Reuben Denies Relations With Either Chorny

The second World Economic Forum on Central and Eastern Europe was held last week in Salzburg. The idea of holding a regional summit on Central and Eastern Europe was planted on fertile soil. Nearly twice as many participants turned out at this year's "Salzburg Davos" as last year.

The presidents of Ukraine, Romania, Slovakia, Moldova, Bulgaria and Latvia and the prime ministers of Lithuania and Estonia as well as many other world political and business figures came to the summit. Moreover, unlike the politicized Davos meeting, this gathering was almost ideally suited for serious economic discussions.

As is always the case at such events, what was most interesting about the forum was the talk with people in the corridors. For me, the most curious person with whom I spoke was David Reuben. He became particularly famous when he wrote an open letter to the Russian authorities in The New York Times a few months ago, in which he tried to convince them of the honesty of his company and the unjust pressure to which it is exposed, even though it is one of the largest foreign investors in Russia.

To this day, Reuben has not had a single, direct interview published in the Russian press, even though his firm, the Trans-World Group, or TWG, has been for several years at the center of most of the scandalous publications on the Russian aluminum industry. All the attempts of Russian journalists to get direct comments from him have been in vain. Therefore, when I saw Reuben's name on the list of participants, I was certain he would turn me down for an interview.

But to my great surprise, Reuben agreed to talk. And although I still haven't had a chance to verify what I was told by the TWG president, it is worth relating briefly the words of a businessman who is said to control a substantial part of the Russia aluminum industry and several of the country's largest factories, such as the Novolipetsk Metal Factory.

Reuben's name is also tied to the activities of the brothers Lev and Mikhail Chorny, who are active in the aluminum market, and former first prime minister Oleg Soskovets, who is widely reported in the press to have protected the activities of the Reuben-Chorny alliance in Russia.

Reuben says he saw Soskovets only once at a meeting of metallurgists in Krasnoyarsk in 1994, where they were introduced by Serafim Kolpakov, who has since been dismissed from his post as director of the Krasnoyarsk aluminum plant. Reuben considers the links that are made in the press to him and the so-called aluminum war to be absolutely untrue. He also says he has no relations whatever to either of the Chorny brothers.

Of course, he would say something to this effect. But in any case, it was interesting to hear this from Reuben himself. Moreover, not one of the accusations against TWG has been proven in court. Perhaps sooner or later this will occur, and perhaps not. Reuben considers himself to be a victim of political intrigues. He believes that certain forces are simply using his company as a tool to compromise certain politicians.

There are many ways of looking at the World Economic Forum. But one thing is undeniable: There is no other place where it is possible to speak with people to whom access is not only difficult, but whose very existence hardly seemed real.