Dirty Russian Money Part 8: The Devil’s Advocate?

Hill Street Blues?

The offices of Tulloch and Company, an English law firm, are based in a sepulchral white town house in London’s Mayfair. There could, superficially, be nowhere more British, and you half expect to see a gentleman in a bowler hat striding up to its front door. But Tulloch and his partner, Bruce Gripton, sit at the centre of a web of connections between Russian oligarchs and the British establishment.

A Guardian article in 2009 entitled The Spy who Loved Media, in which Tulloch featured as the Russian oligarch Aleksandr Lebedev’s lawyer, was an exercise in naiveté. It now seems like a relic from another era. Lebedev was presented as a maverick and even a foe of Putin. Other media outlets reported his claim that he might have been poisoned with mercury. However, it will now be apparent that the Independent, his paper, is publishing stories which are, even if by chance, convenient for Putin. The coverage has eerily and gradually changed. Robert Fisk has cast doubt on the Douma gas attack in an April 2018 article and is writing on Syria in a way that would warm the cockles of the diminutive dictator’s heart. In 2014 Mary Dejevksy argued that Putin was comfortable with Ukraine’s independence and his aggression might actually have been about protecting Russian speakers. She has just applauded the Putin and Trump summit. No doubt the proprietor staunchly respects the freedom of his journalists to write what they will, but, albeit by chance, his papers are often promoting a Kremlin friendly agenda.

Tulloch’s firm, which presided over the sale of some of Lebedev’s media assets, has a particular focus on East European markets and works with many wealthy Russians. An examination of his links shows how the depth within the UK of the trans- national oligarchic ties which Russia is, arguably, relying on to “Trump” democratic structures.

The path to the nest of spiders

If you research Tulloch’s name you feel as if you are looking at several interconnected spider webs. I came across his name in connection with Parex, the Latvian bank which collapsed having lent money on “favourable” terms to its owners. Tulloch was a name on a list of individuals linked to commercial pledges involving Double Coffee a coffee chain associated with Parex. The ownership of the coffee franchise was masked throughout much of its existence via a British Virgin Islands registered firm. His presence there remains mysterious and may be nothing more than an internet anomaly. However, his role often seems to be to act as the secretary for offshore entities to manage Russian wealth. As Michael Weiss writing on the Daily Beast in 2014 noted he was the secretary for a company called Sevenkeys which managed the assets of the family of Putin aide Igor Shuvalov. The ownership of Sevenkeys was masked via a British Virgin Islands registered firm.

When you search Tulloch’s name on the offshore leaks database it is linked to an enormous number of similarly mysterious entities:

Ardin Investments Limited, one of Tulloch’s mysterious firms, was used by Aleksandr Lebedev to purchase a mansion in London in 2007. Tulloch is an officer at two offshore firms, The Gemini Investment Fund Limited (GIF) and the Lion Investment Fund Limited LIF, which featured in a 2013 case involving money laundering heard at the High Court of Justice in London. GIF was used to purchase overpriced Argentinian warrants but there is no suggestion he personally was aware the transaction was dubious. Similarly his name is given as the contact for four apartments at 1 Hyde Park, the world’s most expensive residential address, in the British land registry. The ultimate owners are probably still more of his high value clients.

Another offshore entity where Tulloch was an officer, Taurus Asset Management reportedly owned a 50% stake in Baltijas Aviacijas Sistemas (Baltic Aviation Systems) in 2011. BAS  was used to invest EUR 50m in airBaltic a low cost Latvian airline. It emerged that a Russian citizen Andrey Rudeshko, was the beneficiary of Taurus Asset Management, but that he in turn was the front man for Vladimir Antonov, the former owner of Latvia’s Krajbanka. Krajbanka collapsed in 2011 amid claims that Oxford Russia Fund along with Lord Patten, the Chancellor of Oxford University. The other trustees include Boris Saltykov a former Russian science minister and Rupert Caldecott of listed as a partner Dalton Strategic Partnership LLP (DSP). DSP is a global investment management firm managing $1.8bn for a range of organisations and private clients. The fund supports education in Russia. Tulloch, however, is also a trustee of four UK registered charities linked to Russian oligarchs. These are the Hill Foundation, Lebedev Foundation, The Mamut Foundation, and the Vinchel Foundation. He is the contact for the Khodorkovsky Foundation. The Hill Foundation while not bearing the name of an oligarch is linked via its chair Mr Anthony Smith CBE to other Russia linked charities. The charity supports gifted Russian students with Oxford scholarships and Tulloch regularly visits universities in Russia to promote its work.

The Lebedev Foundation is of course the pet project of Tulloch’s employer Aleksandr Lebedev and he and his son Evgeny are its trustees along with their solicitor. The main donors are the Lebedev family and the charity largely supports the work of the Raisa Gorbachev Foundation. Indeed Lebedev first foray into the “British social scene” was marked by a fundraising dinner for the Raisa Gorbachev Foundation in 2009. This allowed him both to make contacts among the British elite while associating himself with a name naively associated in the west with benevolent reforming politics. The Mamut foundation bears the name of its patron oligarch Aleksandr Mamut and while supporting cultural activities in Russia it made a donation of £100000 to Eton College for the renovation of the library. Mamut has a residence in Kensington.

