Michael Cherney: On Deripaska, the Russian mafia and the Israeli police
Interview by Ghidi Weiz, journalist of the Haarez newspaper, Israel, 20 November, 2009
In October, 2007, Avigdor Lieberman, at that point Minister of Strategic Planning of Israel, was again being interrogated at the Police Investigation Department. During the past 5 years, Lieberman has been repeatedly taken in for interrogation but on that particular occasion the meeting with the investigating magistrates was initiated by him.
He submitted a complaint and told a surprising story:
“At the end of the week I was in Berlin”, reported Lieberman to the police colonel, Shaul Hennigman, of the International Crime Investigation Department (YAHBAL), “and upon my return to the Jerusalem office of our party ‘Israel is Our Home’ I found a brown folder on my desk”.
The folder which Lieberman was surprised to see on his desk contained e-mail printouts, most of which in Russian. Having read them Lieberman was seized with the suspicion that a certain organized group was secretly tapping his telephone conversations with a close friend of his – Michael Cherney, a businessman and a multimillionaire.
“It was evident from those e-mail transcripts that attempts had been made to bribe politicians of Israel and Great Britain”, Lieberman said, “and it was clear to me that there was a connection between the organized group’s representatives and the police.”
Colonel Hennigman entered Lieberman’s story in the records but to him many questions remained open. What a weird coincidence! How did that folder with materials incriminating Lieberman come unexpectedly to be on his own desk?
“Isn’t your office security protected”, asked Hennigman the Minister.
“We do not have any surveillance cameras”, was the Minister’s answer.
“What about your secretary?”
“My office is not security protected by any video cameras, security guards and alarm systems”, Lieberman replied.
Few days later the police apprehended the people whose names were mentioned in the folder. Among them was Avigdor Eskin, ultra-rightist activist, known for holding rituals invoking curse on the house of the assassinated Prime Minister Izhac Rabin as well as Rafi Pridan, a private detective involved in the secret wiretapping of leading journalists and formerly held in prison on that charge.
When the investigating authorities conducted searches in the suspects’ residences, it became clear that the main target tracked was not Avigdor Lieberman but Michael Cherney.
In the documents seized during the searches, the police found tracking reports on Cherney as well as printouts of phone conversations held by his office secretary Elena Skir. According to the investigation materials, Eskin and his adherents planned to expand the oligarch’s tracking scheme. “To be kept an eye on his brother (Lev Cherney), his lawyers and himself when he is in London and to tap his mobile phone conversations”, read one of the documents.
If the equipment for tapping phone conversations between Lieberman and Cherney was in place, it could be presumed that the wire tappers were very busy. “The novel” between the present Minister of Foreign Affairs and the businessman, suspected by the State of Israel of being involved in a number of criminal cases on the territory of Russia and Israel, has lasted for more than 10 years. Both testified that they were in contact almost daily.
“Our contacts began in the early phase of the 1996 elections which were won by Netanyahu and Lieberman took the position of Director General of the Prime Minster’s Office”, said Michael Cherney to the Gaarez reporter. “We used to meet periodically: sometimes we had lunch together, sometimes we played tennis, talked about Russian culture, music, his desire to write books.”
“What kind of novels?”
“He wrote several books. I hope that you will read them. He is an interesting man.”
The close communication between Cherney and Lieberman gave rise to violent criticism from Eskin & Co. In the course of several months preceding their arrest, posters appeared throughout Israel depicting Lieberman as a dog held on a leash by Cherney. The text on the posters warned Israel’s citizens of the connection between politicians and criminals: “The Russian mafia’s poodle sells out Israel’s land”.
However, what looked like a part of a political campaign carried out by Eskin and his ultra-rightist followers against Lieberman, thought by them to be too moderate in his political views, proved to be a typical Russian balloon. When the investigating magistrates pricked the balloon they saw that Eskin did not receive his orders from Israel but from Moscow. And the assignments were given by the man who was then considered to be the richest Russian in the world, Kremlin’s favourite, Oleg Deripaska.
On the face of it, Deripaska has quite a few reasons to impair Cherney’s reputation. In the past, they were both business partners in one of the biggest Russian aluminium companies. But today they are entangled in legal proceedings suing each other for a lot of money. Three years ago, Cherney started legal action again Deripaska in a British court. The claimant alleged that Deripaska refused to implement the terms and conditions of an agreement made between them under which he undertook to assign to Cherney a package of shares of the RUSAL aluminium company at the value of billions of US dollars.
According to the investigation materials of the Eskin & Co. case, fragments of which were published here for the first time, it became clear that an international smear campaign against Cherney was conducted by Deripaska, its aim being, in all probability, to make the legitimacy of the claim, raised by Cherney against his former partner, look questionable.
Cherney, who has been residing in Israel for 15 years already, gives interviews very seldom. He hardly speaks any Hebrew. “The police took too much of my time, there was hardly any left for me to learn the language.”
All his communication with businessmen, his lawyers, public institutions’ representatives goes through an interpreter. This interview was also given with the help of an interpreter. His complex stories provided us with the opportunity of gaining an insight into the world of oligarchs fighting tooth and nail for billions of dollars, those very oligarchs who cropped up in Russia after the disintegration of the communist super-state and whose battles involved the Russian authorities and were accompanied by cruel murders and international investigations.
He spoke about the constant surveillance he was subjected to by the Israeli police and about the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel.
The puppet dance
Cherney took pride in his relations with Lieberman. Last February, when the preliminary election results showed that ‘Israel is Our Home’ became the third political force in the country with fifteen MPs in the Knesset, Cherney attended the Party’s celebrations in Jerusalem.
“Lieberman is a friend of mine”, said Cherney, “I am happy for him, because he won so many seats in Parliament. Had they been even more, I would have been even happier. “Israel is Our Home’ is an excellent party. I came to congratulate him as a friend. I voted for that Party.”
“Did you provide any financial assistance to the Party?”
