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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mitvol Redefines Russian Business Ethics

The criminal case against former Noviye Izvestia editor Igor Golembiovsky -- the maestro of Russian journalism and one-time Izvestia editor -- and his deputy Sergei Agafonov has been transferred to the prosecutor's office.

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The investigation lasted 17 months and the background to the case is pretty well known. For several years, Golembiovsky published Noviye Izvestia, and all that time it was generally thought that the paper belonged to Boris Berezovsky.

As befits a Berezovsky newspaper, Noviye Izvestia was highly critical of President Vladimir Putin. And as befits a newspaper highly critical of the president, it had a spot of bother: Oleg Mitvol, chairman of the newspaper's board of directors, announced out of the blue that he was the owner.

It is true that Noviye Izvestia's shares are nominally held by Mitvol; that is how Berezovsky often operated. For example, 50 percent of shares in RusAl were nominally held by Roman Abramovich, although the word in the business community was that half of Abramovich's stake belonged to Berezovsky and his business partner Badri Patarkatsishvili.

Anyway, one fine day Mitvol declared that in fact he was the owner of Noviye Izvestia, not Berezovsky. And our justice system rushed to take his side. Russia, you see, has a most impartial judiciary. Of course it will support a businessman who turns out to be owner of a newspaper that regularly abuses Putin -- against Berezovsky who, as it turns out, did not own the paper and thus did not trash Putin.

Golembiovsky and Agafonov, unfortunately, found themselves caught in the crossfire. They thought Berezovsky was the owner of Noviye Izvestia. I am certain of this because Igor Nesterovich once invited me to work at Noviye Izvestia and I asked him who the owner was: He told me Berezovksy, not Mitvol. Given that Golembiovsky believed Berezovsky was the owner, he took his orders from him, transferring the newspaper's assets as instructed by him.

And for his troubles, Golembiovsky will now go to court.

OK, so maybe there was a need to clarify whom the paper belonged to (or rather, whom the paper's fancy building in the center of Moscow belonged to). Now that is clear; the paper long ago ceased publication; and the newspaper's fancy building is firmly in Mitvol's clutches.

But why the criminal case?

The thing is, a case leads to court. In court, you don't just have the prosecution but also defense lawyers. And defense lawyers can ask awkard questions. For example, they may ask whether it is true that Noviye Izvestia was financed by Abramovich (out of Berezovsky's share in Sibneft), who at a certain point refused to give any more money until Mitvol stopped managing the paper, saying that the paper clearly was not spending all the money it was receiving.

I would not be writing about this, if it were Mitvol and Berezovsky battling it out in the courtroom.

However, this is a legal battle between a rich, well-fed bureaucrat on the up and up (Mitvol recently got a good position in the Fradkov government) and a seriously ill journalist, an innocent bystander, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There are some things that are within the bounds of Russian business ethics, and there are some things that are not.

For example, pocketing some of the money you get from your boss to run a business is quite acceptable. Being the nominal owner of a business and then seizing the business for yourself is also quite acceptable. But to put someone behind bars who just happens to get under your feet?

And why? Just because in Russia you can get away with anything?

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.