Monthly archives: September 2007

Murder in Tashkent

I am much shaken by the assassination of yet another of my Uzbek friends, the brave, talented and internationally renowned theatre director, Mark Weil.

Mark created and led an independent theatre company, the Ilkhom Theatre of Tashkent. They were the very first independent theatre company in the whole Soviet Union. Their artistic freedom, performance of previously banned works and tackling of social issues made them one of the sensations of the late Soviet Union, enabled by Glasnost. They became the toast of Moscow intellectual circles in the late 1980’s.

As Mark described it to me, they then had the irony of being part of the destruction of the Soviet Union, only to be plunged into the even greater gloom and tyranny of Uzbekistan. But by then Mark, a native Uzbek of German stock, had built up the formidable international reputation that enabled Ilkhom to continue to flourish as a tiny, bright and incredibly unlikely beacon of light in Tashkent. They played to great acclaim on every continent, their last appearance in the UK being a sell out run at the Barbican last year. I had a long talk with Mark and his family afterwards and found him less optimistic, his cares heavier, than ever before. He was, however, determined to stay in Tashkent and battle it out.

Mark’s style was always in public to deny breezily that he faced any particular problems, and to try to shelter everyone else – his company, his family, his loyal audiences – from them. He would avoid direct criticism of the regime, but allow his art to talk for him, still using his theatre to tackle challenging questions of Uzbek society – unemployment, drug addiction, freedom, homosexuality, religion – which are absolutely forbidden from discussion, both in Uzbekistan’s 100% state controlled media, and in public. Typical of his style was his TV documentary on Tashkent’s monumental architecture. Showing the change of monster iconography in bronze from Tsarist generals, through Lenin, Stalin and Marx to Karimov’s use of the Tamerlaine cult, on the surface it was a paean to state progress, but the message that “Karimov too will pass” could not have been more clear. Mark was a great subverter.

He was currently engaged in one of those collaborations with Western theatre companies which so worried the authorities, in this case a British company. He was also preparing for the opening tonight of Ilkhom’s new season. Arriving back at his apartment block after final rehearsal last night, he was murdered by a group of men in T-shirts. Reports are confused as to stabbed or shot.

The method of killing is precisely that used in every one of the murderous assaults on Russian journalists I investigated earlier this year. In each case, they were ambushed on return home from work – the standard method of the security services. Mark had told his British collaborators he was under great pressure.

What happens now is very predictable. Karimov will blame “Islamic militants” and there will be further arrests, and probably convictions, of dissidents in Tashkent as usual. With Mark a great talent dies, and one of the last flickering embers of freedom in Uzbekistan.

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Usmanov Redux

You may have noticed that the post regarding Alisher Usmanov has disappeared. This is at the instigation of Schillings, lawyers retained by Usmanov.

Pending legal advice which – as web host – I am unable to obtain prior to tomorrow, given Schilling’s deadline and in light of Godfrey v Demon Internet, the post may or may not reappear. In the meantime, it is always now somewhere on the web. If you know where to look, you’ll probably find it.


Clive – webhost

edit 07-Sep in response to further communications from Schillings

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I have been delighted by the reaction of Arsenal fans – the large majority seem not to want Usmanov’s money, and juging by yesterday’s performance they don’t need it.

I am most happy to give evidence to the Premier League if anyone can point me in the right direction. But I rather hope Usmanov’s hyperactive and expensive lawyers will sue me for libel. Questioning Usmanov in a British court would bring a much fairer result than anything I expect from our tainted football authorities.

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Alisher Usmanov, potential Arsenal chairman, is a Vicious Thug, Criminal, Racketeer, Heroin Trafficker and Accused Rapist

I thought I should make my views on Alisher Usmanov quite plain to you. You are unlikely to see much plain talking on Usmanov elsewhere in the media becuase he has already used his billions and his lawyers in a pre-emptive strike. They have written to all major UK newspapers, including the latter:

Mr Usmanov was imprisoned for various offences under the old Soviet regime. We wish to make it clear our client did not commit any of the offences with which he was charged. He was fully pardoned after President Mikhail Gorbachev took office. All references to these matters have now been expunged from police records . . . Mr Usmanov does not have any criminal record.

Let me make it quite clear that Alisher Usmanov is a criminal. He was in no sense a political prisoner, but a gangster and racketeer who rightly did six years in jail. The lawyers cunningly evoke “Gorbachev”, a name respected in the West, to make us think that justice prevailed. That is completely untrue.

Usmanov’s pardon was nothing to do with Gorbachev. It was achieved through the growing autonomy of another thug, President Karimov, at first President of the Uzbek Soviet Socilist Republic and from 1991 President of Uzbekistan. Karimov ordered the “Pardon” because of his alliance with Usmanov’s mentor, Uzbek mafia boss and major international heroin overlord Gafur Rakimov. Far from being on Gorbachev’s side, Karimov was one of the Politburo hardliners who had Gorbachev arrested in the attempted coup that was thwarted by Yeltsin standing on the tanks outside the White House.

Usmanov is just a criminal whose gangster connections with one of the World’s most corrupt regimes got him out of jail. He then plunged into the “privatisation” process at a time when gangster muscle was used to secure physical control of assets, and the alliance between the Russian Mafia and Russian security services was being formed.

Usmanov has two key alliances. he is very close indeed to President Karimov, and especially to his daughter Gulnara. It was Usmanov who engineered the 2005 diplomatic reversal in which the United States was kicked out of its airbase in Uzbekistan and Gazprom took over the country’s natural gas assets. Usmanov, as chairman of Gazprom Investholdings paid a bribe of $88 million to Gulnara Karimova to secure this. This is set out on page 366 of Murder in Samarkand.