“No matter what I tell you, you will not believe me.”
“Please still do.”
“I have never backed up any party in the world with money – neither here, nor in Bulgaria, nor in any other state.”
“You seem to like Lieberman as a politician.”
“Lieberman is not only a leader of the Russian community but of the entire state as well. Unfortunately, I fail to understand why there are so many people wishing to make him look like an enemy to the state while he is so useful. He is worthy of being a Prime Minister. A man of his potential, with such a quick mind. Why not?”
Among other things, the police suspected that the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the oligarch were bound together not just by mutual liking and literary conversations but financial relations as well. In April, 2007, Cherney was called for examination to the Fraud Investigation Office. He was informed of being suspected of giving a bribe to Avigdor Lieberman. In May 2001, MCG Holding, a company owned by Cherney, paid nearly half a million US dollars into the account of a company in Cyprus controlled, as suspected by the investigating magistrates, by Lieberman. Two months earlier, Lieberman was appointed Minister of National Infrastructure in Ariel Sharon’s Government. During the inquiry, Cherney claimed that he was not aware of the transaction. Later, it became clear that the bank transfer was made to pay for a wine purchase deal between his partner in MCG Holding, Todor Batkov, a lawyer, and Igor Schneider who, some time ago, was Lieberman’s private chauffeur. In August of this year, the police recommended to the Prosecutor’s Office to make charges against Lieberman.
“Have you ever given a bribe to Lieberman?”
“There is not a grain of truth in that. I am completely at ease. I have never done what is attributed to me. I do not do business with friends.”
“Have you never done business with Lieberman?”
“Absolutely not. I have only had one business transaction with him. I sold him my car, an armoured Mercedes jeep. I could not find a buyer for that jeep and Lieberman asked me if I would sell it to him at a price set by a state assessor. I know that Lieberman’s entire village (the small village of Nokdin) now uses that “armoured personnel carrier”.
“Aren’t you afraid that the Prosecutor’s Office might accuse you of giving a bribe?”
“The Prosecutor’s Office already laid an indictment against me for purportedly giving a bribe to a member of Eilat’s City Council but withdrew the charges later. They also concerned an amount of half a million shekels.”
“This concerns half a million US dollars…”
“Well, the amount has grown bigger now. It is five years since the Eilat case. I hope that the system has changed during that time and no more politicians and businessmen disagreeing with that system will be destroyed”.
Cherney is confident that Israel’s law enforcement bodies (as earlier, those of Russia) have been persecuting him for being “an alien”. His lack of command of Hebrew and English is compensated by rich gesticulation and expressive mimic. It is difficult to understand – hearting him speak about YAHBAL tracking him since 1997 – what he really thinks about that institution. When describing how the misinformation “made in Israel” about him inflicted damages on his business throughout the world, he simulated a hand holding an axe and powerfully cutting through the air. When enumerating the countries posing obstacles for him to visit their territories because of information provided by Israel’s law-enforcement bodies, the axe was replaced by an imaginary knife fiercely striking his left hand
Cherney is a talented mime. The most popular item of his extensive repertoire is a puppeteer leading his puppets. That is what he calls police investigators who, according to him, never stop enervating him with endless inquiries. He and Lieberman, to be more precise.
“In the past 13 years, there have been no bigger enemies to The System than me and Lieberman. We are like Satan. Worse than terrorists even”, said Cherney angrily. “Just try to imagine yourself in my and Lieberman’s shoes in order to understand all that. It costs me even more dearly because someone believes that to do a great harm to a person, that person’s friend should be made to look like a wicked character, the biggest villain on earth”.
“And who, in your opinion, runs that puppet show?”
“I don’t know.”
According to some versions publicized in mass information media, the investigation against Lieberman started from that brown envelope on the desk of the ‘Israel is Our Home’ Party leader. But this time, it was Lieberman himself who made a mistake. The Minister, suspicious of everyone and fearing wiretapping, always asking his interlocutors to turn off their mobile telephones, was imprudent enough to periodically make telephone calls from the office of his colleague in the parliamentary group, the former MP, Michael Noodleman (Cherney called him Poodleman).
During one of those visits, as alleged by the police, Lieberman forgot, on the desk in Noodleman’s office, a folder with various documents containing also bank accounts of a Cypriote company which he – as suspected by the investigating authorities – controlled during his ministerial tenure.
Noodleman and his then adviser, David Edelman, handed those documents to the state controller.
“Do you really believe that Noodleman took those documents?” asked Cherney. “I am sure that you do not believe that either. In my opinion, the police took hold of those documents in an illegal way and then made them look legitimate through Noodleman and Edelman. It is hard for me to believe that if such documents had existed, someone would have forgotten them somewhere.”
“And what do you think of Lieberman’s daughter who, being a little more than 20 years of age turned out to be an owner of a company earning millions of shekels?”
“If a politician has a child, does that mean that his child should not engage in business activities? Famous people always have connections, like it or not. They all benefit from protections in the good sense of that word. If we are not prejudicial about that, there would be no reasons for such criminal cases.”
Where did everything originate from?
Cherney’s tracking and wiretapping by Avigdor Eskin & Co. was organized in a way to be envied by any reputable intelligence service. When the police started investigating the activities of Eskin (“the puppy” as Cherney called him), it became clear that he led the Israeli staff of a group operating in Israel and Great Britain. Eskin hired Rafi Pridan and another private detective, Aviv Mor. All three of them met in Moscow with Alexey Drobishenko, Director General of one of the companies belonging to Oleg Deripaska. It was Drobishenko who financed those operations.
„Drobishenko wanted to weaken Cherney's position by making public information about Cherney's extensive criminal activity in Russia and in other countries,“ Eskin explained before the investigators. „He wanted the broad public in Israel, England and elsewhere to learn the truth about Cherney.”
