October 28, 2005

Speaking of the protégés of Scooter Libby's client Marc Rich ...

The Washington Post today reports:

New Retreat for the Russian Rich: London Wealthiest Flooding 'Moscow on the Thames' With Cash

By Mary Jordan Washington Post Foreign Service Friday, October 28, 2005; A16

LONDON -- Russian billionaires, and mere megamillionaires, are dropping tens of millions of dollars for the most opulent houses in town. Jewelry stores and outrageously expensive boutiques are hiring Russian-speaking staff. And purveyors of everything from Bentleys to Beluga caviar are happily riding this wave of Russian affluence in a city some are starting to call "Moscow on the Thames."

Many trace the phenomenon to the day in 2003 when Roman Abramovich, a Russian oil tycoon in his mid-thirties, bought the Chelsea soccer club for $225 million, then paid out hundreds of millions more to assemble a star-studded juggernaut that won the English championship for the first time in 50 years. The British were agog at the cascade of Russian cash that turned humble Chelsea into mighty Chelski.

This is a city accustomed to wealth, even extraordinary wealth, much of it traditionally acquired through the sad but reliable deaths of ancestors. But London is also a magnet for those with new money: Norwegians with their shipping lines, Japanese with their gadgets and Saudis with their oil. They have all come and been tolerated, perhaps even envied, but the British capital has never seen anything quite like the Russians whose lavish wealth arrived after the Soviet Union departed.

No one, for example, had ever staged a political protest in London by sending a hundred silver limousines to the Russian Embassy. Then along came Boris Berezovsky, a billionaire who was granted political asylum by Britain after criminal fraud charges were filed against him back home. Angry at what he has called the politically motivated persecution of business leaders by the Russian government, Berezovsky organized last year's limousine protest, a street demonstration where the appropriate cocktail was martini, not molotov.

"Anyone who is anyone in Moscow is here," said Marina Starkova, director of Red Square, a London-based public relations and event-planning company catering to wealthy Russians.

Her clients enjoy London's safety, the favorable tax laws for off-shore investments and relative proximity to Moscow, just three hours and 20 minutes away by plane -- even less if you tell your Learjet pilot to step on it. But what really sets them apart from others with bulging portfolios, Starkova said, is that "Russians live like there is no tomorrow, so they spend, spend and spend." ...

Not everyone in Russia is so keen on the flight of billions of dollars to London. Much of the new wealth was accumulated at the expense of the state, when oil, gas and other natural resource industries were sold to private investors in often politically motivated deals.

That's putting it mildly...

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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