In all the hullaballoo of West Ham being taken over by Kia Joorabchian, in most likelihood, a proxy for Roman Abramovich, the name Boris Berezovsky is bandied about quite a bit. Who is Berezovsky? He is Abramovich's partner in their company, Sibneft, now called Gazprom Neft, one of Russia's biggest oil producing and refinining companies. Sibneft through the process of perestroika, was auctioned of to private investors. He is also a partner along with Abramovich, in Kia Joorabchian's Media Sports Investment (MSI), the company negotiating with West Ham in a buyout of the club. MSI also controls Brazilian club Corinthians, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano's former club before joining West Ham. Sibneft also owns CSKA Moscow, Russia's largest and most succesful football club.
When Boris Berezovsky left Russia, he sold most of his oil and media interests to his protégé Roman Abramovich.
Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky acquired shares in Sibneft by bidding in the auctions through several front companies that they set up for the purpose. These transactions, widely denounced as unethical or illegal, were approved by Boris Yeltsin who had good relations with Berezovsky and Abramovich at that time. According to General Alexander Korzhakov, former chief of Yeltsin's security service, Abramovich manages finances for Yeltsin and his family.
Boris Berezovsky, is also the most notorious of the thirteen oligarchs that Boris Yeltsin sold the Russian industrial sector to. He made his name by employing criminals from the Chechen gangs and forming an alliance with the Solnetsevo Brotherhood, a Moscow based Mafia gang, to capture the auto market, through his company AutoVaz, an auto manufacturer. His biggest rival, Valeri Dlugatch of Trinity Motors, was murdered by Chechen gangsters.He also controlled Aeroflot, Russia's airline
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Chechnya, the most deregulated of the former provinces, became a hotbed for criminal activities, as many prison inmates were released. Grozny became a haven for drug smuggling, gun running, money laundering, assassinations of gang members, and kidnapping of rival businessmen, and officials. Under cover of paying ransom Berezovsky was financing their illegal activities.
With the blessing of Anatoly Chubais, the finance minister, and the architect of Russia's privatization, Berezovsky also moved to the lucrative TV and media market. In 1994, in just a few weeks he secured control of Channel 1 of the Russian TV, he purchased Channel 6 -privatized with the participation of Ted Turner, and purchased Ogoniok and the journal Nezavissimaia Gazeta, becoming one of the most influential men in the Russian media universe
In becoming one of the biggest media moghul, he used his influence with Boris Yeltsin, to diminish another rival oligarch in media, Vladimir Gussinski, and owner of NTV, revealing that Gussinski along with Moscow mayor Yuri Luchkov nursed political ambitions to unseat the Russian government. Due to Berezovsky's disclosure, Luchkov had to go into exile. Sometime later, Yuri Listiev, a prominent anchorman was murdered for expressing his unhappiness with the way Boris Berezovsky was restructuring the Russian media. Berezovsky became the focus of a criminal inquiry but no charges could be bought against him. He was also accused of ordering the assassination attempt on his longtime rival Vladimir Gussinski.
Boris Yeltsin then appointed Berezovsky deputy secretary of the National Security Council, then secretary of the Organization for Coordinating the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS.). In a effort to boost his own political credentials, Berezovsky took part in the peace talks with the Chechen rebels and Moscow, using his influence with the Chechen leaders, Aslan Maskadov, Salim Raduiev, and Shamil Basayev, during the Chechen insurgency, all the time wilfully slowing down the process according to General Alexander Lebed, who signed the peace treat with Chechen leader, Aslan Maskadov.
Berezovsky's alliance with the Chechen rebels, depended on the continuation of the insurgency, a relationship successfully exploited in the past. The peace talks had very little to do with alleviating the miserable conditions in war torn Grozny or even preventing terrorist attacks in Moscow and everything to do to protect the proposed Baku- Tbilisi- Ceyhan oil pipeline through the Caucasus. A megadeal that the European, Russian, and the US governments were very interested in as it would mean billions of dollars to their oil companies including BP Amoco, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Lukoil, Yukos, TotalFina, and Elf amongst many other beneficiaries.
Boris Berezovsky's fortunes took a turn for the worse when Valdimir Putin came to power. He initially supported Putin's bid for elections but soon realized that he was not as pliable as Yeltsin. Putin had his own ideas of remaking the Russian economy seeing the oligarchs as a group of self serving businessman less interested in the economy and more interested in lining their pockets. The oligarchs were also very close to US political and economic interests, using them as leverage against the Putin government. Berezovsky fled to the US and then sought refuge in England as a political exile in 2000, and in his new capacity has become a liberal defender of Russia's democratic reforms, and a critic of the Putin government that he denounces as authoritarian (read does not bow to the US and England). The British government has refused to extradite him although he is wanted in Russia for charges as diverse as money laundering to murder. In 2003, in spite of all charges presented against him, Boris Berezovski tried to run as candidate for the Russian Parliament (Duma), but his plans failed. Recently, he changes his name and last name and at present he is known as Platón Elenin. This new name of the character bears great significance given the fact that it is the name of a oligarch character in a play written in Russia.
These oligarchs have become heroes in the US and Britain, as shining examples of Russia's new capitalism, especially Mikhail Khodorovsky, the chairman of the Yukos oil company, Russia's second largest oil company, basically bequeathed to him by Boris Yeltsin for a throwaway price, and now jailed by Vladimir Putin for millions of dollars in tax evasion. His imprisonment is always made much of by another oilman, Dick Cheney, as evidence that he is a victim of Putin's authoritarian democracy. Dick Cheney also puts on the suit of USA's vice president, when he can get away from protecting the interests of the oil and energy lobby and shooting old men in their face.
The process by which Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky, criminals by any other name and their interest in buying out English and other football clubs, is one of legitimizing their money, and consequently their name. In England, where football is followed with a passion, is an everyman's sport, the easiest way to whitewash your name is to become the game's saviour. There are many clubs in financial straits, who'll never see a championship in their lifetime, unless they are bailed out by the Abramovich's and the Berzovsky's. Fans, for the most part, really don't care too much about where the money is coming from, or even if they do, it is a small dent in their conscience when they finally win that trophy. With all this, we should bury the myth of football, the beautiful game. In five years time Roman Abramovich and Bruce Berezovsky will be given the OBE, for their service to English football, and their turnaround will be complete.
For more on Berezovsky, read Godfather of the Kremlin (September 2000), a biography of Boris Berezovsky, by Paul Klebnikov, Forbes Moscow Editor, who was murdered in July 2004, outside his Moscow apartment.