According to the materials from the investigation, other private detective agencies financed by Deripaska acted against Cherney in the course of many years. In 2007 private eye Zvi Manulevich told the investigators that two years previously he had contacted a large British private detective agency owned by former CIA and FBI senior associates: „They asked me to gather information about Cherney... This job continued for two-three months and included following Cherney and his driver... Even in the early stages of the job I learnt that Oleg Deribaska was the main commissioner.”
A copy of the e-mail of the people involved in this criminal case is attached to the claim which Cherney filed against Deripaska with the British court (as well as to the claim Cherney filed against the organizers of the campaign in Israel) – the same file Lieberman found on his desk.
In one of these e-messages Eskin asked his Russian client: „We maintain close connection with the Minister of the Interior. What can we promise him if he withdraws Cherney's citizenship?“
In other messages (e-mails) Eskin's associates begged for thousands of dollars to pay for the services of journalists and various mass media for publishing negative materials about Cherney. Yet another message, which Eskin sent to David Edelman (the same adviser of Michael Nudelman who curiously why is not a suspect in this case), describes in detail PR campaigns organized against Cherney: from graffiti (Cherney – that's Russian mafia) to the establishment of a special Internet site, including to the point of expelling Cherney from Israel.
Cherney claims that this entire campaign had one objective alone – to delegitimize his claim against Deripaska in the court in London.
As part of this campaign on a grand scale, the British PR agency Mirpeco [name may be misspelt – translator's note] suggested a variant to open criminal proceedings against Cherney in Russia – or in any other country with which Great Britain has an agreement for extradition. The aim was obvious – that Cherney, fearing arrest, may not visit Great Britain and participate in the court hearings against Deripaska. The British court, which acquainted itself with Eskin's electronic correspondence, found that this correspondence was a reliable source and in itself constituted serious evidence reflecting the actions of Deripaska and Drobishenko against Cherney.
„This is a gang of criminals,“ Cherney concluded. „In the past they worked in a special KGB department dealing with disinformation and various provocations. It mobilized people who worked in the secret services, which is why I was not surprised when I saw advertisement billboards with contents against me in Israel.“
Deripaska denies Cherney's charges against him.
Cherney says he had several 9occasions to suspect that an organized campaign was being led against him. In his words, even in 2006 he was visited by an Israeli private investigator who told him he had followed him in the past and tapped his telephone conversation by an order of an American detective agency.
„I asked him whether this had any connection with Deripaska. He said 'yes“. And added that recently a British detective agency had offered him to work against me again, but he did not agree as the previous time they had not paid him the promised money. 'Now I can pass on your side and work against Deripaska,“ he told me. I took him to my lawyer, Jacob Weinroth, straight away, and then he told us that, in addition to everything else, they asked him to also tap Weinroth’s office. After that he again offered to work for me. ‘Criminal things are not our line of work,' I told him. This case, as well as several others, allowed me to understand who stood behind this. Did Eskin have the money for all this? Clearly, it was Deripaska who paid for them"
“How did all these electronic messages, which Lieberman found, fall in your hands?”
“They appeared in Internet in Bulgaria and Russia.”
“Come on! They appeared from nowhere and were published in Internet?"
“Before they appeared in Internet many people tried to sell them to me. The first time they offered me to buy them for USD 100,000. In the long run, the price fell to USD 25,000. When I asked them why they were selling these things at all, they said ‘We were hired to work against Cherney, but they didn't pay us enough'."
“There are rumours that you paid enormous sums.”
“Nothing of the kind. I will never pay anyone for stolen information about me or anything of the kind. However, I will defend myself with all legal means."
“Haven’t you yourself ordered tapping and following of Deripaska and his associates?”
“Never. I am ready to pass the lie detector test for this statement of mine.”
“Has Lieberman told you he wanted to run to the police?”
“Lieberman does not consult me on any matter. He was born with the qualities of a leader and always does what he thinks is necessary.”
The prosecution recently invited Eskin, Pridan and Mor for questioning before the submission of the ruling against them for illegal tapping of telephone conversations. Meanwhile, Cherney received mountains of e-mail printouts, as a result of which he began to suspect that the high-ranking YAHBAL (Israeli Civil police's Unit of International Crime Investigations) official Slava Platnik relayed to the persons involved in the campaign against him information about a new investigation, which had begun against him in Russia. Very quickly the complaint against Platnik was submitted to the legal adviser of the government Meni Mazuz. It asserts that Platnik relayed confidential information to people connected with Deripaska. This complaint was not lodged by Cherney, but by - guess who? True – his friend Lieberman.
Murder in the past
True, a new criminal investigation against Cherney had begun. At the end of July he was called in the office of YAHBAL. Lieutenant Anatoly Lifshits shook his hand, asked him to take a seat and relayed the dramatic message: the Prosecutor General of Russia, Yury Chaika, had turned to the government of Israel requesting a questioning of Cherney in the name of the Russian investigation – on the case of the murder of Vadim Yafyasov, deputy director of one of the Russian banks and one of the key players on the aluminium market in Russia.
Yafyasov was murdered in broad daylight in April 1995 in Moscow. He was killed by a burst of machine-gun shots against his BMW. The murder was not so unexpected against the backdrop of what was happening in Russia in the 1990s in relation to the so-called “aluminium war”.
Dozens of people – directors of enterprises, shareholders, government official, journalists – died in the course of the war for control of the lucrative market of non-ferrous metals, which Michael Cherney was one of the key figures. At the time of the murder Cherney already had Israeli citizenship. In spite of that, his name was connected with many things which happened in Russia. This barely did not cost him his Israeli citizenship.
In 2004, the then Interior Minister Avrham Poraz wrote to him that „according to information, which has been received at the police of Israel, you are responsible for murder and attempted murder, which were undertaken upon your orders or by your commission in a period of the war for the aluminium market“.
In spite of that, Cherney was never interrogated on the case of Yafyasov's murder.
Why did the Russian Prosecutor General decide to go back and investigate this murder? Cherney has an unequivocal answer – all this was done under pressure of Deribaska.
