Business Oligarchs Organise Interfaith Conference in Kiev

Yet another interfaith conflab involving religious leaders has just taken place, this time in Kiev. MosNews reports:

The Inaugural Summit on Peace and Tolerance devoted to the contemporary state and perspectives of the international inter-confessional dialogue has opened in the Ukrainian capital.

Global Foundation for Democracy headed by Kazakhstan entrepreneur Patokh Chodiev acted as the main organizer of the event.

Participants included Israel Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, Benazir Bhutto, Tom Ridge, Rev. Robert Schuler II, and a UCLA Muslim scholar named Muzzamil Siddiqi. President Alexander Machkevitch of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress delivered an address on the importance of toleration among religious leaders:

The EAJC President also reminded the summit’s participants about the experience of international dialogue between ethnical entities and religions under the aegis of Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

I blogged on Nazarbayev’s “Second Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions” – which saw religious leaders competing to offer the most lavish praise on the Kazakh leader – here. Machkevitch and Chodiev have good reason to speak well of Nazarbayev, since much of their personal wealth, and that of Alijan Ibragimov, with whom they make up “the Kazakh Trio”, is derived from their purchase from him of privatised state industries. Forbes has explored some of the murkiness:

Regional experts have accused them of orchestrating sweetheart deals with Kazakhstan’s long-serving president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and getting “special commissions” from steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal. Then there are the money-laundering charges and reams of bad press. The partners scoff at most of these allegations.

…”People have questions about how they became so rich,” says Zeyno Baran, a director at think tank Nixon Center. “They didn’t do business in a way that is competitive or transparent. It’s mainly based on relationships.” Though the details surrounding the early days of Kazakhstan’s privatization efforts are fuzzy, the trio denies receiving special consideration from the government, especially from President Nazarbayev, who is known to keep a tight rein on foreign investors.

“These guys are not Kazakh, yet somehow they got the trust of the president and used their relationship with the president actively,” says Leyla Abdimomunova, a Kazakhstan analyst based in the capital, Astana. Other regional experts agree that the troika received special favors; at least two separate private investigators have looked into the trio’s ties to Nazarbayev, one of which yielded hotel documents that show they traveled together in 1998. Alexander Ignatov, whose company consults in the former Soviet Union states, says rumors are rampant that the three partners were active financiers of Nazarbayev’s latest presidential campaign.

As well as the “Summit on Peace and Tolerance” and Nazarbayev’s congresses, there has recently been a large-scale interfaith meeting in Moscow (blogged here) and a Russian-backed “Dialogue of Civilizations”, which dwelt on religion, in Cyprus (blogged here). The “Trio” also ran a Jewish-Muslim dialogue meeting last year:

The forum entitled “Islam and Judaism: the road to dialogue and cooperation”, organized by the EAJC and the Council of Mufits of Russia received backing of Patokh Chodiev, chairman of the global foundation “For Democracy”, and entrepreneur Alijan Ibragimov.

The event was attended by a delegation of Iranian lawmakers, headed by the leader of Iran’s Jewish community and deputy of the Iranian parliament Morris Motamed, the EAJC said in a statement. Other attendees included chairman of the Russian Council of Muftis Ravil Gainutdin, chief rabbi of Russia Adolf Shayevich, representatives of Muslim and Jewish communities, government officials, diplomats and scholars from the former Soviet republics.

In organising the Summit, it seems that the “Trio” also had dealings with a counterpart in Ukraine; according to the Pak Tribune, it was

…arranged by the Global Capital Associates and the Ukrainian Interfaith Association…

The Ukrainian Interfaith Association – also known as “A Step to Unity” – is headed by another businessman, Vadim Rabinovich. Rabinovich is a controversial character: in 1999 he visited Liberia on a private jet owned by a Ukrainian mafia boss and arms dealer, and in 2002 he was accused by Der Speigel of having sold tanks to the Taliban. In 1995 he had his US visa revoked, and WorldNetDaily hyped links with Clinton and Gore for its own purposes in 2000. Rabinovich, however, maintains that allegations of wrongdoing are politically-motivated. The businessman is also known in Ukraine for his charitable works, such as his funding of Ukraine’s 9/11 memorial monument. His interfaith efforts were recognised in 2002:

The chairman of the Ukrainian Interfaith Association ‘Step to Unity’, Vadim Rabinovich, has been honoured by the Patriarch of Kiev and all Ukraine, Filaret, with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s highest award – the first class order of Holy Apostolic Duke Vladimir in recognition of his ‘achievements in the spiritual revival of the Ukraine’ and the significant role the Association plays in bridging the trust between various secular and religious components of the country.

The Pak Tribune also reported on Bhutto’s speech at the Summit:

“If elections in my country are rigged, we hope to emulate your orange revolution through public demonstrations and people’s power”, she said by adding that the fanatics who exploit the name of Islam do not speak for the Muslim people…

This report also states that President Viktor Yuschenko was the host of the event, but according to a short JTA report he backed out at the last moment.

3 Responses

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