To survive the aluminium wars, mettle was needed

Published: Jul 05,2008 09:27:42


They called it the “Wild East” after scores of executives were slaughtered by the Russian mafia in a struggle remembered as the “aluminium wars”.

The post-Soviet business world was a dangerous place. After communism imploded, entrepreneurs moved in to take over each sector of the economy piece by piece. In some cases they were backed up by underworld figures, rather as street gangs fight over geographical territory.

Muscovites today will grimly recall how they had to quit white-collar jobs such as advertising because they had become too dangerous. But nothing compared to the battle for aluminium. The story goes that those seen as obstacles - politicians, managers or reporters - were run over, shot, had their throats cut or were killed in air crashes.

The worst fighting was reputed to be around the Krasnoyarsk plant in Siberia, the second largest in the country earning $1 billion a year. From 1994, rival interest groups competed for the privatised stock. Numerous officials and executives are said to have lost their lives.

Anatoly Bykov, a former boxer, was given a 6-year suspended sentence for plotting the attempted murder of a business rival. He then went into politics.

It is hardly surprising that Mr Abramovich might have sought “protection” when he ventured into this perilous world. However, that he received it from the late Georgian oligarch Arkady “Badri” Patarkatsishvili, a one-time presidential candidate in Tbilisi, is a revelation.

In a BBC investigation into Mr Abramovich's wealth, the reporter John Sweeney noted that, after the oligarch emerged at the top of the trade, the murders stopped.

Mr Sweeney memorably asked a Russian editor: “Is Mr Abramovich more powerful than the gangsters?” The Russian paused, then smiled: “Good observation.” Mr Abramovich has admitted he had a good working relationship with Vladimir Putin when he was President.

According to Mr Berezovsky's legal action the aluminium giant Rusal was created during a chat at the Dorchester in London in 2000 between four oligarchs agreeing to pool their aluminium assets: Mr Abramovich, Mr Berezovsky, Mr Patarkatsishvili and the young former metals trader Oleg Deripaska. Mr Abramovich's defence states that he and Mr Deripaska each controlled half of Rusal and that in 2003 he sold his shares to Mr Deripaska.

The claim that the bloodshed had ended was spoiled last year when Andrei Kalitin was shot in Moscow. He was about to publish a book about the wars called Mafia in Black.

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