„The Prosecutor General is close to Deribaska,“ Cherney confirms. „According to the information I have come across, today the men of Deripaska and the associates of the Israeli YAHBAL have common interests. After all, as a result of their joint efforts they have managed to launch a criminal case against me after 14 years.“
„The Russian prosecution – a puppet?“
„I know that the Israeli law enforcement authorities and their Russian colleagues had a lively correspondence in the course of 10 years. The Russians constantly told the Israelis that they didn't have anything against Cherney. Until, as I think, Deripaska didn't intervene.“
„But maybe the Prosecutor General has new evidence?“
„Only Deripaska is behind this.“
„How did you react to the charges?“
„I got terribly angry and I asked the investigator: 'Tell me what this is?' He answered that he had received the questions he asked me earlier. Yafyasov, who worked for me and who achieved everything thanks to me, was murdered in 1995, when I was already in Israel. If I had done something of the sort, being in Israel, then why didn't they question me a single time until now? The police want to send me to Russia? To be murdered there? Or to put me in jail for 100 years on charges they have concocted themselves.
„I know this Anatoly is not responsible for the investigation. He is clever and a professional investigator,“ Cherney said and again showed the hand of the puppeteer and the puppet on a string with his hand.
„Have the Russians wanted to question you on this case in the past?“
„Let it be clear – the Russians have never launched criminal cases and investigations against me. Nothing. The only crime I could commit is sworn at someone on the phone. If he is a skunk and a wretch, I will swear at him, but after that I'll calm down. I do not build up hate. My health is more important. If I were the criminal they are trying to make out of me now, then how are those because of whom I lost millions still alive – for example Gad Zeevi and others?“
„When I was young I could become involved in a fight, but only with fists, not even with iron rods. I have never been involved in crimes. That is why I am respected all over the world – by ministers, intellectuals. I have been taught to help people, even those whom I don't know. In spite of that I cannot give in to a man like Deripaska. He is a scoundrel and we were forced to lodge a claim against him. They destroyed Shabtai Kalamanovich in just five minutes. If I were a mafioso I would surely have put an end to the story with Deripaska in five minutes. Do you think his bodyguards could have saved him? Shabtai also had bodyguards.“
„Could Russia request your extradition from Israel as it did with Leonid Nevzlin, one of the owners of Yukos?“
„I won't be surprised if this happens, because today Deripaska has the greatest influence over Russian authorities. He has close relations with the Prime Minister (Vladimir Putin), the President (Dmitry Medvedev), the heads of secret services and associates of the Chief Prosecution Office. They are guests in his house. That is why criminal proceedings have been launched against me.“
The divine warning.
The connection between Cherney and Deripaska was born a little before he moved to Israel in 1994. At that time Cherney was the „aluminium king“ of Russia. Two opposite to one another versions give us an idea how the son of simple workers, who was born 57 years ago in the Ukrainian town of Uman, has risen to these heights. The Israeli law-enforcement authorities assert, according to classified but in their words checked information supported with arguments, that Cherney is a criminal who has built his capital through manipulation and large-scale shady deals, giving enormous bribes to politicians and relying on criminal groups which cleared his way. In turn, Cherney claims his phenomenal success is only the result of his private enterprise, energy, ability to adapt, which showed in the unique for the history of mankind situation – the transition from centralized communist economy to a free market. It is difficult to refute some facts. Even in the Soviet period Cherney and his brother Lev began trading in plastics and textile. When the former communist super-state began to implement the warped process of privatization and to sell all its resources the Cherney brothers already had initial capital, which allowed them to acquire property.
In 1992 the Cherney brothers and the Reuben brothers Simon and David, two aluminium magnates from London, established the TransWorld Group company, which made them the most powerful people on the market of non-ferrous metals in Russia. They took over enormous enterprises and hundreds of millions of dollars flowed into their accounts. „If I hadn't taken these plants the metallurgical industry would simply have collapsed,“ Cherney says.
Cherney says that the image of a mafioso, which has been attached to him as a result of lies and compromising campaigns, created by former associates of the secret Soviet services. According to Cherney, the only thing he did was to avail himself of the situation. The economy was being born again: everything that was not forbidden was permitted.
„If an Israeli minister gave me help which I received from the Russian government when, for example, we voted for the appointment of our representative to the post of director of an enterprise, he would surely have been put into prison for ten years. In those times, however, ministers and deputy ministers themselves sought me out with requests to restore some aluminium plant and promised that the state would guarantee...“
Cherney made contacts at the Kremlin, mainly with Shamil Tarpishchev, who began his career in the capacity of tennis coach of Boris Yeltsin, and after that became one of the key figures in the Kremlin.
„Shamil was a friend of mine in Uzbekistan when I was involved in sports. He was the personal coach of Yeltsin and after that also Minister of Sport. Once he invited me to the Kremlin Cup tournament. I sat in the box next to the guests of honour, along with Yeltsin and other respected persons. Many famous businessmen after that asked who at all that Cherney was. They already knew that I also maintained contacts with Oleg Soskovets, who was appointed Deputy Prime Minister a little later.
Cherney denies having ever given bribes. „But I was one of the sponsors of Russia's tennis team in the course of many years. Even long after Yeltsin fired Tarpishchev,“ Cherney adds.
In 1993, at a conference in London, Cherney met a young blue-eyed man. His name was Oleg Deripaska. He had just graduated from the Faculty of Physics at Moscow University and was beginning to deal in metal trade – the son of poor parents from Southern Russia.
„Several months later Yafyazov brought Deripaska to Paris, for a meeting with me. He had great ambitions and I liked that,“ Cherney recalls. „He wanted to do big business and told me that his group wanted to buy the Sayansk plant in Siberia on the exchange, but didn't have money for that. I agreed to invest capital and after that we agreed to become equal partners in that project.“
„I don't have sons. He was like a son to me,“ Cherney explains how Deripaska became his partner. „There were many directors like him. Some were even better than him, but he managed to become close to me. They envied him for that a lot.“
And then Cherney’s life took a turn. Dividing his time between the USA and Europe, in 1994 he landed in Israel. The Israeli law-enforcement authorities said he had been the subject of an investigation in Russia.
