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Interview THURSDAY, 13 March 2008

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Michael Chernoy: Russia Isn't a Private Shop of Deripaska


Today, December 6, "Okna" a weekly pullout of Vesti" newspaper, published an interview with businessman Michael Chernoy, who is permanently residing in Israel. Among other things, he dwelt on issues related to a resounding scandal about wiretapping of M. Chernoy and A. Lieberman.
Journalist Sergey Podrazhansky kindly sent to our editorial office the text of the interview with the businessman.
The text has been abridged. See the full version in the issue of "Okna" dated December 6, 2007.
- Michael, let's take the bull by the horns. Word goes public that Deripaska financed this operation. Do the Russian special services have a finger in it?
- I wouldn't say so. The oligarchs close to the Kremlin would hardly need it. Nowadays, these people have wielded great power and are practically immune to the Law, especially when they try to present their personal rivals as "enemies of Russia." What is exactly Deriapska is trying to do in my case. He doesn't understand that his game mars the reputation of Russia more than it mars mine. Now, another smear campaign he launched has flunked - as wise people say, "nothing is secret that shall not be made manifest." However, many in the West, financial and mass media lords including, do not draw a line between the Kremlin and Deripaska, while he himself is trumpeting that he "draws a line between himself and the State. I wish he really would because Russia is not his private shop.
- What has provoked such a vicious attack against you? Could it be the lawsuit you had filed?
- Deripaska has brazen-facedly broken a contract we sealed back in 2001 in London, so a year ago I brought a suit against him in Great Britain. In response he launched a worldwide campaign against me, mean, malicious and very costly. He has a whole team in Russia in charge of black PR operations against his foes, it is the so-called "Eurasian Group." Its head, Alexey Drobashenko, was the main curator of Eskin&Co. Just note how much money they have poured into it: hundreds of posters featuring Avigdor Lieberman as my poodle, hundreds of billboards defaming Lieberman, two anonymous websites, lobbies in the Knesset, "human rights activists" of all sorts who following his orders demanded my expatriation out of the blue filing inquiries to all instances. Wiretapping was the last straw.
- Channel 2 of the ITV reported that the implicated figures have been collecting about 84.000 USD a month for it in Israel alone. As for Russia, they have commissioned to black PR experts a smearing book about me. They tried to corrupt the Russian MPs and prosecutors to launch a suit about some counterfeited aviso (invoices) in the beginning of 1900s! In England, they attempted to bribe the leading newspapers into publishing defaming articles about me. They even tried to bribe members of parliament. In the USA, they hired a major private investigation agency, "Diligence" which had to coordinate the hunt for Chernoy in Moscow, Israel and England.
- If Deripaska is waging a battle against you, then why did this operation target Lieberman as well, having in mind all the defaming posters and wiretapping?
- They wanted to kill two birds with one stone (read - one financial injection.) On the one hand, they have been collecting fake defaming materials about him trying to raise hell and convince the public opinion that I was allegedly "corrupting the vice PM." On the other hand, this campaign brought grist to the mill of Lieberman's political rivals: they had a chance to wreck Lieberman for the money of foreign sponsors.
- What makes you and Lieberman such close friends?
- And what's wrong about it? No one in Israel thinks that friendship between Haim Saban and Shimon Perez, for instance, should raise concern. To put it short, the Israeli oligarchy is bound by partisan principles. As for my friendship with Lieberman, we became close twelve years ago when I first moved to Israel. We met by chance and realized we had much in common. Lieberman was a self-made man in politics, same as I was in business. There was no "mommy, daddy or Communist party" behind us. In terms of Israeli rules, we belonged to no clan, had neither army cronies nor trade union supporters. All we had were brains and willpower; no umbrellas were spread over us. Just like me he started from scratch and was a man of principle. I am sure he would never trade our land or shilly-shally with the enemies of Israel. I would describe his stand in the following way: as long as the previous governments have brought us to an "Oslo deadlock" and so far we cannot backtrack on these agreements, then let's at least raise the issue of the "fifth column." We cannot afford a million of disloyal Arab citizens, while in the Palestinian Authority there's not a single Jew.
