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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Your Honor, It Was Really Just Business

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The last victim of Russia's so-called "Aluminum Wars," Mikhail Zhivilo, has been arrested in Paris. Zhivilo is accused of observing Russia's national traditions: That is, they say that he attempted to take revenge against those who stole his factories from him. Or, in translation from feudal terms to legal ones, he is accused of "planning the assassination of Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev."

Before 1999, the Zhivilo brothers were the most influential businessmen in the Kuzbass region of western Siberia. They controlled the Novokuznetsk Aluminum Plant and considerable coal reserves. They were such close friends with the governor that in 1997 Tuleyev handed over to them the bankrupt Kuznets Metallurgical Plant, which had already been thoroughly pillaged by its previous managers.

But in 1999, the brothers and Tuleyev quarreled. Tuleyev learned that the Zhivilo brothers were plotting to replace him as governor. Instead of Tuleyev's Communists, the Zhivilo brothers had decided to back Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov's Fatherland movement.

Tuleyev, for his part, turned to Oleg Deripaska's Siberian Aluminum, which was closely connected to the Kremlin. Soon thereafter, Tuleyev received a $50 million credit from Moscow.

In a nutshell, Siberian Aluminum paid Tuleyev for control of several local factories that did not belong to Tuleyev. And they did it with government money! Any idiot can buy a factory but only an oligarch can get one for nothing.

As soon as this arrangement was consummated, it was discovered that the Novokuznetsk Aluminum Plant had long been paying for its prodigious electricity consumption at specially reduced rates. Deripaska's lawyers, on behalf of Anatoly Chubais' Unified Energy Systems, immediately filed suit to recover $30 million, which bankrupted the company.

In the end, Chubais handed over this plant — which did not belong to him — to Deripaska, in exchange for money to which he had virtually no right (since Unified Energy Systems had voluntarily granted the original discounts). But the funniest bit is that Chubais never even got the money. Because the suits were filed by Siberian Aluminum on Chubais' behalf, Deripaska's lawyers were able to divert all the judgments to Siberian Aluminum companies.

About this time, the forsaken Mikhail Zhivilo, it is alleged, decided to take his revenge. But since killers as a rule don't like "forsaken" people and since Siberian Aluminum was so closely tied to the Kremlin, it was probably inevitable that the hitmen he hired would run immediately to the FSB.

Around the same time, three offshore companies thought to be linked to Zhivilo filed a $2.7 billion suit against Siberian Aluminum in a U.S. court, hoping that American justice would not mind that Zhivilo was "forsaken." In his petition, Zhivilo alleges that Oleg Deripaska threatened him through an infamous local mobster.

According to the poor Zhivilo, his heart froze when he heard the mobster's voice, although it is difficult to understand why if you credit the accusations leveled against Zhivilo in Paris. After all, according to the charges, he didn't exactly try to send Tuleyev a singing telegram. One thing is obvious though. If Zhivilo is extradited to Russia, his U.S. suit will be dropped immediately. Money is one thing, but one's life means more.

So, now we are waiting for an American court to decide whether Deripaska threatened Zhivilo and for a French court to decide whether Zhivilo threatened Tuleyev.

But it seems to me that this is the same as asking some Western court to condemn some wild South Pacific cannibals for headhunting. They wouldn't have any idea what they were being accused of. After all, they were just following their own national traditions.

Yulia Latynina is a journalist for ORT.