“Is that why you came to Israel?”
“I was a witness in the case in question. There were no suspicions against me whatsoever. In 1993, at the beginning of the attempted coup against Yeltsin, I was warned that the army is prepared to liquidate several business groups as a showcase action. The manager of the office building which housed my office told me: ‘Leave everything immediately. There are indications they want to arrest you.’ I left for the States. They told me not to return to Russia because I could be killed.”
He learnt that the person who was ready to administer the blow was related to the secret services. Word began spreading around in Russia that foreigners had taken the market of non-ferrous metals under their control. He left for Switzerland. And then a friend of his advised him to go to Israel.
“I came here with my wife in 1994 and told my friend: ‘It is beautiful and warm here, just as in Uzbekistan. I was hearing that many people around me speak Russian and that they have lived in this place for decades. I fell in love with the place. My wife and I went to celebrate her birthday in Eilat. We went out to sea in a yacht and I broke both my thumbs pulling a rope on the yacht. This was a warning from the Almighty. A sign I should have understood even then.”
His wife lives in London with their two daughters. Another two of his daughters live in the USA. He says they had left when they were fed up with Israel’s attitude towards him. He lives alone in a chic villa in Savyon.
The neighbour with the scar
In 1995 the so-called “aluminium wars” in Russia reached their peak. The murder of Felix Lvov, a representative of a US corporation in Russia, made the most noise. In the winter of 1995 Lvov was at the passport control terminal of Moscow Airport when two men who said they were agents of the Russian secret services – the Federal Security Service (FSB) – asked Lvov to go with them. Those were most probably the murderers. Lvov’s body was found a little after that in Moscow.
In a letter to Cherney’s attorney sent in 1995 the Interior Ministry wrote that there is information about Cherney's participation in this murder. Cherney claims these are allegations. “The State of Israel raises charges of suspicion that I am involved in the murder of dozens of people – Yafasov, Lvov, ministers and journalists. I was charged with everything except the crucifixion of Christ. In spite of that, the book which was written by Alexander Litvinenko (a KGB agent and an enemy of Putin who died as a result of mysterious poisoning in London in 2006 claims that Lvov and several other people were murdered by the secret services dealing with the liquidation of businessmen and politicians.
“They cannot blame me of have ties with the secret services,” he says with irony. “Thank the Lord that some of these murders were cracked.”
“It cannot be denied that over a certain period of time many people related to the aluminium industry in Russia were murdered. I was not in Russia at that time and have never been involved in this. Many people who describe them as victims of the aluminium war have never been related to this sphere, but everyone united them under the title “Aluminium wars’ in order to create a vicious reputation of this industry.”
In 1995 Cherney learnt that he himself had become a target for liquidation. The police detained two private eyes – Jacob Beck and Amir Ben-Asher (names may be misspelt – translator’s note) – on suspicions that they had ordered the murder of Cherney. “I could not believe this,” he recalls. “I couldn’t understand whom my murder could serve. I thanked the police for saving my life thousands of time.”
Cherney was not the only target of Beck and Ben-Asher. Another man with whose order of murder they were charged was the close friend of Michael Cherney Anton Malevsky, who also went to Israel at the end of 1994 and bought a house near Cherney’s villa. According to the documents of the Israeli police, Malevsky was the head of one of the largest criminal gangs in Russia, Izmaylovskaya, including 800 members.
Malevsky, the grandson of a Jew, looked completely like a hardened thug - a large scar ran across his entire face, one of his ears had been cut off.
In 1997 the Israeli Interior Minister Eliyahu (Eli) Suissa decided to carry out the proposal of the law-enforcement authorities and extradite Malevsky from Israel. “I read confidential materials, provided to me by the Israeli police, from which one can see that Malevsky was one of the heads of organized crime in Russia,” Suissa wrote. “According to this information, Mr. Malevsky is personally behind a series of murders.”
In 1998 the High Court of Justice (Bagatz) confirmed the decision for the deportation of Malevsky. He died three years later in a parachute jump.
“No one has questioned me at the police either about Malevsky or about the Izmaylovskaya criminal group,” Cherney says. “I don’t think Malevsky is mafia. He hasn’t been in jail. But he did receive an order during the war in Afghanistan and after that he received an honorary order for his activity to the benefit of the fatherland from the Russian authorities.”
Before Malevsky was deported from the country the families of Cherney and Malevsky frequently holidayed in the hotels of Eilat and played tennis. Cherney was periodically joined by other people whom the Israeli police considered heads of organized crime in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Among them – Salim Abdullaev, whom YAHBAL considered the boss of organized crime in Uzbekistan.
“Abdullaev has orders from the government of Uzbekistan,” Cherney defends his friend indignantly. “He has also helped Israel. Only SHABAK and Mossad know what he has done for the country. Well then, why should we write bullshit about him? Only here do they dub him a Mafioso.”
In 1997 Cherney was already under surveillance of the Israeli law-enforcement authorities. His telephone conversations were tapped and he and his friends were photographed covertly. The documents which the court took from the police referring to the 1997-2000 period claim that “Cherney is a subject in the sphere of fighting international crime”.
The police claim that Cherney used the services of Malevsky and the Izmaylovskaya criminal group he headed with the objective of gaining control over the Russian aluminium enterprises.
According to official data, the police tapped 58,000 telephone calls of Cherney and followed him, recording him on video in the process. In 2000-2001 Cherney frequently met with Lieberman, who at that time was a member of Parliament and Minister of National Infrastructure.
Cherney thinks the police began to follow him carefully not because of his meetings with Malevsky and the aluminium wars in Russia but because of his close friendship with Lieberman.
