Why comrade Sir Leonid (Len) Blavatnik is a Putin oligarch and why Hudson Institute, Harvard, Oxford and other entities should not accept his tainted money.

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By Ilya Zaslavskiy (Updated on 13 February 2019)

Short answer:

Blavatnik made his main wealth in highly controversial deals with the direct support of kleptocratic regimes of Nursultan Nazarbayev and Vladimir Putin. There is an overwhelming evidence that Blavatnik is in many ways connected to corrupt Russian security services and law enforcement and has personally benefited from their unlawful actions. The best illustration is how he got about $7bn in 2013 in a deal personally orchestrated by Putin and Igor Sechin, of which $3bn was an inexplicable and highly criticized overpayment on the part of the Russian state. It was so bad and rotten that even Putin tried to later distance himself and criticized this deal, even though he had personally micro-managed it. Blavatnik’s media business is mentioned in Panama Papers and he is a partner with a former Russian Deputy Minister of the Interior Alexander Makhonov who had to step down amid corruption allegations. Blavatnik is a major partner of the two sanctioned oligarchs: Viktor Vekselberg and Oleg Deripaska, both of whom are seen as corrupt and directly connected to Putin’s regime by US Treasury. Blavatnik has multiple other highly controversial connections with the Russian government, security services and organized crime, both abroad and inside Russia. As reported by major US media outlets it is almost certain that Blavatnik is now being investigated by Robert Mueller’s FBI probe for his political donations and other involvement in Russian meddling of US politics.

Blavatnik uses his “philanthropy” (in reality excess money paid by Kremlin at the expense of Russian people and state budget of which only a small fraction is spent on grants) at leading western academic and cultural institutions to advance his access to political circles. “Philanthropic” capital whitewashes reputation, normalizes the unacceptable and then is transformed into political access and infiltration of US and UK establishment at the highest levels, plus allows Blavatnik to export his business practices from Russia to the West.

This was recently shown by an unacceptable approval to sponsor a dinner for Paul Ryan and Nikki Haley at Hudson Institute. Acceptance by Oxford and Ivy League universities in the US in particular played a devastating role to normalize things in the academic and political worlds that should not be normalized in any working democracy with proper governance and ethical norms. Western media and NGOs have also largely failed to expose this Putin’s oligarch for what he is, partly this can be explained by skillful white washing, partly by systemic failure to look at Russian sources and evidence from activists.

Detailed answer:

I recently went on a tour of US universities to present my latest series of papers on export of corruption from kleptocratic states to the West which started with a 2017 report for the Kleptocracy Initiative, Hudson Institute. These included Stanford, UPenn and Harvard all of which took Blavatnik’s money for biomedical projects, the biggest grant of $200mn included Harvard that previously already took $50mn in 2013. At my lecture at Davis Center (audio recording should hopefully be available), co-panelist Prof. Matthew Stephenson asked me what is exactly wrong with taking money for medical purposes and that disapproval of Blavatnik’s money is a hard task unless his public relations people are good at shielding him. Just before that event I learnt, that Hudson Institute, the very entity where I did my report on export of corrosive practices, accepted a major donation from Blavatnik Family Foundation (a patron sponsor reportedly estimated at $50,000) to hold Hudson Institute Award Gala for Paul Ryan and Nikki Haley. I want to address Prof. Stephenson’s questions in detail with dry self-evident facts:

-        Blavatnik and his oligarchic cronies from Alfa Access Renova (AAR) consortium, aka as “Russian shareholders” sided with Russian security services and other government agencies, including main pro-Kremlin media in a state-sponsored harassment campaign to oust British Petroleum (BP) from the joint venture TNK-BP in 2008-9. Blavatnik as the owner of 12.5% stake was not just a passive investor but he and his representatives approved ALL actions of the AAR and the Russian government that continued that campaign. Blavatnik could have single handedly stopped any of the actions by voting against them but he chose not to.

-        As part of that campaign 150 western managers, mainly US and UK nationals were bugged, followed and harassed in the streets and in the office, searched, smeared on TV and newspapers with photos in various improper behavior. CEO of the company, US national Robert Dudley (now BP CEO) who wanted to stay ground in Russian courts was intimidated with threats of personal criminal investigation in the fabricated tax charges and poisoned! BP does not officially deny or confirm this, while some of the officials seem to refute it unofficially (because BP is now in partnership with Rosneft). But BP stays short of denying this officially as there are now at least 4 sources who confirm this poisoning, one from my side. I believe Connie Bruck had three witnesses in her profile of Blavatnik for The New Yorker.

-        I have extensively given interviews about harassment campaign in Russian for Radio Liberty. Western press does not seem to interested in digging into details of this story with exception of brave podcast of The International Spy Museum. I was fabricated as a spy by Russian security services who worked in cahoots with corporate security people of TNK-BP, all hired and approved by AAR oligarchs, including Blavatnik. One such person is Sergey Novosyolov, former Deputy Minister of the Interior, who in 2008-9 was Head of Economic Security, TNK-BP. He fabricated allegations about supposed spy activity of myself and other foreigners in the company for the show trial. There is no doubt that he did so with full and direct knowledge of Russian shareholders.

-        Poisoning, spy fabrication and harassment campaign should be investigated by FBI, MI6 as the impunity that Russians felt in 2008 in TNK-BP case opened doors to Skripal’s poisoning on UK soil. After all if you can poison and harass top managers and UK/US nationals from BP, why not poison ex spy?