Tulloch is listed as the contact for the Khodorkovsky Foundation which had long term investments of £413m against expenditure of £8.8m in 2017. Mikhail Khodorkovsky is, of course, the oligarch who was jailed by Putin in 2003 and released in 2013. He is known as a vocal critic of Putin’s “managed democracy.” Ironically Michael Weiss works for the Interpreter Magazine which was launched by the Institute of Modern Russia, an organisation founded by Khodorkovsky’s son Pavel. Khodorkovsky senior has sent out mixed messages on Crimea but a 2014 interview showed that he did not consider the issue within the framework of the sanctity of borders in international law. He stated that “Russia has several reasons to consider Crimea a part of its territory. The Crimean society also believes it to be a part of Russia.” The questionable statement on Crimea reflects his views on Chechnya which emphasise the imposed Russian legacy and display no awareness of that the country was violently subjugated to Russia. It’s rather as if a pith hatted monocle wearing British officer, just back from a ripping time in Simla was commenting on the views of the Indian population. Khodorkovsky is not the sole “democratic” Russian with similar views. Navalny, who is lauded naively as a reformer referred to people from the Caucasus as “rats.”

The Vinchel Foundation which aims to help blind and visually impaired people in Russia is in financial terms the smallest of these firms. Tulloch is one of three trustees the other two being Mikhail Vinchel and his son Anthony Vinchel. Mikhail is one of the co-founders of mail.ru a major Russian internet firm which was banned from Ukraine in 2017.When the western press covered the measure they were overwhelmingly critical suggesting that it was to quote the Economist “pointless” and “because they were Russian.” The article was imbued with the sneering condescension with which Ukrainians are all too familiar stating that “the government still sometimes takes steps that seem more appropriate for a budding authoritarian regime than for an aspiring European democracy.” The report, filed without a hint of irony from Moscow, seems extraordinarily naïve given the subsequent emergence in July 2017 of the fact that Facebook had permitted mail.ru to collate data on its users friends. The potential uses of this data will be apparent as will the journalist’s internalisation of negative perceptions about Ukraine which, in turn, blinded them to a potential security threat to their own country.

War and Peace?

Tulloch has built a career largely on managing Russian wealth via shell companies and it is arguable that he has worked with his employers on a number of laudable projects. He became prominent during a period of greater naiveté about the nature of the Russian state. Putin had successfully sold the charade of democratic reform to a west only too eager to believe his country was transformed. Medvedev’s election was taken seriously when it had the credibility of the crocodile swallowing sausages in a Punch and Judy Show. 

However, as I noted in 2014, Putin had effectively began to subvert the west via a number of means including transnational oligarchic links, social media, and informal agents in the media and politics. In 2016 I noted that while formal intelligence agencies had a role Russia was increasingly relying on “deniable assets. These are individuals used for purposes previously undertaken by intelligence services but handled and incentivised by non-intelligence means. These might include, for example, favourable business deals to provide funds a portion of which the asset was subtly manipulated into spending on projects useful for Russia. Peter Jukes of Byline Media has acquired a cash of e mails relating to the Vote Leave campaign which indicate one such deal might be linked to the Brexit campaign. It might be a data mining specialist such as Cambridge Analytica which Carole Cadwalladr has compellingly investigated. Alternatively it could be the journalist who writes for a major western financial platform specialising in financial news but is linked to a Ukrainian media holding controlled by sinister oligarchs. It might indeed be the president who receives guidance openly, via social media from his oligarchic handlers. One key element is the Red Brown network Putin is sponsoring across Europe and the US whose right wing components have been chillingly described by J J Patrick. This network is sponsored and supported several means including payments for media work from Russia Today, or state funding provided as loans to oligarchs. Konstantin Malofeev sponsored part of this network but as we saw in the case of Maria Butina and Marine Le Pen other oligarchs and Russian politicians and financial institutions are acting in a coordinated manner.

These mechanisms are perhaps what the Estonian Intelligence Agency was referring to when they spoke of a network of Russian agents of influence. However, Russia has altered the parameters of conflict and realised Orwell’s slogan in 1984 that “War is Peace.” Putin has manufactured weapons from gold mines and chat shows and the oligarchic caste that is now often working in unison with the intelligence services. It is apparent that a transnational oligarchic caste is forming around its Russian core, and it includes many westerners who share a modus operandi with Putin’s clique. Rupert Murdoch’s press were early pioneers of fake news and toxic demagogy- his vision of Britain is probably not that different to Putin’s or Banks’s . The United Kingdom is currently implementing a massive act of self-harm, Brexit, on the basis of a referendum in which Russia manipulated via a combination of politics, finance, and data mining. 

The oligarchic caste was a crucial element of this triumph. There is no evidence that Tulloch or any of his clients have played a part in this war that masquerades as peace. Many of their activities are simply pedestrian business ventures or laudable charitable projects and Khodorkovsky is a foe of Putin. Nevertheless we can use Tulloch to gain an understanding of how thoroughly British society has been penetrated by Russia. Given that Putin has used a chemical weapon on British soil and is engaged in destabilising the United Kingdom, Britain would be well advised to scrutinise the ties between Russian oligarchs and its own elite. A further consideration is that many oligarchs share Putin’s views to a greater or lesser degree including his imperial ambitions. It is probable that whoever follows Putin will utilise the same methods and pursue the same aims; the destruction of Ukraine and the establishment of a Fascist hegemony beholden to Russia across the EU and UK. The measures taken to date by the UK are lamentably inadequate. The country needs to cut off inflow of Russian oligarchic funds and accept that its addiction to rich individuals with entertaining biographies is a potential security threat. Indeed until Britain acknowledges that it is under attack and addresses the transformation of its capital into Londongrad and its poisoned political process it will continue to die as a democracy before the eyes of a baffled Europe.

Steve Komarnyckyj is a PEN award winning literary translator and poet whose work is published by Kalyna Language Press and features on the PEN World Bookshelf. You can e mail him on stevekomoffice(at)zoho.eu

Please support his column by making a pledge here- and be rewarded with a beautiful translated book.