Russia-based Uzbek billionaire tries to hide criminal past

Alisher Usmanov was born in Namangan Region's Chust District in 1953; photo:
Russian billionaire of Uzbek origin Alisher Usmanov has tried to remove information on his criminal conviction in Uzbekistan from a Wikipedia article, but in vain.

Alisher Usmanov, whose wealth is estimated at over $18.1bn, has hired a British PR firm to clean up his biography.

The firm tried to correct information published on Wikipedia, according to The Times.

The newspaper said that the British RLM Finsbury PR firm had edited Usmanov’s biography in a Wikipedia article reporting of his threats against a blogger who had claimed that he was a "gangster and rackateer”.

Another landmark in his life – arrest and conviction in Uzbekistan in 1980 – did also disappear temporarily. In 2000, the country’s Supreme Court absolved him and revoked his conviction.

This was replaced by information on his charitable activities and collections of art and culture he had been built.

The newspaper asked RLM Finsbury to comment on the editing of Usmanov’s biography but instead received apologies.

The firm replied: “This was not done in the proper manner nor was this approach authorised by Mr Usmanov. We apologise for this and it will not happen again.”

Wikipedia’s founder Jimmy Wales said that he had been disappointed that PR firms or lobbyists believed they could do this, despite principles of openness and freedom of his website.

The rich also cry

Alisher Usmanov, a native of Uzbekistan’s Namangan Region, has succeeded in Russia and is now 28th richest man on Forbes’ rich list.

He is the general director of Gazprom Invest Holding and co-owner of London-based Arsenal FC, Russia’s Kommersant publishing house, MuzTV music channel and others.

However, his incredible wealth does not enable him to come clean of his past which, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray said, was linked to crime – drug dealing and racketeering.

In 2007, Usmanov took measures to improve his image and made several expensive purchases of collections of art and culture and bought copyrights for Soviet-era cartoons to donate to Russia.

In order to win public sympathy in the UK where he is a frequent visitor now after the acquisition of Arsenal, he answered 37 questions set by the influential The Guardian newspaper but it produced opposite results.

The Guardian asked him questions about his conviction in Uzbekistan and how he had managed to get rid of it.

“All the charges I faced in 1980 proved to be trumped up. There was a rehabilitation order by the Uzbekistan Supreme Court admitting that the alleged crimes NEVER TOOK PLACE [respondent's caps],” he replied.

“I really do not understand the necessity in discussing the false charges, disproved by the country's Supreme Court. I would like to stress though that I was rehabilitated for the reason of no crime being committed, not because of my good conduct or lack of evidence. That's why I won't dwell on the issue once again, especially after having already explained it for the UK press,” he explained.

Answering the question about his conviction, Usmanov unwillingly contradicted his previous interviews that his conviction had been cancelled by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who is popular in the West.

In the interview with The Guardian, Usmanov also unveiled another truth about himself and said that he was acquainted with criminal figure Gafur Rakhimov because he was a neighbour of his parents.

Not dissident but gangster

Usmanov tried to present his conviction as persecution by the KGB. According to Murray, Usmanov served a prison term for rape.

When Murray published articles exposing Usmanov, the tycoon threatened the Internet service provider which hosted Murray’s blog using his lawyers and the former ambassador temporarily lost his Internet platform.

However, pressure did not stop Murray. He said open court litigation in the UK would have turned into a real disaster for the Russian billionaire’s reputation and would have exposed a lot of things from his past.

Perhaps, having realised that he would not win in court, Usmanov did not file a suit against Murray.

He also told The Guardian that he was not going to litigate with anyone because he had no time for this.

Usmanov retreated in his dispute with Wikipedia too, which has republished his biography in full.