?

Ivanidze Vladimir: Yes, but there is another side of his life. Berkovich's wife was dealing with everything. She, by the way, is very similar to Bidzina's wife, who was the legal owner of many companies of Ivanishvili.

Going back to the "Rambis"; Mamiashvili and Slushaev were responsible for security. DCOC argues that for long time they were called "The Kids" of Kvantrishvili. They worked for Kvantrishvili and were part of his organization. When in 1994 he was killed, there was a strange story with "common money" (Soviet Criminals shared money in so called common bank of money). Some militaries were involved. According to law-enforcement officials, there were close relationships between, "kids", Taganka, Solntsevskaya and other [criminal] groups.

The interesting thing is that, when I was in Tbilisi, I was talking to one person, and mentioned Slushaev. It turned out that once he worked as a bodyguard of Shevardnadze and was recruited on the recommendation of Gocha Arevadze. The problem is that Arevadze is one of the managers of fund "Rule of Law Center." What is the reputation of the fund ... it has a history of illegal terrorist operations in the Caucasus, killing leaders of organized crime groups.

Gela Vasadze: This is a very interesting point about terrorist operations. What does this mean?

Vladimir Ivanidze: It refers to the bombings and killings. I cannot list all of those stories. I can say one thing, I didn't specially deal with politically motivated terrorist attacks. Not a single terrorist knows who was the first person to issue the order. Very often it is manipulated. If I were asked, the Caucasus Emirate has yet to prove what it does.

Gela Vasadze: The first question about Lopota gorge. Very strong chronological links and, yet, nothing is clear.

Vladimir Ivanidze: My respond will be quick. If I could read some documents and reports on the case, my knowledge could be of help. But unfortunately, I have very little data on this story.

I wanted to finish the story with "Arsi" company, which was a partner of Arevadze. There was also Guram Geladze. He is Soviet party official, Hero of Socialist Labor. At one time he was engaged in "Abasha experiment." He had all the positions, awards and more. He was a deputy of the Supreme Council of the USSR, was with Gorbachev and also - Shevardnadze's colleague. Presumably it was him, who signed an order to create Savior's Corps [Georgian legalized paramilitary unit in early 90s]. It turns out he was even involved in the overthrow of [first president of Georgia] Gamsakhurdia.

Gela Vasadze: Honestly, I have a sad feeling about all these. That means we see not even the top of an iceberg, but just one point of the top. .

Vladimir Ivanidze: Let's go back from the dark past to the present. No one can say that Putin or Medvedev called Bidzina and said "wake up and arrange holiday for Saakashvili". There is a nuances of the last months and even years of operation of controlled companies in Russia. Everything was moving very quickly, before Ivanishvili announced the beginning of his political activities.

His bank, for example, had obtained a right to work with individuals. And before that he had no right at all. He was just an investment boutique. All of those things he received literally on the eve. This, of course, can be a coincidence.

You know how hard it is to sell a large business - it is a tome and work consuming thing, if it's a real deal. And suddenly huge parts of acting business are sold within few days. But the funny thing is that all those transactions have not been closed yet. Before the elections in Georgia - they are not closed.

Gela Vasadze: Is this the exact information?

Vladimir Ivanidze: Sure. The deal on Russian Credit must be closed before the end of the year.

Gela Vasadze: So, Ivanishvili has not sold his business in Russia?

Vladimir Ivanidze: While the deal is not closed, you can always back off. Money is placed on a special account, lawyers record it, and only after that the payment is made. Legally, he still owns his property.

Gela Vasadze: This is a key point in our conversation. The fact that Ivanishvili has not sold his business in Russia - which means only one thing, he openly lied to the citizens of Georgia.

Vladimir Ivanidze: Well, he can say that they agreed on everything. Why did he begin selling everything now? If he thinks that he is playing fair game, why did he sell his businesses in Russia so quickly?

Gela Vasadze: No, he explained it by patriotism.

Vladimir Ivanidze: I have quoted what he said about Gaydamak, when he was allegedly shocked that Gaydamak was selling weapons. Although it was exactly Bidzina who laundered money of Gaydamak. I understand that he is not going to talk about business with Gaydamak, but why to lie so? This will become vivid.

Now there is an attempt to return Georgia to the hell where it comes from. The people of Georgia would not stand this hell and the country will simply cease to exist.

I have before me a copy of the notebook of Gogi Yerevansky – well known thief-in-law. It reads: among others, Mr. Malkin and Boris Grigoryevich (Ivanishvili) and all phone numbers of "Russian Credit". What did Bidzina do in the notebook of Gogi Yerevansky?

Gela Vasadze: After all that we heard, the question is rhetorical.

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