-        This harassment campaign and take over the TNK-BP by Mikhail Fridman, German Khan, Petr Aven, Viktor Vekselberg and Len Blavatnik should be seen as a direct prelude and part of the same story of cooperation between FSB/Russian government and AAR oligarchs that led to the most lucrative offshore deal in Russian corporate history. In 2012-13 Igor Sechin’s Rosneft (i.e. state controlled oil company) bought out the stake of these Kremlin-connected oligarchs for $30bn in cash through payments carried out through offshore accounts.

-        This deal saw unexplained excessive payment by Rosneft. The market price of AAR’s stake was around $20bn but oligarchs got around $10bn in excess over that price. Why? No one can explain and even Putin himself criticized this deal in his speech to the Federation Council at the end of 2013 for being carried through offshore accounts to the detriment of the Russian budget (even though he personally micro-managed it eight months before then). I gave extensive interviews about this in Russian (abridged version in English). Late Boris Nemtsov strongly criticized this deal in an interview to me in 2014. If not only Nemtsov but even Putin could criticize this robbing of the Russian budget in the broad day light, then may be Harvard and Hudson should do the same? 

And here are other dry facts about Blavatnik’s business and his connections: 

-        In 2016 Panama Papers showed that Blavatnik’s firm Amediateka has a major joint business with an offshore controlled business of Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Russia Alexander Makhonov. In 2017 Makhonov stepped down from his position after his subordinate was suspected of corruption but he continued his business as before.

-        Here is an audio tape conversation in Russian of Vladislav Reznik, State Duma Member and alleged mobster of Gennady (Gennadios) Petrov, recorded on December 7, 2007. Reznik is reminding Petrov to arrange a meeting of Len Blavatnik with somebody in the top and Petrov promises to do so. This audio is part of the Russian Mafia case that has been reviewed in Spanish courts for over a decade with many setbacks. The Hudson Institute should know about it as it hosted main Spanish prosecutor Jose Grinda Gonzalez last year! How many US philanthropists do you know whose meetings are arranged in Russia by top mobsters?

-        We now know for fact that Robert Mueller is investigating Blavatnik, his fellow Putin’s oligarchs from AAR and their circle of proxies. I personally contributed to ABC, MSNBC, The Guardian and others about it. I personally suspect that Vekselberg and Deripaska, Blavatnik’s close partners were sanctioned this April by US Treasury not only for corruption and proximity to Putin but for possible meddling in US elections. In any case many unpleasant questions about Blavatnik’s donations are already out in the open, asking rightly why this is being accepted by US establishment. In my view, Hudson specifically should be concerned about Blavatnik’s donations to Mitch McConnell as he is close political ally of Paul Ryan and also is a husband of the Elaine Chao, former fellow of Hudson and now Transport Secretary.

As for why Oxford failed to uphold its own regulations for the Committee to Review Donations and broke multiple due diligence and ethical rules in approving grant to create Blavatnik School of Government, I have written extensively in this report on Kremlin’s advance of Hybrid Analytica. I also wrote about this in detail in Russian for Radio Liberty and one rare article in English (only a student paper was brave to publish it) showing advance of self-censorship and other oligarchic practices at Oxford. All other mainstream media are afraid to even tackle complex Russian facts and high-level connections of oligarchs that they have in the UK and US:

In 2015, a group of Russian and Western scholars, journalists and civic activists published a public petition to Oxford University urging it to review cooperation with Len Blavatnik and his associates from the Alfa Group – Petr Aven and Mikhail Fridman – and to investigate Blavatnik's and his Alfa Group's business reputation….The activists met with outright censorship efforts from Oxford’s administration and found out that the Committee to Review Donations (CRD) had not relied on independent experts or Russian language sources. Meanwhile, two external members of the CRD - Sir Victor Blank and Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones - had been heavily criticized for failures in due diligence in their main professions and exposed by UK press around the same time when they were part of CRD” (see p. 37 of the report)

Blavatnik’s public relations people and lawyers chase leading western newspapers, forcing them to change wording and not to call him “Russian oligarch”. His PR and law henchmen claim that he is not Putin’s oligarch because he does not meet with Putin. Evidence from my TNK-BP case and other open-sourced verifiable references show that this laughable excuse should be dismissed: his connections, the way he made his fortune and then helped Putin’s regime in the West all confirm that he is indeed a Putin and Kremlin oligarch.
-        In November and December 2018 many powerful voices from the think tank community, NGOs and media have joined in exposing Blavatnik's donations to the Hudson Institute and Harvard.
-        In December 2018 over 300 Russian activists and dissidents who participated in the Free Russia Forum in Vilnius added Blavatnik and his oligarchic partners from Alfa Group to the so called Putin’s List. Garry Kasparov and other prominent figures voted for this. This list aims to shame enablers of Putin’s kleptocratic regime and urges the US and the EU to add figures from the list to their sanctions against Kremlin and its aggressive policies.

-        In February 2019 Russian activists persuaded owners of a famous Boston movie theater to cancel screening of the film “T-34” produced by Blavatnik and Kremlin-connected producer Nikita Mikhalkov. The film tour has been supported by Russian Embassy in the US and is a clear example of Kremlin propaganda about World War 2 (critics called it “Fast and Furious” on tanks where enemy can be shot down like in a computer game).

This article will be updated and more facts will be added later.