At the beginning of 2016, “Open Russia”* of Mikhail Khodorkovsky paid nearly 8 million euros to an subdivision of the European Commission, one of the heads of which, on a part-time basis, was Ben Smulders, substitute judge of the Hague Court of Appeal.
It’s worth reminding that, in April 2016, the Hague District Court predictably revoked the absurd decision on the necessity for Russian to pay 50 billion U.S. dollars to the benefit of Khodorkovsky’s partners, former Yukos top-managers.
But already in August 2016, Khodorkovsky's partners went to The Hague Court of Appeals. Just to the court where worked as assistant judge Ben Smulders, concurrently head of the office of the first vice-president of the European Commission.
Ben Smulders did his job?
(See Russian version at: «Открытая Россия» заплатила 8 млн евро за знакомство с советником судьи Апелляционного суда Гааги»)
Khodorkovsky’s trusted women
The events developed in the following way. In November 2015 Natalya Shachkova, Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s employee, registered in London a private company “Otkrytaya Rossia” (Open Russia), renamed two years later “Human Rights Project Management”.
But earlier, on September 8, 2015, “Otkrytaya Rossia” by way of some miracle was officially registered as an official lobbyist in the European Commission, in the highest organ of the European Union's executive branch.
According to the description of the company in the so-called European “Register of Transparency”, Mikhail Khodorkovsky created organization called “Open Russia” in order to fight for rights and freedoms.
In the documents of the European Commission, two of its representatives were mentioned: "as person with legal responsibility" was designated Natalya Shachkova, and "as person responsible for relations with the European Union" – the lawyer Kamilla Mehtiyeva
Kamilla Mehtiyeva, Khodorkovsky authorized person. Photo from the site of the Arbitrage Academy
In official documents was indicated the purpose of the future lobbyist activity of the company “Otkrytaya Rossia” (nowadays “Human Rights Project Management”**): “Regular interaction with politicians, official personalities and members of the EU institutions for promoting purposes of “Open Russia”; organization of events and initiatives for promotion of dialogue and cooperation between EU and Russia”.
Right after the registration as lobbyists, Khodorkovsky’s employees Shachkova and Mehtiyeva started to prepare a meeting with representatives of the first vice-president Frans Timmermans, the right hand and friend of Jean-Claude Junker, then president of the European Commission.
Timmermans oversaw “questions of improvement of judicial interstate regulations, interdepartmental relations, rule of law and charters of fundamental rights”.
Not long ago, he was the foreign minister of the Netherlands, a member of the Dutch Parliament, minister on European affairs. Before that he worked as the second secretary of the Dutch Embassy in Moscow. He speaks reasonably good Russian: "This is the heritage of his service in the army as intelligence officer", said one of his biographies.
The article about Frans Timmermans in the magazine “European voice” (12th page)
And the so-called “cabinet” of Timmermans was headed by then prominent Dutch lawyer, professor Ben Smulders.
Perhaps, at that time, there was no more influential and experienced lawyer in the European Commission than Smulders. He started his career in 1991 as a member of the judicial service of the Commission, then he worked as a member of the "cabinet" of several commissioners and even in the "cabinet" of President Romano Prodi (from 2000 to 2004).
In 2004, he already headed the “cabinet” of Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for competition.
In a parallel way, Smulders lectured in several universities and law schools, and from 2013, he has been substitute judge of The Hague Court of Appeal (civil and commercial chamber).
Obviously, among multiple ranks and offices of Ben Smulders, this position seemed the most interesting for Khodorkovsky’s lobbyist from “Open Russia”.
The biography of professor Smulders was published on the website of the Institute of European Researches. Ben Smulders – a substitute judge (Raadsheer plaatsvervanger) in the Court of Appeal of The Hague (civil and commercial chamber).
As is known, in July 2914, the Permanent Chamber of Arbitration of The Hague Court of Appeal held that Russia has to pay to the former stockholder of the company Yukos (to offshores Halley Enterprises Ltd., Yukos Universal Limited and Veteran Petroleum Ltd) 50 billion U.S. dollars. For the oil company that allegedly was taken away from them.
