It was Nobel laureate John Steinbeck who once said; “Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts ... perhaps the fear of a loss of power.” Steinbeck’s sentiments would help explain why Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia is so scared of oversight.
Reflecting the Russian government’s aversion to scrutiny, district prosecutors in Moscow recently issued a ruling designed to hamper the ability of a leading watchdog organization, Transparency International-Russia (TIR), to operate. The document calls on TIR to register as a “foreign agent,” a designation that would hinder the organization’s ability to receive funding from abroad.
TIR, as every Kremlin crony is acutely aware, does a good job at tracking corrupt practices. In Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2014, Russia showed itself to be among the most venal states in the world, ranking 136th out of the 175 countries surveyed. It is no surprise, then, that Russian officials would want to be rid of TIR.
Moscow prosecutors based their ruling on an assertion that TIR’s activities were aimed “at interfering in the conduct of government policy in connection with the fight against corruption by lobbying on behalf of its own proposals for change.”
Yelena Panfilova, a Russian citizen who serves as the deputy chair of Transparency International’s global organization, called the prosecutor’s ruling “illiterate nonsense.”
The buildings in the shot are the Trump Tower and the Time Warner Center. Moguls from the former Soviet Union own or have owned at least 20 apartments in the Time Warner Center collectively worth in excess of $200 million, according to the New York Times.
Remember when Russian anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny dubbed Russian leader Vladimir Putin and his cronies as “The Party of Liars and Thieves?” Well, a New York Times investigation suggests that a sizable chunk of Russia’s dark money has ended up in New York City’s real estate market.
The Times’report highlights how oligarchs have used byzantine networks of shell companies to purchase luxury properties in New York. Despite extensive attempts to hide ownership, the Times determined that in one luxury building alone, the Time Warner Center situated at the southwest corner of Central Park, moguls from the former Soviet Union own or have owned at least 20 apartments collectively worth in excess of $200 million.
A central figure in the investigative report – part of a lengthy series on shady practices in New York’s high-end real estate market – is Andrey Vavilov, a former Russian deputy finance minister who became “extraordinarily wealthy” after going into banking following his departure from government in 1997. A trained economist, Vavilov, according to Swedish economist Anders Aslund, “was one of the [Russian] reformers who switched to the oligarchic side.”
Vavilov used shell corporations in 2007, when he attempted to purchase a pair of penthouses at the Plaza – one for $39.5 million, the other for $14 million. The deal ultimately fell through after Vavilov’s wife complained the apartments were not large enough for her liking, according to the Times report. However, Vavilov has successfully used shell corporations to purchase a pair of other apartments, paying $13 million and $37.5 million for two apartments in the Time Warner Center.
It seems the Azerbaijani capital of Baku is hoping to cash in on the Brooklyn brand.
Brooklyn, New York City’s most populous borough, has established a global reputation for hipness. Thus, imagine the delight of Azerbaijani officials when Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams signed a sister-city agreement back in November with Baku’s Sabail District, a central area of the city once known as the Stalin District.
The sister-city pact is perhaps the highest-profile initiative in a broad campaign by Azerbaijani officials to foster a positive image of Azerbaijan among the American public. The Brooklyn-Sabail District agreement calls for the development of cultural, educational and economic exchanges.
On January 29, Adams in Brooklyn met with a high-level Azerbaijani governmental delegation led by Minister of Culture and Tourism Abulfas Garayev, according to a report distributed by the News.az website. Garayev expressed a desire to use the sister-city agreement as a means to promote Azerbaijan as a tourist destination for New Yorkers. “The minister highlighted Azerbaijan’s tourism potential,” the report said.
Adams’ office declined to answer multiple queries from EurasiaNet.org seeking details about the partnership arrangement.
According to a November 19 press release issued by the borough president’s office, Adams said the sister-city pact would highlight the contributions of Brooklyn's roughly 5,000-strong Azeri community to the borough.
In 1752, a trio of reform-minded New Yorkers launched the first muckraking journal in American history, calling it The Independent Reflector. Their chief aim was to expose “the peculiar deformity of public vice and corruption.” Yet, the journal didn’t just highlight flaws in the existing system it also encouraged civic engagement in the political process. Ultimately, it held elected officials more accountable to the people, rather than to their own private interests, and in doing so, it played an important role in democratizing American colonial politics. Not surprisingly, the Independent Reflector aroused the ire of incumbent authorities, and the weekly was shut down after a year of publication.
Unfortunately, there is as great a need for muckrakers today as there was over 250 years ago. As EurasiaNet launches its own muckraking initiative, we think it appropriate to honor the groundbreaking colonial journal. Thus, we have called this blog The Reflector. It will focus on how authoritarian-minded governments in Eurasia are exploiting flaws in the American system in order to buy influence and positive PR. The Reflector will also strive to track capital flight in Eurasia, and expose how oligarchs attempt to hide their money abroad. In doing so, EurasiaNet shares The Independent Reflector’s belief that “public villainy ought to be rendered publicly infamous, whatever private detriment it may occasion to the corrupt individual.”
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