The Patrimony

In politics, everything is relatives

Tag: business

Gérard Depardieu is a businessman, not a politician

by AiteVer

Ello. It’s AiteVer again. Did you miss me? Did you notice I was gone? Well, I guess you were in good company anyway, thanks to fpman, my colleague over here and a cousin apparently, too 🙂

Anyhow, while I was busy upgrading my status in academia [sic!], the globe was shaken [very sic!] by the news that Gérard Depardieu can drink or drinks up to 14 bottles of wine a day. In my opinion, it is quite a shame that this is the one snippet that swept the news world as it was taken out of some truly remarkable context: from an interview that’s filled with astonishing statements such as

‘Putin is a simple guy, a former KGB agent who was long imprisoned in Vienna’

or

‘Do you think that if I was egocentric I could approach Jean-Paul II, Mitterrand, Castro, Putin, and all those kinds of people? I don’t care about having an ego. ‘

I guess these days it isn’t really news when a celebrity takes up a second job advertising other people’s stuff or starts his or her own business. It can be especially true for those who are over their prime time in showbiz. As for Depardieu, he has done all of these. Before his abandonment of his status as French cultural god and becoming a ‘tax refugee’, he was known to own a vineyard and other businesses in France, and he gave his name to basically anything, whether it was ketchup, Azeri cuisine or an Armenian air company, naturally regardless of politics. Well, regardless of politics at least as long as the politics of certain policies didn’t affect him personally…

The change came into his life with the introduction of a temporary 75% income tax in 2012 by the French government that was levied on people earning more than a million euros. He first moved to Belgium and was subsequently granted Russian citizenship by a presidential decree on January 1, 2013. What’s changed since? Little – and maybe some, I would argue.

He’s admittedly into ‘living a life of excess’ just as much today as pre-tax-scandal, and he still lives the dual life of a high-profile actor and successful businessman. Nonetheless, he now also plays in a movie whose plot is rather reminiscent of the DSK scandal, in a patriotic Kazakh film, and lately in a Russian movie set partly in Chechnya, too. Added to this, his Russian businesses include a chain of restaurants present in major Russian cities, as well as a line of organic vodka. Also, he has appeared in a Kazakh commercial advertising Eurasian Bank’s special VIP card that is ‘elaborated with a pure gold pattern and 0.02 carat genuine diamond’ and in a video with Gulnara Karimova (of whom we already wrote on this blog) – to further illustrate the diversity of his impressive portfolio. Altogether, we can assume that whatever he is doing, he must be really successful in it, considering the expenses it must take to sponsor his daily 14 bottles of quality alcohol, ‘whenever he’s bored.’

DepardieuIn vino veritas (source)

The notable part from a political point of view is that his post-career career has brought him onto a slippery slope. As a symbol of the West from a certain perspective, whatever he says resonates loudly. Even though Depardieu’s love for Russia perhaps did not start with acquiring citizenship, it definitely has given him room to voice his ideas on international politics. He started his new career as a proud Russian by calling the country a ‘great democracy’ and then went on to praise Russian President Vladimir Putin on multiple occasions. And as the dominant political narrative of events in Ukraine has increasingly focused on a conflict with the West in Russia, the role of the well-known French national symbol has grown in parallel.

Of course, there is some importance of his Russianness in the Europe he left behind, too. Firstly, his departure left a mark on France, as he was one of the most famous exports of the country. Secondly, his stance towards Putin is quite controversial, as signaled by the large amount of questions he receives from western media.