“Maybe even then they supposed Lieberman would become foreign minister or prime minister?" he asks himself. “Is all this connected – I mean the fact that I met Lieberman in 1996 and became his friend? I also met Bibi then and he, too, shakes my hand when we meet. None of them thinks I am a mafioso.”
“Maybe they began to follow you when you landed in Israel because of the threats that you would be murdered?”
“No, that isn’t true. In the middle of the 1990s the police had a list of 30 ‘international subjects’. I was not on that list. I also know this from the previous General Commissioner Asaf Hefetz and the former Interior Minister Moshe Shahal. I met Shahal at a ceremony of lawyer Rama Kaspi (name may be misspelt – translator’s note) and he asked me ‘Michael, why are you so sad?’ I answered: ‘I’m fed up with everything. You began this affair but I am still suffering from it. Why did you have to do that?’ Shahal answered “We, too, have been through very hard times when we repatriated to this country. We, too, suffered from a cruel attitude to us.’ And added: ‘When I was minister there was nothing against you…’.”
Hefetz and Shahal confirmed Cherney’s words.
Arik Sharon whispers in Russian
Constant surveillance on the part of the law-enforcement authorities also accompanied Cherney when he developed connections with representatives of the Israeli business elite and political top crust. In some photos Cherney has been recorded in the company of businessman David “Dudi” Appel, including at a party held by former Interior Minister David levy. Appel offered Cherney to participate in the "Greek Island" project. Cherney says Appel asked for (and received) from him USD 4.5 million for the development of this grand project.
“Appel used to tell me he would get USD 259 billion from this project, 250 of which would be given to the Lord Almighty,” says Cherney, who calls Appel a Baron Munchausen with a tendency to exaggerate.
After the state confiscated Cherney’s international passport, Appel arranged for him a meeting with Ariel Sharon who was Prime Minister at that time.
“This was on the day of the memorial service of his wife Lily, who died a year previously," Cherney recalls. "We arrived late, everybody had already left. I sat next to Sharon and then Appel said to him something in Hebrew, obviously related to my passport. Sharon turned to me and said to me in Russian: ‘Misha, many pass through this. Our country is very difficult. If you haven’t done anything, don’t worry. You will get everything back in the long run’.”
In those days Cherney was preparing for a deal that had to turn him into one of the leading Israeli businessmen, but which ended with the single indictment against him submitted to date. Cherney, who owned a large communication company in Bulgaria, wanted to acquire from the state a large portion of the shares of the Bezeq telephone company. Just before the elections in 2001 Dudi Appel, Cherney and his Israeli adviser, Zev Rom, met at Cherney’s office. They didn’t know that the police had tapped it. During the meeting Cherney said: "Let's act presumptuous. Let’s tell the Commission (on the award of licenses with the Ministry of Communications) that I want to buy 5 % of Bezeq. So what – we’ll be arrogant and say it”.
Appel had given Cherney a lesson in local business: "Nothing will happen here fore the elections are over. They won’t sell to us. Nothing will happen. We will win these elections, believe me. Then everything will have a different outlook.”
But when Sharon won the elections nothing looked as Appel had predicted. In March 2001 the police arrested Cherney on suspicions that he was trying to take under his control Bezeq in an illegal manner, together with businessman Gad Zeevi.
According to the text of the indictment, which has been discussed at the District Court of Tel Aviv for several years, in 1999 Zeevi and Cherney concluded an agreement, according to which Zeevi was to receive USD 143 million for the purchase of 20% of the Bezeq shares. Zeevi bought the Bezeq shares for the sum of USD 643 million and the money received from Cherney served as a guarantee before several Israeli banks.
The indictment says that the defendants had expected that Cherney would not be awarded a license by the Ministry of Communications for the purchase of a sizeable portion of Bezeq shares, which was why they agreed that the investments of Cherney would be concealed and Zeevi would be declared the only investor.
The first to come to Cherney’s aid after the deal on the purchase of Bezeq failed was the new minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who declared publicly that he knew Cherney personally and that his ”only crime is that he has succeeded in life”.
“This man is clean. And I believe his decency and honesty more than the decency of all heads of investigative authorities put together,” Lieberman said. The police suspects that several months later half a million dollars were transferred from the account of a Cherney company to the account of a company owned by Lieberman.
Sharon reprimanded Lieberman. Cherney boasts: “I am very grateful that he says such things about me. And I think he is not wrong in considering me a decent and honest person.”
Cherney is confident that the Bezeq case was concocted only in the name of explaining the long years of police surveillance over him. “Do you now when they began to write that I was mafia? In 2001 when they had to make the Bezeq story a criminal case. Then they had to concoct the story of the Russian mafia which wanted to gain control of Bezeq so that they could tap everyone.”
Last week Judge Oded Mudrik recommended that the prosecution and Cherney begin bilateral contacts on this case.
With you and without you
Not for long, until the time when the deal on the purchase of Bezeq shares fell though, the relations between Cherney and Deripaska began to cool. They met in March 2001 in the prestigious Lanesborough Hotel in London. At that time the two jointly owned Sibirsky Aluminy (SibAl), in which there were also two partners of secondary stature – Sergei Popov and Malevsky. Several years earlier, Cherney had said goodbye to his brother Lev and his British partners in Trans World Group, selling his shares for USD 400 million.
The joint business with Deripaska expanded. During their meeting in London they planned to make an enormous deal. The merger of Sibirsky Aluminy with the Russian oil company Sibneft, controlled by oligarchs Roman Abramovich, Boris Berezovsky and Arkadi “Badri” Patarkatsishvili.
Cherney claims that when Deripaska showed him the text of the merger contact it emerged that he was not mentioned at all in his capacity as owner of the new company.
“Only Roman Abramovich and Oleg Deripaska were mentioned in their capacity as owners,” Cherney says. “Deripaska said to me: ‘You see, there is a problem. In Russia they don’t want someone else to take part in this. Only me and Abramovich. Because tension has emerged between Putin and Berezovski.’ (Berezovsky is considered the man in greatest opposition to the Putin regime). I was closer to the old group and I was associated with it in this way. I gave my agreement to that. And I told Deripaska “Come on, let us sign a contract between ourselves that you will represent my interests’.”
