“Jerusalem Summit” Founder’s Phone Tapped: Three Arrested

Calls to Israel Deputy PM monitored by private investigators: link to Russia?

From the Israel News Agency:

On November 5, Israel police announced that they had arrested two private investigators in Israel, Rafi Pridan and Aviv Mor, on suspicion of illegally wiretapping several people in an effort to gather information about Israel Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman and businessman Michael Chernoy…

The police also arrested right-wing extremist Avigdor Eskin on suspicion of serving as a liaison between the private eyes and their employer. Israel Police believe the employer is Oleg Deripaska, the richest oligarch in Russia (his fortune is estimated at $22 billion), a business rival of Michael Chernoy who has been waging a public smear campaign against him [i.e. against Chernoy – RB]. A police source told the Israel News Agency that dozens of pages of material found at the suspects’ homes and offices indicated that Chernoy was the target of their “operation”, a part of the material relates to his ties with Lieberman.

This brings together a very nice gang of characters.

In one corner, we have (allegedly) Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire Kremlin insider and grandson-in-law of the late Boris Yeltsin, apparently in alliance with Avigdor Eskin, a notorious far-right extremist recently described by Haaretz as the “prince of the pulsa denura” – the Judaic “death curse“. Eskin’s antics include campaigning for the release of Rabin-assassin Yigal Amir, who “gave his soul for us”, and plotting to hurl a pig’s head into the Al-Aqsa mosque.

And in the other corner we have Avigdor Lieberman, chair of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu party – which supports the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians – and currently Deputy Prime Minister of Israel. Alongside him we find Michael Chernoy, the Russian-Israeli billionaire and philanthropist who finances the “Jerusalem Summit”, an organisation which brings together neo-conservatives like Daniel Pipes and Baroness Cox with Christian Zionists such as Mike Evans and members of the Israeli right like Benyamin Netanyahu. His Jerusalem Summit also promotes a rather weird idea called “Universal Zionism”, which would better be described as “right-wing New Age Zionism”. I blogged on Chernoy here, and on “Universal Zionism” here.

Deripaska is a former business partner of Chernoy, and both men became absurdly wealthy during the privatisation of Russia’s aluminium industry in the 1990s. They have, however, since fallen out, and Chernoy is currently planning to pursue his old partner through the courts for billions of dollars he claims are owed to him. Despite this being a Russian affair, Chernoy intends to bring his case in London, although some have questioned whether this is an appropriate jurisdiction. Chernoy has long been accused of links to criminal activity, although no evidence has come to light and all investigations have floundered (in one case, Israeli police investigator Moshe Mizrahi was forced to resign amid claims of a “witch-hunt” of honest Russian businessmen). Although Chernoy has in the past been associated with some questionable individuals, this was presumably simply bad luck, and Chernoy become a billionaire through totally honest means while in competition with ruthless gangsters.

Haaretz tells us something of the documents discovered by police when they made the arrests:

With regard to Lieberman, the documents detail how he and Chernoy first met, what meetings they held and their alleged business ties. The material includes an investigative report from Haaretz Magazine that discussed suspicions that in May 2001, three months after Lieberman was appointed infrastructure minister in Ariel Sharon’s government, a company owned by Chernoy deposited $500,000 in a Cyprus bank account from which hundreds of thousands of shekels were later transferred to Lieberman’s associates.

…The material also details the Interior Ministry’s failed efforts to strip Chernoy of his citizenship; his involvement in Gad Zeevi’s purchase of Bezeq, for which both men are currently on trial; and investigations against him in Switzerland, Russia and the United States.

Returning to the Israel News Agency:

The Russia news outlet Stringer reported that a number of Moscow – based oligarchs (some of them former business partners of Vladimir Gusinsky, Leonid Nevzlin, and Michael Cherney) indeed formed an alliance to neutralize these businessmen who settled in Israel. The alliance’s objective is to curry favor with the Kremlin and advance their own business interests: to protect themselves from the former partners’ lawsuits, to get tax breaks from the government, et cetera. At the first stage the Russian special services granted tacit approval of this “operation”, since the first two targeted oligarchs are the Kremlin’s political foes, and the third one is at least not a friend. In order to make sure that the campaign did not look like an obvious vendetta against ex-partners and to get extra points for “patriotism” from the Kremlin, Moscow oligarchs’ special services turned it into an unofficial branch of Compatriots program. Its purpose is to establish Russia political influence over the Russian-speaking communities within the diaspora in order to control or discredit their political and business leaders who refuse to toe Moscow’s line. In Israel among the former are Scharansky and Lieberman; among the latter, Gusinsky, Nevzlin, and Cherney.

According to the Bulgarian Standart (sic – the Israel News Agency mis-cites this as “The Standard“), the “Compatriots programme” included payments to Haaretz journalists and attempts to bribe Israeli ministers, and involved Russian security agents. Apparently all of the negative coverage against Chernoy and the others can be traced back to Russia and Deripaska:

People are not stupid and they do understand that whenever five or six people holding placards are in the street yelling against someone, somebody must have paid them to do it…

It is also suggested that Eskin may in fact be an agent provocateur in the service of Russia. However, the Standart is good enough to disclose that its owner, Todor Batkov, is Chernoy’s lawyer, and represents him in London. The paper also highlights possible international repercussions of the recent arrests:

According to the Israeli police’s official, Liberman lodged a complaint, since the spies miscalculated and leaked his private telephone conversation to the media. According to some sources, the plot was exposed by Shabak, Israeli counterintelligence, who are in charge of protecting members of Israeli cabinet. Currently Lieberman possesses super secret information as the minister who coordinates Israeli policy vis-a-vis Iran, including a potential preventive strike on their nuclear facilities.

…Wiretapping a minister in charge of strategic planning, and a bribery attempt, which leads to recruitment of Israeli ministers, all traceable to Russian security officers (even if retired and working for private clients), put Russia on the verge of yet another Litvinenko-type scandal and provides Israeli government with a trump card against Russia that the Kremlin would prefer to do without.

The Israel News Agency also mentions

…a highly defamatory book on [Chernoy] written by a Russia journalist Andrei Kalitin, which is due out in Russia soon. Russian media has reported that this “black book on Chernoy” was also commissioned by people close to Oleg Deripaska.

 However, it doesn’t mention that Kalitin was shot and wounded in June, although Cherney claims the incident was staged. This occurred ten years after a journalist critical of Cherney was found beaten to death in a Moscow garage – doubtless another unhappy coincidence which has unfairly tarnished the philanthropist’s reputation.

Name variations: Michael Cherney; Michael Chernoy; Michael Chornoy; Michael Chernoi; Michael Tcherny; Michael Chyorny; Mikhail Cherney; Mikhail Chernoy; Mikhail Chornoy; Mikhail Chernoi; Mikhail Tcherny; Mikhail Chyorny; Michael Chorny; Mikhail Chorny

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