Alisher Usmanov had risen to chair of Gazprom Investholdings because of his close personal friendship with Putin, He had accessed Putin through Putin’s long time secretary and now chef de cabinet, Piotr Jastrzebski. Usmanov and Jastrzebski were roommates at college. Gazprominvestholdings is the group that handles Gazproms interests outside Russia, Usmanov’s role is, in effect, to handle Gazprom’s bribery and sleaze on the international arena, and the use of gas supply cuts as a threat to uncooperative satellite states.

Gazprom has also been the tool which Putin has used to attack internal democracy and close down the independent media in Russia. Gazprom has bought out – with the owners having no choice – the only independent national TV station and numerous rgional TV stations, several radio stations and two formerly independent national newspapers. These have been changed into slavish adulation of Putin. Usmanov helped accomplish this through Gazprom. The major financial newspaper, Kommersant, he bought personally. He immediately replaced the editor-in-chief with a pro-Putin hack, and three months later the long-serving campaigning defence correspondent, Ivan Safronov, mysteriously fell to his death from a window.

All this, both on Gazprom and the journalist’s death, is set out in great detail here:

Usmanov is also dogged by the widespread belief in Uzbekistan that he was guilty of a particularly atrocious rape, which was covered up and the victim and others in the know disappeared. The sad thing is that this is not particularly remarkable. Rape by the powerful is an everyday hazard in Uzbekistan, again as outlined in Murder in Samarkand page 120. If anyone has more detail on the specific case involving Usmanov please add a comment.

I reported back in 2002 or 2003 in an Ambassadorial top secret telegram to the Foreign Office that Usmanov was the most likely favoured successor of President Karimov as totalitarian leader of Uzbekistan. I also outlined the Gazprom deal (before it happened) and the present by Usmanov to Putin (though in Jastrzebski’s name) of half of Mapobank, a Russian commercial bank owned by Usmanov. I will never forget the priceless reply from our Embassy in Moscow. They said that they had never even heard of Alisher Usmanov, and that Jastrzebski was a jolly nice friend of the Ambassador who would never do anything crooked.

Sadly, I expect the football authorities will be as purblind. Football now is about nothing but money, and even Arsenal supporters – as tight-knit and homespun a football community as any – can be heard saying they don’t care where the money comes from as long as they can compete with Chelsea.

I fear that is very wrong. Letting as diseased a figure as Alisher Usmanov into your club can only do harm in the long term.

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BAE and the Arms Industry

Sorry, that was a long break from blogging because of another visit to Ghana on energy projects, an appearance at the Edinburgh Book Festival, commitments at Dundee University and agreeing contracts for my next three books. I am also just finishing a play.

The Mail on Sunday is today carrying another one of my blasts.

As I have said before, I think the Mail deserves great praise for the range of opinion it is prepared to cover, more so than any other British mainstream newspaper. Strangely, the Mail website doesn’t mention who wrote it. You can see the full article from the link, but to whet your appetite:

After the First World War, Stanley Baldwin surveyed the House of Commons of which he was soon to become Conservative Prime Minister. He was filled with disgust, dismissing the MPs as ‘a lot of hard-faced men who looked as though they had done rather well out of the war’.

He had hit upon a universal truth.

To you and me, the Iraq and Afghan wars may look like unmitigated disasters. Hundreds of our young soldiers have died, as have untold thousands of local civilians, but to what end? Even the minority who supported the invasion of Iraq are inclined to agree that the subsequent occupation has been catastrophically handled.

Iraq is more than ever a failed state, with an abysmal decline in the most basic water, energy and health services for the majority of the population. Armed militias control their little fiefdoms, sometimes actually constituting the laughably named Iraqi security services. Nowhere is that more true than in Basra, now controlled from Tehran, while our troops hunker in ditches under mortar fire and take casualties whenever they venture out on patrol.

Last month, for the second time, the Iraqi governor of one of the provinces we had declared secure and ‘handed over’ to Iraqi forces was murdered, almost certainly not by Al Qaeda but by the very warring factions to whom we have handed control.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the drugs warlords we promoted to the Karzai government preside over massively increased opium harvests and busy heroin factories. The United Nations has just announced that this year the opium harvest is up 30 per cent, after a massive 60 per cent increase last year. Heroin production has increased more than tenfold since our invasion, while there are more men in arms against us than at any time since the conflict began.

It is hard to believe anybody can think our policy is a success.

Yet there are those who have indeed, in Baldwin’s biting phrase, ‘done rather well out of the war’. It has been waged at a great cost, not just in young soldiers’ lives but in cash.

When we talk of the vast sums that have been spent ‘ more than ‘250billion by the United States and at least ’30billion by the UK – the eyes tend to glaze over. Strings of noughts, such as those in ‘30,000,000,000, look surreal, but it is very real cash indeed, taken from your pocket and mine. And very little of it goes to the poor bloody infantry, who get pitifully little extra pay for their daily heroism.

Their value in the grand scheme of things was well illustrated this week by the campaign for Ben Parkinson, the 23-year-old Lance Bombardier who lost both legs and sustained permanent brain damage from a landmine last year in Afghanistan. The Government valued the ruin of his life at a pathetic ‘152,150. Parkinson’s mother denounced the compensation as ‘contemptible’, and she was absolutely right.

But his plight neatly illustrates an important truth. Even in the most extreme circumstances, our highly professional servicemen see only a minute fraction of the vast sums of money spent.

More than 90 per cent of it goes to private-sector firms who benefit from war, including arms manufacturers.

The Baldwin quote was pointed out by one of the commenters on an earlier post here, for which thanks. Keep commenting – I can recycle your comments and make money out of you!!!

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