A curious film surfaced on the Internet recently. It is called Khodorkovsky. Pipes/Corpses (it’s a mediocre wordplay: in Russian, the word “pipes” (truby) and the word “corpses” (trupy) only differ by one letter) and it was made by a journalist Andrey Karaulov, who hosted a show called “Moment of Truth” (Moment Istiny) on one of Russian central channels. Khodorkovsky. Pipes/Corpses claims that Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former head of oil corporation YUKOS and once-richest man in Russia, who has been in prison since 2003 on charges of tax evasion and embezzlement, is a serial killer guilty of at least four murders and several attempted murders. Here is the film itself (in Russian):
I have to say that the film feels muddled and confusing because of the lack of clarity or any kind of summarization. Accompanied by waltz and classical music, Karaulov’s sinister voice starts by proclaiming that he, Karaulov, was very “ashamed” to make this film – because, Karaulov says, “everything in it is true”. Karaulov repeats this phrase two or three times, but that’s exactly how my confusion began: I’m not sure why anybody would be ashamed to make a movie that is completely truthful. Shouldn’t uncovering shameful deeds (if that, in fact, is what the film does) be a source of some kind of journalist pride?.. Oh well.
Anyway, Karaulov claims that he shot an episode of his show, “Moment of Truth”, dedicated to Khodorkovsky-orchestrated murders in 2005, but the episode was banned from being aired by Leonid Nevzlin, former State Duma member from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), who is now an Israeli citizen. (In early 2000s, Khodorkovsky sponsored opposition political parties, including CPRF, and finally signaled his own intent to go into politics; Putin’s desire to keep Khodorkovsky out of the way is now widely perceived as the real reason behind Khodorkovsky’s nominally business-related charges.)
In the 2011 movie, Karaulov uses fragments of his 2005 film to argue that Khodorkovsky was personally responsible for several murders, attacks and disappearances during the 1990s, when YUKOS-controlled bank MENATEP was resettling tenants of an apartment building on Kolpachny Lane in Moscow. Specifically, Svetlana Vragova, an artist and head of Moscow Theater Modern, tells a story of her refusal to leave her apartment, which allegedly led to the destruction of the apartment by MENATEP security forces while she was away in her summer residence. Vragova and Karaulov claim that another tenant of the same building, Aleksandr Konchatov, was killed because of his refusal to leave, and an Armenian family disappeared, eventually leaving the building free to be used by MENATEP. Vragova also alleges that she would have been killed too, had it not been for her connections with some people in high places; specifically, she was told by then-minister of culture to call some mysterious “Aleksandr Sergeevich”, who then allegedly made Khodorkovsky apologize to Vragova and buy her an apartment to her liking.
Karaulov also alleges that Khodorkovsky ordered the murder of the Gorins, a married couple in which the man was allegedly a killer hired by Khodorkovsky in previous murders, who was then killed to hide the ends, along with his wife, right in front of their children. Furthermore, Karaulov claims that Khodorkovsky’s political ally Nevzlin ordered to kill Olga Kostina, who in 1990s worked for YUKOS but then left to work in Moscow’s mayor office. Allegedly, Nevzlin was worried that Kostina’s closeness to then-Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov would “negatively affect” Khodorkovsky’s political image. I think this sounds like a weird motive for a murder (by the way, nobody was hurt when the explosive device malfunctioned). To my knowledge, Kostina was neither a big YUKOS executive nor a large player in the Moscow mayor’s office, so I don’t see how her change of employment would affect Khodorkovsky. Still, somehow Karaulov turns this into a accusation against Khodorkovshy, even though he (Karaulov) himself initially accused Nevzlin and not Khodorkovsky. Oh, and Karaulov also claims that Khodorkovsky was behind the murder of Nefteyugansk mayor Petukhov, which happened on Khodorkovsky’s birthday in 1998. However, Karaulov never bothers to provide any real arguments in favor of that conclusion either. (Meanwhile, Khodorkovsky’s wife Inna denied that allegation in her February 2011 interview to SNOB Magazine, saying that she saw her husband’s face as he heard the news, and he became very pale, which is “not how a murderer would behave”.)
Now, I don’t know much about those alleged killings, but I do want to point out that the 1990s was a very tumultuous time in the Russian history, especially in Moscow, whereas Karaulov’s film makes it sound like Khodorkovsky was the only one with money, influence, and a desire to have an office building in a good central location. (Khodorkovsky’s own explanation of the situation on Kolpachny Lane was that power structures were demonstrating their power over Moscow streets and inhabitants.) Similarly, nobody can deny that there were lots of murders, including business-related contract murders, in Russia in the 1990s, but that does not mean that any of them were ordered by Khodorkovsky. Karaulov, however, never bothers to provide any actual proof that Khodorkovsky was implicated in any of the murders randomly attributed to him by Karaulov.
Karaulov further buries his reputation by making weird conclusions from unrelated issues. For example, he alleges that he had sent fragments of the film to representatives of leading international newspapers, and he calls those journalists to get their commentary. When a representative of Italian Associated Press in Moscow refuses to comment, and Le Monde‘s Moscow correspondent bluntly says that she does not want to talk to Karaulov because she does not respect him as a journalist and because she suspects that her words would be distorted, Karaulov concludes that he is right and that the public does not want to know the truth. Moreover, he plays the tape of an alleged conversation between Nevzlin and a woman who testified in an Israeli court in the case of Nevzlin’s Israeli citizenship. The woman was supposed to be an independent witness, Karaulov says, and yet she appears to act according to Nevzlin’s orders as to what to say in court. That is fishy, but somehow, in Karaulov’s mind, that also proves Khodorkovsky’s guilt. Huh?
Not to mention an interesting fact: while Khodorkovsky is in jail, he is there on tax evasion and embezzlement charges. Why was he never accused of those murders, if Karaulov is so sure he was implicated in all of them? Karaulov’s explanation is that “the public has made a saint out of Khodorkovsky and it isn’t ready to hear the truth”, which is laughable and doesn’t withstand any criticism. As the recent Luzhkov affair shows, once a person falls out of favor with the Kremlin, he is no longer immune and can be blamed for nearly anything. Notably, the case of Luzhkov and his millionaire wife Elena Baturina versus Russian opposition leaders Vladimir Milov and Boris Nemtsov had no hope in 2010 when Luzhkov was in power; Nemtsov and Milov were ordered to issue a refutation of some claims they had made about the “power couple”. However, in 2011, after Luzhkov had been scandalously fired, Nemtsov and Milov are easily winning the case. Similarly, once Khodorkovsky is in jail, he no longer has any power – he could not even do anything about his two trials, which have been widely regarded as absurd.
Which brings us to the most interesting point. Nothing is done in the Russian media without a command “from above”. Such “command” was given when Putin in his December 2010 address to the nation, referencing Khodorkovsky, quoted a famous movie line – “thief must be in jail”, and added that Khodorkovsky’s “arms are bloody up to the elbows”. This could easily mean that, if Putin is still in power after 2012 (whether himself or by proxy, via Medvedev), he could use those fabricated murder accusations against Khodorkovsky when it is no longer possible to keep him in jail on business-related charges (Khodorkovsky’s current prison term expires in 2017). Karaulov can therefore be a harbinger of the newest campaign against Khodorkovsky. We shall see what happens.