Still, his presence in Russia is possibly much more important for the host country itself, which, given his presence in the Russian press, has clearly been recognized by Russian decision-makers too. For example, according to Russian media, on a trip to Serbia he recently praised the people there for not supporting the EU sanctions against Russia, while in an interview about his new movie Viktor, he hastily explained Ukrainian history by saying the western half used to be Polish and the eastern half Russian, even though he quickly added that he isn’t too competent in politics to talk about it…

Depardieu is now, for all its worth, a (proud) Russian citizen. He pays lower taxes, he’s involved in local business and he’s a friend of Putin. On the other hand, he still is an international superstar and that continues to work in his favor financially. When he was asked why he’s still in business, he replied:

‘I have to make a living, and besides, I do other things too. Cinema is not the only thing I do, luckily. I hang out with artists, I travel, I’m into cuisine, and wine, I go and visit dictators…or so they say!’

If I have to take a guess he probably meant to be kidding with the last part but he definitely hit the spot. Of course we will never know if he says his pro-Kremlin remarks out of political conviction (to which he is entitled) or because of his current business interests (to which he is also entitled) but there is one thing for certain. Whatever he says can reach the masses easily. And the issue isn’t really whatever we think about his competence to talk politics but that when he and others praise Putin for his actions in Ukraine, they make loud judgments over issues by which they are not the least affected… Or, more exactly, if they are affected it is not in the way the people in Ukraine are affected. Depardieu is a Russian citizen, and being there has commercially benefitted him greatly. As long as he remains the friend of the Boss, this isn’t expected to change significantly.

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A Non-Definitive Introduction to the Life of Gulnara Karimova

by AiteVer

I’m so excited I don’t even know where to begin. Why? Because the following story has long raised our attention here at the blog. It came up at that allegorical first editorial meeting at that allegorical pub where we discussed how fascinated we were by how one can get so far having a bulletproof last name – as we discussed the rise to fame of Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbekistan’s only leader since 1989, Islam Karimov. Our guess is that the story will not end here so this piece will probably serve only as a brief introduction to the fabulous life of Googoosha or Guli. Why is now the time? It is because this Monday, the Uzbek Prosecutor-General’s Office named ‘Karimova G.’ amongst others as a suspect in the investigation of an organized criminal group.

As a prime introduction to Gulnara, I suggest you watch this:

This report from the 2013 Uzbek Fashion Week has everything that’s glamourous in it: fashion, music, famous people, Central-Asia-specific falconry motives and love messages both for FashionTv and well… Guli. It was posted on December 28, 2013 in the middle of the tumult that followed her return to Tashkent in September 2013 from Geneva.

As the linked RFE story goes about listing the conflicts of interest between her public persona and her business career (based on what we seem to know about the latter), it may become obvious to the reader that she kept a very high profile internationally for the past few years. She was involved in the fashion industry having her own fragrance and Guli fashion line but was also a popular singer and a poet in Uzbekistan (who even inspired the likes of Gerard Depardieu [sic]). Not an artist only in a-r-t, she accumulated a large fortune through her business ventures in media and telecommunications (apparently she was interested in restaurants, too) even as she had to master the art of diplomacy as Uzbekistan’s representative to the UN in Geneva. And, by the way, she also headed a charity organization called Fund Forum. Yet, regardless of said charitable niceties, she hails from a country where students are allegedly forced to pick cotton on the fields year after year. Accordingly, she had been strongly criticized for years for not doing enough, as a UN representative, to improve Uzbekistan’s poor human rights record, and was even implicated in it personally when her fashion show at the New York fashion week was cancelled in 2011, due to human rights organisations’ protest. On the other hand, she could enjoy a lavish lifestyle in Europe and largely undisturbed business back home up until 2012. That is when her opponents began to capitalize on her business scandals in Europe.

Her fall from grace was just as public as her life had been as a ‘princess’. Although she was named ‘the single most hated person in Uzbekistan’ by a WikiLeaks cable, she had 50,000 followers on Twitter including many of her younger fans who regarded her as the smallest evil when compared to other potential successors to her 75-year-old father.