Cherney tells me that Deripaska asked him whether the rumours that I was ready to sell my part of the company for USD 1.0 billion were true. "I told him that if he gave me that sum I would leave the company immediately. ‘I don’t have that kind of money now,’ Deripaska said. ‘Now let me offer you something'."
In Cherney’s words, Deripaska wrote his offer on the keyboard of his notebook – initially, he would pay Cherney USD 250 million in advance, after which, in the period between March 2005 and March 2007, he would sell Cherney’s shares and would transfer the profit from that sale. Minus the advance payment, this sum was to amount to USD 1.0 billion.
“Did you believe him?”
“He was like a son to me. You have to understand this. My son. My boy. He had just grown up a bit and began to wear suits and ties.”
However, everything changed over the past ten years. Cherney was inundated by problems in Israel. Meanwhile, Deripaska became the most powerful oligarch in Russia and an honourable member of President Putin's closest associates.
In 2001 he married a green-eyes beauty named Polina, daughter of Valentin Yumashev, the head of President Yeltsin’s administration. A little after that Yumashev became the third husband of Boris Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana, who had enormous influence in the period when her father was in power. It was precisely she who found the man who was to take her father’s post as president – Vladimir Putin.
According to Cherney, after his marriage Deripaska received the status of immunity. He also inherited all connections of his wife’s father and became one of Putin’s closest associates. The group of Tatyana and Yumashev brought Putin to power.
Putin did not conceal his friendly relations with Deripaska. He spent his time with him at ski resorts. He publicly expressed his indignation at the actions of USA authorities which refused a visa to Deripaska in connection with his association with organized crime.
Putin made Deripaska his close adviser and helped him in any way in business - several years previously the owner of an oil company said Putin had made him sell his property to Deripaska.
It was to Cherney’s interest to accelerate the conclusion of the deal with Deripaska.
“I turned to him several times,” he says. “For example, we met in Vienna and I offered him to buy out my share. Then Deripaska told me there was time under the contract. A little after that I learnt how matters stood. He had planned to buy the share of Berezovsky, Abramovich and Patarkatsishvili, and he had no money left for my share.”
Deripaska truly bought out the shares of the other oligarchs and in 2003 – 2004 became the owner of the controlling package of shares in the largest aluminium company in the world. He also spread his activity to other spheres and before turning 40 he became the richest Russian in the world and one of the most influential figures in his country. In 2008 Forbes calculated his wealth at USD 28 billion.
In connection with the global economic crisis he lost 80% of his capital, which today is evaluated at USD 3.5 billion.
Cherney continued to seek out Deripaska. In January 2005 they met in Kiev, which was coloured in orange in connection with the victory of opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko in the presidential elections.
“I told Deripaska that the time had come to finalize the deal,” Cherney says. “He asked for a little more time in order to come to a compromise with Trans World. In spite of that, when I called him later they did not put me through to him. It was only after Sergei Popov warned him that I could file a claim against him that Deripaska sent Popov to Israel to reach an agreement with me. I asked Popov whether Deripaska was offering anything at all. ‘No,’ Popov answered. ‘He speaks of different sums every time – sometimes about USD 500 million, sometimes about USD 700 million. I haven’t heard a concrete and serious offer from him.' I told Popov: ‘I want him to understand this is serious. I intend to file a claim with a British court.’ He did not react in any way and then I filed a claim (today the value of Cherney’s shares is estimated in billions of dollars).
Deripaska’s version is quite different. In a declaration he sent to the British court he says Cherney has never been his business partner in compliance with the generally accepted criteria, but together with Malevsky they imposed on him the service of “kryshevaniya” (a method of Russian organized crime through which security services and assistance in business are provided.)
“In that period there was no other way for businessmen but to receive ‘protection’ from people like Malevsky and Cherney,” Deripaska claims. In his words, in 2000 he managed to get free of Cherney and Malevsky thanks to a professional group of bodyguards he had hired. In his words, at his meeting with Cherney when he agreed to pay in advance USD 250 million, he had come not by chance, but after “an unpleasant meeting with Malevsky in Moscow at which he made it clear he was terminating all agreements with him”.
In Deripaska’s words, the USD 250 million which he paid to Cherney was the last instalment for “protection”.
“Deripaska claims he paid you USD 250 million in the capacity of ‘protection’ instalment and that you were never partners…”
“Today he can say anything he likes. The declaration filed with the British court confirms that even Popov, who is the godfather of his daughter, is one of the mafia bosses. This gives an idea of the mentality of this man. Deripaska himself offered Malevsky and Popov to be our partners because they had influence. Malevsky and Deripaska were close friends. When Malevski was ousted out of Israel in 1998 he lived at Deripaska’s home in Moscow for a long time. So how does this align with what Deripaska declared later? He meets, hugs and kisses people whom he calls mafia after that? When it is a question of money people forget who they were.”
Deripaska appealed to the High Court in London to relocate the trial in Moscow. Cherney was against. In his words, he does not stand the slightest chance of receiving justice in Russia because of Deripaska’s connections in the Kremlin. He also thinks that if he goes to Russia he will be murdered or arrested.
With a decision which is quite indicative of the attitude of the British judicial system to Russian justice, the court in London granted Cherney’s request. The British judges ruled that there was a danger that a fair trail could not be held in Russia. Deripaska also lost the first appeal against this decision. If the second appeal is waived then the trial for the aluminium billions will begin immediately.
What is Dreyfuss compared to me?
At that time not only the British and the Israeli court were interested in Cherney. In May that year the Spanish judge Andreus Morales signed a warrant for the arrest of Cherney. This was not the first time Morales signed a warrant for the arrest of an Israeli citizen - he signed such a warrant concerning the former Defence Minister Binyamin "Fuad" Ben-Eliezer because a claim had been filed against him in relation to the liquidation of the terrorist Salah Schade.
