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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

MEDIA WATCH: Police Hit With Media Arm




It is almost bad form at this point to write yet another column about tycoon Boris Berezovsky. Like some kind of omnipresent evil spirit, he is seen as the force behind every plot, indignity, bribery scandal, government overthrow or even war. If something is going wrong, blame it on Berezovsky.


But this time the poor man needs sympathy and protection. Now, he is on the same side of the fence as many of us mere mortals: The police seem to have a problem with him, the police are attacking him through the media, and the police are in power.


A mystifying article appeared Wednesday on the front page of the daily Kommersant. I could not make sense of it. It said Berezovsky, facing serious money problems, requested help from Lev Chernoi, misidentified in the article as the head of the British metals company TransWorld Group. In exchange, Chernoi was allegedly offered the chance to get his people into the State Duma and the Kremlin. The price, according to Kommersant, was $100 million.


Chernoi, the story goes on, refused, but offered to finance Berezovsky's ailing media empire at the cost of $500,000 per month.


Since Berezovsky's newspapers and TV station have not given TransWorld any special treatment lately, the suggestion seems somewhat groundless, but so does everything else in the lengthy piece. Kommersant, a respectable newspaper, after all, hardly ever runs such unsubstantiated pieces. Even people inside the newspaper with whom I try to discuss the piece only shrug and say they have no idea where the weird thing came from.


"There are several floors in our building and God knows what game they're playing on that particular floor," one Kommersant reporter told me.


The important part of the piece, though, comes in the sixth paragraph, which, just once, refers to what appears to be the source of all the information: The Interior Ministry's chief directorate for fighting organized crime. The passing reference explains why Kommersant does not fear a major defamation suit and the writers are not afraid for their lives. They have the ultimate protection - Russia's main anti-racketeering force.


As many times before, I am willing to defend Kommersant against any accusations of selling editorial content to interested parties. In this case, the newspaper appears to be doing its civic duty by serving as the Interior Ministry's mouthpiece.


The popular daily Moskovsky Komsomolets does that on occasion, too. Its star reporter Alexander Khinshtein was recently arrested for using a suspect police identification card, which gave his rank as captain. He was held at a Moscow police station overnight and his apartment was searched before the Interior Ministry declared the ID genuine.


Rather than leave Moskovsky Komsomolets in disgrace, Khinshtein on Thursday published an open letter to Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, in which he demanded to know whether the goal of the search at his home had been to find damning material on Berezovsky and his friend Tatyana Dyachenko, who also happens to be President Boris Yeltsin's daughter.


Dyachenko figures in the Kommersant article, too, though not in any specific role.


In a newspaper article written by a man who uses a legal police ID, the reference to the material on Berezovsky is downright menacing, no matter what the context.


Given the fact that Stepashin is an ex-cop himself, it is clearly a possibility that the new anti-Berezovsky campaign was initiated at the very top of the new government as a show of continuity. Stepashin could be trying to finish what then Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov started by putting a squeeze on Berezovsky through the Interior Ministry and especially the Prosecutor General's Office.


There are a lot of reasons for law enforcement to be interested in Berezovsky, especially in the way he became one of the richest man in Russia by taking over the cash flow of companies he did not own. But the kind of political intelligence published in Kommersant and often propagated by the likes of Khinshtein is not the way for the police to go after Berezovsky.


That is why I do not feel like cheering on the beleaguered businessman's uniformed pursuers in the media. I would rather be at a noisy rally in Berezovsky's defense carrying a "Down with Cop Power" banner.