The biggest blow to her public profile came in 2012 when news broke of Karimova’s close associates who allegedly accepted bribes worth of 320 million USD from TeliaSonera in exchange for governmental protection in Uzbekistan. The scandal has since provoked investigation in Sweden, France and Switzerland. This piece of Gulnara’s life would be worthy of its own post on the blog but now we will focus on the aftermath that has become a battle ground between Gulnara and her business associates, pitting them against Karimov’s closest circles, represented especially by Rustam Inoyatov, the president’s right hand, head of the Uzbek SNB state security service, and Gulnara’s younger sister Lola and her mother Tatyana.

Events sped up last year when Gulnara had to step down from her UN post in July (mostly because of the TeliaSonera scandal) and returned to Tashkent in September. In October and November her TV and radio stations were closed down, as well as her charity, the Fund Forum. In the beginning of 2014, she and her daughter were put under house arrest in Tashkent. And finally, after some of his associates were sentenced, including her boyfriend Rustam Madumarov on May 24, she was officially charged this week.

The mesmerizing characteristic of the affair probably isn’t even that a Central Asian high profile businessperson, let alone a presidential sibling, is brought under investigation but on how public this all turned out to be. As noted by FP, unusually for such circles, Gulnara’s fallout with her family was ‘uncharacteristically public’. She had always been known to be very open about her life on Twitter, which she had used to inform her growing fan base of her latest plans, whether it was her yoga class or her next musical collaboration. When her family turned against her, she decided to use the same platform to inform the public about the details of her struggles and began to accuse Inoyatov, as well as her mother and sister of trying to control the president and turn him against her. In the process, her account was disabled, deleted and reinstated multiple times only to finally disappear for good in February, which only strengthened her resistance against the pressure she claimed she was put under.

As a response, there was a BBC interview with her sister last September where Lola attempted to distance herself from Gulnara, saying they hadn’t kept in touch for the past 12 years. Then, after a handwritten letter obtained by the BBC in which she claimed she was held by her family, Gulnara’s son sat down with The Guardian selling the family out once again while voicing his concern for her mother’s well-being. The latest news came in August, when BBC received a voice recording from Gulnara herself repeating her cries for help from the international community to free her from her captivity where she was (and, if true, may still be) treated ‘worse than a dog’. We are speculating (and speculating only) that charging her officially was the response of her adversaries – and so we are eagerly waiting how the story continues to unfold.

GulnaraKarimovaGulnara, freely roaming a field, once upon a time…

Mr. and Mrs. Blair

by AiteVer

Throughout the last few years British news sites have been increasingly involved in covering the intertwined deals of former prime minister, Tony Blair. Tony Blair Associates (TBA) and his seven other companies make the flow of both money and advice difficult to follow, which has alarmed many in Britain and worldwide.

One of the juiciest stories gone viral in the past is that of Mr. Blair’s close connections to Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev. Astana’s questionable human rights record and continuing rampant corruption may throw doubt on the effectiveness of his advice on ‘good governance’ that TBA was initially hired for in 2011.

Blair_NazarbayevBlair and Nazarbayev at Downing Street 10 (photo: Eddie Mulholland)

Three years, a bloody riot in Zhanaozen, multiple handwritten letters, several blooming investments, a reaffirming book, and a comprehensive promotion campaign later the importance of Mr. Blair in clearing up Kazakhstan’s image seems unquestionable.

Having defused allegations that he ‘profits personally’ from the matter, it was interesting to see when his wife Cherie Blair, also an avid defender of human rights, recently accepted to review Kazakhstan’s bilateral treaties through her company, Omnia Strategy. According to the article, Mrs. Blair has declined to comment on whether Omnia won the job on a tender or it was directly offered to them.

Tony_and_Cherie_BlairTony and Cherie Blair (source)

The similarities between the ventures of the Blairs do not end at having a similar pool of clients. The organizational structure of their ventures and the use of limited liability partnerships (LLP) make it easier for the two to stay under the radar.

As the Blair name continues to pop up all around the world, there is little question whether the pair is planning to enjoy their well-deserved retirement.