On July 11, Donald Trump Jr. published email records confirming startling reports that he agreed to meet with Natalia Veselnitskaya, identified as a “Russian government attorney,” to discuss “some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] and her dealings with Russia.” The offer apparently originated at a meeting between “the Crown prosecutor of Russia” (allegedly Ms. Veselnitskaya, though some analysts believe this refers to Russian Attorney General Yuri Chaika) and Aras Agalarov, a real estate tycoon and the father of Russian pop star Emin Agalarov. In 2013, Donald Trump and Aras Agalarov partnered together to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow. According to a private intelligence dossier written by British MI6 intelligence officer Christopher Steele, Agalarov has compromising footage of Trump participating in “sex parties” while visiting Russia.
In December 2015, Russian Attorney General Yuri Chaika dominated national news headlines after Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation published an investigation into the business affairs of Chaika and his family. The investigation cites the involvement of the attorney general's son, Artem Chaika, in illegal seizures of assets, as well as the connections of a top official's ex-wife, Olga Lopatina, to the wives of known mobsters.
On December 8, 2015, the newspaper Kommersant published a lengthy op-ed by Aras Agalarov, addressed to Alexey Navalny, defending the Chaika family against his investigative film. With the West’s current interest in Aras Agalarov, Meduza translates his Kommersant text into English.
Alexey Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation, the authors of the snazzily titled “Chaika: A Criminal Drama,” clearly think their Internet film should be received as a serious investigative bombshell. The film’s excited creators are calling on people to share it every way they can, to forward it to their acquaintances, post it on social media, show it to their relatives and friends, and so on.
All this, together with its obsessive detective-accusatory style, scandalous facts, and categorical statements, is apparently designed to excite the public and of course isn’t at all intended to reheat the fading interest in the man behind the film itself [Alexey Navalny] as a fiery anti-corruption warrior and a crusader against our society’s other ills.
Let’s try to make sense of all this.
My first reaction is shock at how it’s as easy to manipulate public opinion and smear a person and his family by playing with random facts as it is to shuffle cards. I’ll try to explain.
These are just the facts.
The villa. After seeing the footage of Artem Chaika’s Greek villa that was obviously meant to astonish viewers, I started to wonder, as someone familiar with the construction industry, what the house’s actual dimensions are, and how much it might be worth. Surprisingly, the construction permit cited by the film’s authors contains figures that are rather modest compared to what you might expect: 202 square meters [2,175 square feet]... A simple visit to a Greek real estate website also reveals that the property's value is far from stunning: the price tag on neighboring homes in Sithonia with more space (up to 380 square meters [4,090 square feet]) ranges from 250,000 to 420,000 euros. You have to admit that it somehow doesn’t match up to the picture presented in the film…
The hotel. According to the authors of the film, which abounds in colorful epithets (“the most expensive in Greece…,” “investments worth tens of millions of euros…,” and so on), the “value of just one construction sub-project cost 29 million euros.” However, if you simply follow the hyperlinks provided by the film’s own authors to the source of this information about the hotel’s value, it’s not hard to see that the total value of all investments in the hotel’s complete construction was 25 million euros. And there were multiple investors. A cursory look at Greece’s state registry shows that the hotel belongs to a Greek firm owned by four people. If you grasp simple mathematics and have some understanding of that fact that construction work is possible with funding significantly on credit (in Greece, between 70 and 75 percent of projects are funded on credit) and that it’s businessmen carrying out the investment, you get a slightly different picture than the one presented in the film.
And tell me, do Filipp Kirkorov and other pop stars not perform at corporate parties?
Additionally, it’s obvious to me as someone familiar with the construction industry that a collective investment of 29 million euros in the complete reconstruction of a hotel (even a five-star establishment) is probably far from the biggest construction project undertaken in [Greece’s] hospitality business. So terminology like “the most expensive hotel in Greece” and other obvious exaggerations and inexactitudes are untrue and are clearly meant to serve other ends. Hyperbole, as a “stylistic form of deliberate exaggeration,” is perhaps appropriate for some extra emphasis. But hyperbole can’t be justified when becomes obsessive and categorical, and when it can fuel bold and glaring efforts to discredit individuals and members of their families.
I think it’s base to use a mass murder tragedy (which horrified each of us) in order to make categorical accusations about ties between a criminal group and one of Artem Chaika’s hotel business co-investors. What don’t the film’s authors bother to say? A cursory look at Russia’s Unified State Register of Legal Entities, which anyone with an Internet connection can find on the Federal Tax Service’s website, reveals the following information: The company “Sugar Kuban” (about which the film’s creators have so much to say, and in which Olga Lopatina’s association played a role) officially ceased to exist in July 2010. And in reality, as much as a year before this, the business stopped all operations (we know this directly from information published in the unified register, citing regulations on the state registration of legal entities). Was this just another omission in a series of inconsistencies and contradictions? It can hardly be called accidental.
I’m sure that any major company, if it wanted, would gladly hire the attorney general’s sons for executive positions, with official annual salaries exceeding the earnings of their businesses now. But these men are busy with their own firms, and, as an entrepreneur with extensive experience implementing different major projects, I wouldn’t call their businesses easy or enormously profitable. I’m currently personally involved in a hotel project at Crocus City [in Moscow] and I understand perfectly well that I’m dealing with a very delayed return on investment: 20 years or more.
Returning to the film, I want to ask its creators some key questions: what right do you have to make such categorical accusations? What specific laws did the businessmen in your movie break? Are they somehow forbidden from owning real estate abroad? As far as I know, the answer is no. Anti-corruption restrictions on property located outside Russia and income sources from these properties apply only to the spouses and underage children of state officials (Federal Law 79, adopted on May 7, 2013). And if we look at the accomplished adult children of the attorney general, do they hide the sources of their income? Judging by the materials presented in the film, Artem’s name and signature is visible everywhere, even though he could have hidden everything easily in an unnamed offshore company or a trust. This suggests that Yuri Yakovlevich [Chaika]’s sons do business in the open and have nothing to hide.
What right do you have to make accusations of “banditry, illegal takeovers, and intimidation under the cover of Yuri Chaika,” or the creation of a “huge mafia structure tied to the attorney general”? If all that is true, then why are the attorney general’s sons working so hard? Building, manufacturing, developing their careers, designing parks, holding festivals, bringing the Viennese Philharmonic Orchestra to the small Moscow suburb of Klin, to the birthplace of the great Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (and just what’s wrong with that?!!)? They could, simply put, bathe in chocolate, if they were really the dishonest people they’re made out to be in the film, which repeats as a sort of mantra phrases like “cartel collusion” and so on, without proving anything.
All this can serve only one purpose: to discredit by any means possible the head of any state security structure, including through an “ex-wife,” a “former deputy,” and so on. Who’s next? The author seems to understand that any response will be perceived as a reprisal or as the use of state authority in a fight against an “exposer” of corruption.
According to the Nazi criminal Goebbels, the propaganda minister of Hitler’s Germany, a lie if repeated a thousand times becomes the truth.
I don’t want to draw any parallels, but let’s just think about it.