Free in France, Zhivilo Blasts Raid on Empire

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Mikhail Zhivilo granted an interview the day after he was freed from Le Sante prison in Paris on May 16. The French court rejected the Russian Prosecutor General's Office demands to extradite Zhivilo, who has been accused of participating in a plot to assassinate the governor of the Kemerovo region, Aman Tuleyev.

Q:
When you left Russia, why did you decide to live in France?
A:
I left Russia last year. I freely traveled over the border but, of course, I tried not to publicize my trip. After that, notices appeared in the newspaper that Interpol was searching for me, I had a serious question to answer — to which country should I go? Believe me, I had never encountered a similar situation before. And to a great extent, I was inclined to believe it would be safest to live in the United States.

But it was not necessary for me to think long on the matter. France publicly announced it would refuse entry to [Russian metals magnate] Mikhail Chernoy. Lawyers convinced me the French authorities possess important information not only about Chernoy but about other people closely connected to him. For me that was the best guarantee that the authorities know a lot, although perhaps not everything, about the illegal activities of that group. And that meant I would not need to spend a long time proving my innocence and most importantly, it would be safer for me to live in France than in any other country. On the basis of those thoughts, I submitted an application for asylum in France last year.

I don't know if it's for better or worse, but bureaucracy everywhere works slowly. The information in my application was verified by the Interior Ministry, and I really believed everything could be resolved without any delays. However, information began to emerge about the pressure from Tuleyev and the prosecutor's office put on the courts that were studying my case in Kemerovo, which had delayed their consideration eight to 10 times. Moreover, Alexander Tikhonov [another suspect in the plot to murder Tuleyev] urgently needs to have an operation in Moscow, but using all kinds of pretexts, he was not permitted to leave Novosibirsk. All of that compelled us to hasten our efforts to reach a compromise.

Q:
How did your detention take place?
A:
I will not describe in detail how I was taken into custody, but everything was conducted properly. The French authorities ensured that I was met by two plainclothes [policemen] and a translator. I had everything I needed. It's true, I didn't bring my sneakers with me because I had never dreamed that in Le Sante prison, which translates as "health," I could play football everyday.

Q:
Tell us about your experience being held in a French prison.
A:
It is not simple to describe my experience in a French prison. I have seen how prisoners are held in Russian prisons. Here, they live well. All the necessary conditions are created, beginning with French [prison] cooks taking into account religious preferences, televisions in the cells with 10 channels, including Eurosport, the opportunity to order any newspaper and the possibility to attend various courses, language, computer … and, of course, the visits of relatives. One Russian, who was the first to be held there, but had been held in other French prisons, noted with pity that his one-room apartment, where he lived with his wife and two children, had fewer comforts than his cell.

I do not want to embellish the local prison life, but the conditions are very decent. But all the same, a prison is a prison, and it is felt in the mood of many of the old inmates. A couple of words about the relations between those "relaxing" in this "palace of health." In our understanding, a prison signifies violence. Here, there is absolutely no hint of that. The relations are entirely friendly, even if you can't speak French. I was granted permission to have short visits with relatives and, of course, had unlimited access to my lawyer.

Q:
In your opinion, how did your problems begin in Russia?
A:
Our problems began not simply with the loss of the Novokuznetsk Aluminum Plant, but much earlier. Those people, who appointed Tuleyev as governor in 1997, six months before the first elections and thereafter, played a heinous role in our fate.

Two days after Tuleyev was appointed governor, in accordance with the decree of the president to Deputy Governor Dmitry Chirakadze [vice president of MIKOM], the assassination attempt [on Chirakadze] was carried out. In Moscow, he had scheduled a meeting wit0h the director of Unified Energy Systems, and they were to have decided the question of removing the general director of Kuzbassenergo.

At the same time, Chirakadze, as director of the regional energy commission, studied Kuzbassenergo's internal documentation and concluded that the industrial crisis in Kuzbass was caused by the policies of natural energy monopoly Kuzbassenergo. The absence of control over the regional energy system and its monopoly position are, in our view, the main reason for the regional crises.

