Posts Tagged ‘‘Iron Bella’’

Money Laundering: Will Jeremy Hunt End Up at the Bottom of the Black Sea like Iron Bella?

April 22, 2018

Much mirth was had on Friday night’s edition of Have I Got News For You when host Lee Mack inadvertently accused Jeremy Hunt of money laundering. The current minister in charge of privatising the NHS has bought a whole load of houses in Southampton to the tune of £50 million, but not declared it in the register of members’ interests. This breaks parliamentary rules, as Mike reported on his blog. Mack went a bit further, and frightened the Beeb’s lawyers and producers by inadvertently claiming that Hunt had been accused of money laundering. He hasn’t, as the producers and the lawyers told him through the microphone in his ear and by autocue. He then got frightened over whether it would be the programme or himself that could get sued for libel.

Hislop, however, was perfectly willing to repeat the accusation. He said that the legislation that Hunt had violated had been brought in specifically to deal with money laundering, and so that was what Hunt was doing. ‘Trust me on this. I never lose’. That last must have been said ironically, as Hislop and Private Eye have lost libel cases so often that it was a case for major celebration over a decade ago when he actually won one. Mack hurriedly repeated the statement that Hunt had not been charged with that offence, while Hislop said ‘But that’s what he’s been doing.’ Ah, the fun of watching arguments on panel games, and a host terrified of m’learned friends coming down on him.

But this also raises an interesting point. Amongst their various donors, the Tories have been taking money from Russian oligarchs. These men were very highly placed managers and apparatchiks under the old Soviet system. Hence they were able to buy up their particular industries and state enterprises, often at knockdown prices, when it was all privatised by Yeltsin. And there’s a conflict of interest here. When Putin came to power, he allowed them to retain their ownership on one condition: absolute loyalty to him. It’s been described by Russian dissidents and academics as ‘industrial feudalism’. Alexandra Politovskaya, the murdered Russian democracy activist said that as long as this system continues, there is no freedom, no democracy, just the strong man in the Kremlin.

Exactly true. So although the Tories want some kind of confrontation with Putin, including war, a sizable portion of their rich donors don’t.

But there’s also the possibility of personal danger to Hunt himself. Russia is a very corrupt society, and the Communist era was certainly no exception. The Russian journalist Arkady Vaksberg described just how corrupt Russian officialdom was in his book The Soviet Mafia. Vaksberg was a Jewish Bulgarian, who worked for TASS, the official Soviet news agency. Several times he risked censure and arrest for uncovering massive corruption within the Communist party. And it went all the way to the top, right to Brezhnev himself and his son-in-law. Vaksberg describes talking to exhausted, demoralised Soviet generals, who had spent days trying to arrange emergency transport for food into areas hit by famine. They then found out that all their efforts had been wasted. There was no famine. It all had been a scam by the local party chiefs and apparatchiks to misdirect funds and goods, and enrich themselves.

And money laundering was one of the many tricks the corrupt Communist chiefs were into. In one of the these scams, the embezzled money was laundered through the Soviet hotel chains on the Black Sea coast, run by a powerful Georgian lady nicknamed ‘Iron Bella’. Again, millions of roubles were involved. After this was busted wide open, and those responsible were sacked and led off to the gulags, Iron Bella mysteriously disappeared.

But everybody knew where she went. As they said in the Godfather, she sleeps with the fishes. The joke at the time went, ‘Nobody knows what happened to all those roubles, but everyone knows Iron Bella’s at the bottom of the Black Sea’. Quite.

If Hunt has been doing a bit of money laundering, an offence for which he has not been charged, and it comes from Russian oligarchs, then it might be advisable for him to avoid any coastal holidays for the time being.