Israeli Oligarch’s Ill-Gotten Loot Channeled to Dubya’s
During a Sept. 22 visit to Latvia, Neil Bush, the brother of President George
W. Bush, appeared with his business partner, the fugitive Russian oligarch and
Israeli citizen, Boris Berezovsky. Berezovsky’s appearance in Riga with
the brother of the U.S. president caused significant consternation for the Latvian
government due to Russian demands for his extradition on charges of fraud.
Neil Bush first came to national attention when he was disgraced during
the Silverado Savings and Loan scandal, which occurred during his father’s
presidency. Federal regulators discovered “multiple conflicts of interest”
in Neil Bush’s dealings as a board member of Silverado, which failed in
1988,costing U.S. taxpayers $1.3 billion.
Russia requested Berezovsky’s extradition when he arrived in Riga. Latvia’s
general prosecutor, however, refused to extradite Berezovsky, claiming that
since he has asylum status in Britain, a member state of the European Union,
he could not be handed over to Russia.
After the Bush-Berezovsky visit, Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis said that Berezovsky
should be barred from entering Latvia because he posed a “threat”
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga reportedly supports banning the billionaire
exile from future visits to Latvia.
The Moscow Times reported recently that Berezovsky’s investment in Neil
Bush’s Austin, Texas-based company, Ignite, Inc., links him with a well-connected
group of former and current shareholders such as former President George H.W.
Bush and major Asian and Middle East financiers. Filings with the Securities
and Exchange Commission indicate that Neil Bush’s company raised $7.1
million from 53 investors in 2001.
Ignite’s main product is a classroom projector device of dubious educational
value called “The COW” (Curriculum On Wheels), which contains software
that replaces traditional textbooks by projecting cartoon images designed “to
deliver lessons in the same way professional presenters do.”
In the past few months, Berezovsky has helped Bush promote his company in countries
of the former Soviet Union that are no longer within Moscow’s sphere of
influence, including Ukraine, Georgia, and most recently, Latvia.
Berezovsky said his investment in Neil Bush’s firm was just business
and an investment in an area he had always been interested in. Declining to
disclose the size of his investment, Berezovsky said: “I invested in the
company because I think that it is doing the right thing. I had no other aims
for making this investment. If the company had not been owned by Bush, I would
have invested in another that was doing the same thing.”
A comment from Berezovsky suggests he was asked to invest in the Bush family
firm. “When I received the offer to invest, I sent specialists to look
at what the company was doing and they approved,” Berezovsky said.
Berezovsky said he has been unable to obtain a visa to travel to the United
States to discuss his business ventures with Neil Bush.
“[Neil Bush] asked me to think about possible projects in the regions
that I know about,” The Moscow Times reported Berezovsky saying about
Neil Bush’s plans for the company he founded in 1999. “I’ve
known this region for a long time. The CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States]
is my area of expertise.”
The CIS refers to the association of former Soviet states, which includes Russia,
Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan,
Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Georgia.
Berezovsky, described as “a former Kremlin kingmaker,” served as
executive secretary of the CIS under former President Boris Yeltsin. Berezovsky’s
fortunes changed after Vladimir Putin was elected in 2000 and Berezovsky became
an enemy of the Kremlin.
Berezovsky was one of the chief oligarchs in Russia who acquired massive wealth
by taking control of the Soviet Union’s state assets after the fall of
communism. Berezovsky owned several banks and TV stations in Russia when he
was accused of defrauding a regional government of $13 million.
In 2000, he fled the country and moved to London, where he now lives under
the name Platon Elenin.
“Berezovsky is one of seven ‘oligarchs,’ as they are known
both inside and outside Russia: massively rich, powerful manipulators who through
violence, theft and corruption acquired a mammoth percentage (reports range
from 70 to 85 percent) of Russia’s resources, from its oil to the auto
industry to mass media outlets,” Alison Weir, executive director of If
Americans Knew, a web site focusing on U.S. involvement with Israel and Palestine,
wrote in her article, “Russia, Israel and Media Omissions.”
Using their ill-gotten and extraordinary financial resources and insider dealing,
the oligarchs gained control over much of Russia’s political apparatus.
“The oligarchs handpicked prime ministers and governmental leaders and
barely even bothered to do this behind the scenes,” Weir wrote.
Almost all of the Russian oligarchs have significant ties to Israel. In fact,
Berezovsky has Israeli citizenship, a fact that caused a scandal of Watergate
proportions in Russia in 1996 when it was exposed by a Russian newspaper.
Berezovsky’s Israeli citizenship and the oligarchs’ connections
to Israel are widely known in Russia and Israel. In Israel there is even a popular
Israeli TV series called “The Oligarchs.”
“Some of its episodes,” Jewish Israeli writer Uri Avnery wrote
in an article, “are simply unbelievable or would have been, if they had
not come straight from the horses’ mouths: the heroes of the story, who
gleefully boast about their despicable exploits. The series was produced by
Israeli immigrants from Russia.”
“This is a TV series about Russia,” Avnery wrote. “But it
could have been about Israel—or about the United States. In popular parlance
they are called ‘oligarchs’—from the Greek word meaning ‘rule
of the few.’ . . . But the most intriguing part of the series recounts
the way they took control of the political apparatus. After a period of fighting
each other, they decided that it would be more profitable for them to cooperate
in order to take over the state.”