Moreover, Chirakadze, after consultations with lawyers, brought to light another detail related to the activities of our natural monopolies. The merger or, more accurately said, the infusion of the Kemerovo railroad with the Novosibirsk railroad was carried out illegally. Tuleyev didn't react to the assassination attempt on Chirakadze at all. Thereafter, he kept the general director of Kuzbassenergo in his place and agreed to the transfer of the railroad. And from the first day, he started to sell whatever he could exert influence over in the Kemerovo region. And exchanged that for amiable relations with the leaders in Moscow. We expended time and effort in order to help put the enterprises of Kuzbass in order, to demonstrate to the governor the positive effect of our activities. And all that time, he was troubled by one thing: where and how to find people who at the critical moment could lead him on the road to the top. Because only at the top could they ignore the people lying on the tracks. Only at the top, could they shut their eyes to the most blatant violations in all areas of state management in the Kemerovo region. So we laid the railroads to the enterprises in Kemerovo, and our opponents led the governor on his road to the top.

Q:
How did it happen that within literally one hour, you lost the Novokuznetsk Aluminum Plant and the Kuzbass metallurgical plant?
A:
It was all quite simple. During the elections in the fall of 1999, my opponents, with the active assistance of the governor and the law enforcement agencies, simply took over enterprises by force, the Kuzbass metallurgical plant, coal, Novokuznetsk Aluminum Plant, and the court decisions were written either by the governor's decree or someone above him.

Against us or in connection with our activities in Kemerovo, 16 lawsuits were initiated and many inspections were carried out. But the cases were connected with economic questions. Unlike my opponents, I am a financier by education and, for that reason, always pay close attention to the transparency and legality of our commercial operations, and we regularly hired the best auditors for consultations. As a result, all of those cases were dismissed because not one accusation was proven, although they played their negative role by discrediting the business of our company throughout the country, scaring to death our colleagues and partners in Kemerovo, and they used these court cases to justify the seizures.

Q:
Why was a court case launched against you personally? Did you really plot to assassinate Tuleyev?
A:
Against this background, my opponents needed an inexpensive but very damning criminal case against me. Knowing that threatening me physically was impossible, they decided to use an old tool — the law enforcement agencies. The assassination attempt was very easy to incite. The conflict is at hand, so it's necessary only to have a person's testimony and possible assassin. The assassin pointed his finger at the designated client and the prosecutor immediately arrests me and proposes an exchange: forget all of the pretensions, reregister all the assets, dismiss from your head all the evidence of the illegal activities of the governor and his opponents. The documents are signed, practically everything is free with the exception of small costs for the services of the law enforcement agencies.

Knowing the experience of my opponents, that when the person disappears, the problem disappears, I can assume that most likely an unenviable fate was prepared for me. I take into consideration the previous attempts of my opponents to organize a confidential meeting for me with God. Such was the intricate scenario. And of course, I did not have any connection with the assassination attempt.

Q:
What do you think about the operations of Russian Aluminum?
A:
My feelings about the operations of Russian Aluminum are exclusively negative. If the enormous opportunities were realized for the union of raw and production enterprises in the aluminum sector, the company could achieve enormous additional results. But because of the directors' lack of professionalism, their actions are more reminiscent of Mongol-Tatar raids, an international giant is losing hundreds of millions of dollars and, of course, its reputation in the eyes of its partners.

Q:
While you were in prison, an amicable agreement was concluded in accordance with which, the settling of accounts with creditors would begin in 20 years. How do you evaluate such a decision?
A:
The so-called amicable agreement with Novokuznetsk Aluminum is simply ridiculous. Our enemies have ensured that legitimate creditors are excluded from the list and the false claims of the company connected with them were inserted. What kind of real creditor would agree to receive money without interest and no earlier than within 20 years?