The other day the French authorities impounded some £11 million belonging to that worthy London resident Boris Berezovsky. The money, they declared, had been acquired in criminal ways and therefore its owner can’t claim legitimate property rights. As the French acted at the behest of the Russian government, which is itself criminal, their reasons are questionable. But their action does raise interesting issues.
I’m not going to explore how Boris has made his billions. If you’re interested in the subject, read an excellent book Godfather in the Kremlin by Paul Klebnikov. The eponymous godfather is no longer in the Kremlin – having fallen out with Putin, he now resides in England. And Klebnikov is no longer alive – in 2004, as he was researching another book on Russia’s organised crime, he died in a hail of bullets fired (one hears by Chechens) from a passing car in central Moscow.
True to its heritage, Putin’s government spread the rumour that Klebnikov had been killed by a jealous husband. Of course he was. The MO proves that: two men firing submachine guns from a fast-moving car. Love does work in mysterious ways, especially in Putin’s Russia.
And now yet another Mafia hit, this time in London, reminds us that Russian ‘businessmen’ are just as capable of settling their disputes at our doorstep. The only sane response to this is NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). Yet this is a response we are unlikely to give.
Pecunia non olet (‘money doesn’t stink’), said the Roman emperor Vespasian when questioned about his tax on the urine sold by public lavatories to tanners. Vespasian was rather crude even by the standards of Roman emperors, so he can be forgiven for his soldierly directness.
What is upsetting is that after two millennia of subsequent civilisation we still haven’t outlived the principle first enunciated by Vespasian. Except that we couch it in legal cant based on property rights, a subject dear to every conservative heart. However, much as we worship this or any other right, we shouldn’t allow it to turn into a suicide pact. Society has a superseding right to protect itself.
Ever since the ‘collapse’ of the Soviet Union, Russian billionaires have been arriving in England, first in a trickle, lately in a stream. A good chunk of their money arrives with them, and we welcome it. The British can’t afford to buy £40-million houses; good job someone can. Who cares how that £40 million was earned? Pecunia non olet!
Everyone knows, or ought to know, that no one can become a billionaire in today’s Russia without engaging in activities that in any civilised country would land their perpetrator in prison. Since the KGB mafia fronted by Putin controls Russia’s economy, no Russian can become a billionaire without active cooperation with it, if only by paying protection money. And since the mafia is criminal, every Russian billionaire is, as a minimum, its accessory.
They all, possibly with one or two exceptions, have a criminal mentality, and they bring it to London along with their money. We close our eyes on the former because we like the latter. Pecunia non olet!
So we let the likes of Abramovich, Berezovsky and Lord Mandelson’s best friend Deripaska come to London. Their billions are welcomed, as long as we are sure they use our courts, not our dark alleys, to settle their disagreements. Meanwhile, Sloanie dimwits are falling all over themselves to get an invitation to Abramovich’s box at Stamford Bridge.
Girls previously only interested in the hats they were going to wear at this year’s Ascot now profess interest in holding midfielders, wingbacks and second strikers. Thanks to Abramovich’s money footie has become their nostalgie de la boue, today’s answer to the fashionable slumming of yesteryear. And the provenance of the money? Who cares? Pecunia non olet, and those who still remember their Roedean Latin won’t even need a translation.
One would think that the six shots fired into Gherman Gorbuntsov’s body would serve as a wake-up call, even though Gherman himself can hardly be confused with a boy scout. Wanted in Moldova and Russia for the sort of dealings that would tip the Old Bailey scales at the better part of 25 years, he already did some time back in the early 1990s. I don’t know what the charge was in Russia, but I’m willing to bet it wasn’t dissent.
And then Gherman committed the ultimate mafia crime of squealing. Specifically, he agreed to give evidence in the case involving another attempted murder, of the chap whose son at one point owned another English football club. (What is it about football that attracts those people? Why not polo? Go straight to the top, I say.) The death penalty is the only possible punishment, and silly Gherman thought they wouldn’t get to him in London. Little did he realise that, just as the ruling mafia had turned Moscow into the Wild West, so it was turning London into Moscow.
Miraculously, Gherman has survived and now he’s busily naming names, those who ordered the hit. One suspects his loquacity is the price Scotland Yard has demanded for its protection, but be that as it may Gorbuntsov has now pointed a finger at several chaps close to Putin himself. So when he recovers from his wounds, he’ll probably be allowed to stay here, until next time. After all, pecunia non olet, and his money is as good as anyone else’s.
I don’t know if Putin did commission the murder, and frankly I don’t care. It’s enough for me to know that this unrepentant officer in history’s most murderous organisation is perfectly capable of it. What I do care about is the moral damage these Russians are doing to us. Pecunia non olet? You bet it does. It smells of blood spilled in London streets. It stinks of the Faustian deal we’ve struck. It reeks of a society in decay. Are you holding your nostrils? I am.