- Well, what you say now bears out the worst suspicions of corruption fighters; it's a blow against Lieberman.
- Sergey, this is a provocation! I'm simply answering your question about what had brought me close to Lieberman. I just explain what I like about him. Neither he cares about my PR nor I care about his.
- Let's turn back to Deripaska. I'm sorry Michael, but people call you his "godfather." You have ushered him into the aluminum business, raised and promoted him and then let him manage your assets. Am I right?
- Much to my regret, you are right. Then, back in Russia, I thought I couldn't be wrong in my judgements about people. Yet, I have judged wrongly about many, Deripaska is not an exception. To many of them huge money proved to be too heavy a burden, the others yielded to pressure. Among my closer circle many didn't like Oleg's conduct. They said he was totally unscrupulous in pursuing his ends. Nevertheless, back then I thought they were driven by jealousy.
- Have there been any corpses in the "aluminum wars?"
- As long as I was in Russia, that is till 1994, no one was killed, either among my managers, or partners, or competitors, even if the competition was fierce. When I left I gave the steering wheel to my younger partners, who were running our business in Russia, i.e. to Oleg Deripaska and Iskander Mahmudov. As time passed, rumors reached me about turf wars, account settling and forceful seizure of property. Even if I heard about such things in other spheres of business in Russia - banking, oil, etc. - to me it was inadmissible. Those who know me would confirm that I'm a diplomat in business - I would always seek a compromise. I asked Deripaska and other partners whether we had anything to do with this account settling and they assured me that we had not. Other big businessmen who are now compelled to live abroad have also erred in their choice of people. I believe that any man nearing his sixties bears a burden of mistakes, disappointments and betrayals. As for Deripaska, it is clear to me that he proved to be a good manager and business fixer, however, in purely human terms he turned out to be a traitor. Even now he wouldn't stop trying to elbow his way into the world business elite, but mind you, he would shortchange his Western partners in a moment he would see right. What seems even sadder to me is the fact that in Israel he has a whole pack of hirelings that started a hunt for me, a Jew who means only good and nothing but good to Israel. These people are toeing the line before a man who is totally indifferent to the interests of Israel.
- The e-correspondence between Drobashenko and Russian-origin Israelis: Eskin, Eidelman, Rosenfeld, Bibichkov, etc., has leaked to the Internet. In their e-mails they boast that a broad network of Knesset members and even ministers of Kadima are working for them. Have you seen these letters and what do you think of them?
- Yes, I have seen these e-mails. At first I wouldn't believe my eyes. I wouldn't believe that such a web had been spun to work against me. Of course, I have always known that all the "inquiries" by phony human rights activists demanding to deprive me of Israeli citizenship are a part of a well-organized campaign. I will sue all the plotters who were dogging me. To tell you the truth, the Israeli people are wrong thinking that this is a mere squabble in the "Russian Street." In fact, this is an undermining activity, an invasion of foreign capital into the political life of Israel, which borders on espionage. Today they pour a couple of million dollars to defame and oust the Israeli vice premier. What about tomorrow? Are they ready to pour a dozen millions to bring to power a government that would suit them?
- Do you really think that the abovementioned MPs and ministers literally took money for chasing you?
- Not necessarily. You know that black PR is a more refined mechanism. Lobbyists would tour high offices promising political dividends to Knesset members, pledged to arrange interviews with Russian mass media, visits to Russia, etc. Some raised to other baits, lending ear to statements about the "ideological differences" between them and Lieberman. Such was the case of Rahn Cohen of MERETZ or the far-rights, on the other end of the specter. Then they would say: "Look, the far lefts, the far rights and the centrists are against Chernoy. Don't you believe that all have been bought? Actually they have been bought, but some for money, some for words. What really hurts me is the destiny of our mini-state. This "account-settling" makes Jews to pursue internecine feuds instead of uniting against a common enemy. Currently, Israel is in a very dangerous situation: we, the Jews, must team up. However, "the wind returns again according to its circle." The temple is besieged and the Jews inside go on slaughtering each other.

NEWSru.co.il :: Israel, Wednesday, December 5, 2007. 18:16
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