This time it turned out Cherney was in his sights. He is suspected of laundering capital of the criminal Izmaylovskaya group with the help of front-face companies operating in Spain. Malevsky and Deripaska are also mentioned in this warrant in their capacity as heads of organized crime.
“Now I and Deripaska are heads of the Izmaylovskaya criminal group,” Cherney says with irony. Deripaska refuted the demand of the Spanish court and declared he was ready to be a witness on the case.
“When the arrest warrant is revoked,” Cherney says, “I will show the Spanish documents that prove all of this is not true. There was an investigation against me in Switzerland for 12 years – that I was a part of an organized criminal group. More than a year ago I was acquitted on all counts. The Swiss began this investigation against me after they received information about me from the Israeli.”
From Cherney’s point of view, Israel and Yahbal are the most to blame for the bad reputation he has received. "In 1998 the Israeli police sent an official inquiry to the Bulgarian authorities, which claims that I may be involved in the murder of the son of one of the Bulgarian ministers. The Bulgarians checked and answered the inquiry. The person you are talking about is alive.”
“Nevertheless, the Bulgarian government used these materials to chase me away from the country and take my business under control. I have proof and documents on this case. this is just an example of one and the same principle - my chain of problems always begins with Yahbal.”
Cherney is not close-mouthed when he describes the department for investigating international crimes of the Israeli police. “Bloodsuckers who drink my blood. They and their partners destroyed me and my entire business. What bad did I do for this country? Am I a terrorist? A murderer? Even if we were to imagine I did something bad in Russia (and I haven’t done anything of the kind), in Israel there are thousands of examples of people who received support here, laundered billions. In the long run they only found Cherney to show how they fight against the laundering of capital.”
He also has an unpleasant opinion of those who are responsible for the Bezeq case – the former head of Yahbal Moshe Mizrahi and the former state prosecutor Edna Arbel.
“One of them wanted to command the police. The other wanted to be a justice of the Supreme Court. And I became their victim. In the beginning it was Grigory Lerner who, as it turned out, was simply a petty criminal. But you remember the noise that was raised around the trial against him? They organized such a circus so that the people in the country could believe that mafia is operating here.”
“But after Mizrahi and Arbel are no longer in these positions the Interior Ministry said the police has information that you were involved in swindling, bribery and murder?”
“I have never been interrogated on such charges. Minister Poraz simply fulfilled the desire of the police. Do you know what the main problem of this state is? That everything here is under the control of the police. You journalists too. When they need it they will pull the strings and you will be their catch. We saw what happened with the cases of Bibi abd Sharon – the mountain gave birth to a mouse. But here no one is above the police. There is no law above them. If there was such a law that obliged them to be held liable for such things then they would have acted differently.”
“In the past I thought Mizrahi is responsible for the persecution against me. Now I understand he was a puppet. This is simply what the System is like, the methodology.”
“But why are they persecuting only you, not the other oligarchs who settled in Israel? Vladmir Gusinsky or Leonid Nevzlin …”
“Probably because I don’t have the connections they have. Once someone said to me: ‘Misha’s problem lies in the fact that he is not friendly with the right politicians.’ I do not choose my friends according to their political views and have no intention of funding their political ambitions. Maybe someone does not like that. While corruption in police is not uprooted they will always fid a victim and will punish that victim. When someone here does not like Nevslin they will hand him over to Russia in 5 minutes."
“Maybe we are suffering of Russophobia?”
“Yes. If I was American, French or German they would not have done this to me. did you see what happened here after the murder of the Usherenko family? They turned the Russian part of the population into a devil. As if there haven’t been such terrible stories with the first citizens of this state here.”
“Do you feel ike Dreyfuss?”
“What is Dreyfuss in comparison to me? Any other person to have experienced what I have experienced would have hanged himself long ago. I would not be surprised if tomorrow they don’t go to see some prisoner in a Russian jail and tell him they will set him free if he confesses to murdering Yafasov in Lvov by order of Cherney. There is no problem to make a criminal out of you in Russia. Before this was done only in Russian interests. Now this is in the interest of both Russia and Israel.”
“Then why don’t you go away from here?”
“I love Israel very much. I have proven that. I remained regardless of the fact that I was bound to leave when I learnt what they were undertaking against me. I want to be allowed to work so that I could pay my taxes peacefully. There is nowhere I could run and, besides, I don’t want to run. I will not give my enemies the pleasure of becoming the citizen of another state.”
“Maybe there is some supreme justice because of the fact that you and some other wealthy Russians, who have made so much money at the expense of the Russian people, live in exile, feeling persecuted?”
“Was it different in Israel? After the War of Independence they divided the land. Whoever could, took for himself. Then made billions from it. Could one say that they made it to the detriment of someone else? There should be no claims against me. We proved at the right time and at the right place. Normal entrepreneurs. Only some of them out of the system. And Russia - this is the country of the System. It hasn't changed from communist times. When strong power appeared (Putin), Russia began to subjugate these people - those that are not with us are against us. If you are connected with the System, they forgive you everything, if not - they remind you of the privatization.
“It may be worth it to take everything from everyone, nationalize it. Every state has experienced something of the kind. Now can you today take away everything from the Ofer brothers of from Dankner, everything they have received from the state?”
“Are you still a very rich man?”
“The question is how you measure riches. I am not Bill Gates and I am not Roman Abramovich.”
“What is your business today?”
“You can write that today I do not deal in anything. I am only trying to get back the money I have given. Regrettably, after these problems Israel created for me in the world I find it very difficult to get back my money. Each of my debtors can simply go to the police and say: ‘Cherney wants to kill me. Protect me’.”
“If you defeat Deripaska in court you will become very rich. This is a matter of billions…”
“Billions – schmillions. I have the precise figures in my head. Let them (Deripaska and his guys) deal in speculations. No one will take these billions to the grave with himself.