Saturday, March 04, 2006

US law firm's clumsy attempt to gag media

On 19th February Rinat Akhmetov walked into the spotlight at a widely broadcast glitzy presentation in the Dontesk Theatre of Drama, and launched his political career. As #7 on the PR election list, his entry to the VR as a leading PR deputy is a dead cert. Some even see him as a future Prime Minister.

A few days later an appeal court in Donetsk started hearing statements from a former police major, Vyacheslav Sinenko, who is accused of the attempted killing in 1995 of Akhat Bragin, a Donbas 'kriminalnyi avtorytet' and close associate of Akhmetov. Sinenko alleged Akhmetov was involved major crimes, and was behind an assassination attempt on himself. His statements were reported in several publications.

There have also been several investigative articles particularly on the net, about the murkier periods in the '90's when Akhetov's rise to prominence ran concurrently with the killings of leading Donbas businessmen.

Now Akhmetov's lawyers, the Washington-based Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, amongst the biggest hitters in the business, are putting the squeeze on the 'Ostrov' website, accusing it of spreading slanderous statements and blackening their client's name.

'Ostrov' have responded pointing out 'Freudian slips' in the law firms' letter, which includes the following: "the false accusations by Sinenko, which were published several times by 'Ostrov' include a statement that Mr Akhmetov was involved in the killing of Bragin."

'Ostrov' have never in fact stated this on their website - they scorn the US law firm for their legal illiteracy, and accuse them of attacking free speech in Ukraine. [There is some evidence published elsewhere that Bragin may have actually been killed by members of a rival gang].

In democratic countries anyone entering public life knows their past will surely be raked over. Akhmetov will be accompanied into the VR after the elections by several dozen close business associates who are also on the PR list, and thus he will be in a position of great political influence. It is up to the Ukrainian electorate to decide whether he is fit be there. The electorate have a right to know about Akhmetov's past and how he rose to the lofty position of Ukraine's leading businessman. The investigations will continue.

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