Representatives of Russia file a protest on this decision of the Court. The main argument for appeal was that The Hague Court of Appeal had no authority to arbitrate the litigation of the former Yukos stockholders with Russia. Apart from that, representatives of Russia argued that the Court had not taken into consideration that the former stockholders of Yukos “were not conscientious investors”.
In April 2016, the Hague District Court revoked the decision of the Court of Appeal.
But, in August 2016, representatives of Yukos stockholders filed a lawsuit in The Hague Court of Appeal. Just there where worked as a substitute judge the lawyer Ben Smulders.
And what a coincidence – as the result, this Court of Appeal disagreed with the arguments of Russia’s representatives, and on February 18, 2020, held to keep in force the Decision of The Hague Court of Appeal on paying 50 billion dollars.
After that representatives of Russian appealed this ruling of The Hague Court of Appeal in the Supreme Court of the Netherlands. Its decision the Court took rather quickly – on Friday, November 5. Thea Tjeerdema, the representative of the Court, told our agency that a press release would be published on the website www.hogeraad.nl.
28.10.2021, 17:18, "HRN - Mailbox Voorlichting"
The Supreme Court will rule in this case on Friday 5 November at 10:00 am, in the usual way (in writing). The judgment will be published on our website www.hogeraad.nl with a press release (in Dutch and in English) around 10:30 am on Friday 5 November.
Best regards, Thea Tjeerdema
A fact of strange lobbyism
And just in the thick of all these scandalous events, representatives of "Open Russia" register a lobbyist company in the European Commission and start to prepare a meeting with its high-ranking Dutch officers.
According to the documents of the European Commission, on September 22, 2015, representatives of Khodorkovsky – the director of “Otktytaya Rossia” Natalya Shachkova and the lawyer Kamilla Mehtiyeva met with Alice Richard, member of the cabinet of the vice-president Frans Timmermans. With one of the most trusted subordinates of Ben Smulders.
I think it’s worth mentioning that Alice Richard that hosted the lobbyists of Khodorkovsky, had received her main professional qualities in the so-called “think tank” – in the European Council on Foreign Relations. This “think tank”, well-known to political analysts, is specialized in developing concepts "to reduce the influence of Russia on the EU countries". With this "think tank” cooperate former politicians from parliaments and governments of the EU countries. Thereat, among its employees prevail “nationally oriented” figures from the Baltic state and Poland.
On September 22, 2016, the small lobbyist company "Otkrytaya Rossia" discussed with this EU staffer a really Manilov-like theme of global scope – "Preparation for an alternative summit EU – Russia" in November".
The meeting took place behind closed doors, its details are unknown. In return, it is known that there was no “alternative summit” in November 2015.
Khodorkovsky’s representatives Natalia Shachkova and lawyer Kamilla Mehtiyeva discussed with Alice Richard, subordinate to Ben Smulders, a global question – "EU-Russia alternative Summit in November".
However, several months after this meeting, at the beginning of 2016, Khodorkovsky's firm "Open Russia" officially transferred for its lobbyist activity to the account of the European Commission 7 million 963 thousand 657 euros.
(See the account of the firm “Human Rights Project Management” (former “Otkrytaya Rossia”) on the website LobbyFact.eu).
After such a generous multi-million donation, Khodorkovsky's representatives suddenly lost interest at all in lobbyist activity in Brussels. There were no more meetings and global discussions.
Still, for some years, the Khodorkovsky’s firm “Human Rights Project Management” had continued to be itemized in the lobbyist registry of the European Commission and to pay scanty, by standards of the EU, fees – 25-45 thousand euros a year.
At present, in 2021, “Otkrytaya Rossia” (now “Human Rights Project Management”) is no longer itemized in the lobbyist registry of the European Commission.
It turns out that, formally, Mikhail Khodorkovsky paid nearly 8 million euros for the meeting of the Yukos lawyer Kamilla Mehtiyeva with Alice Richard, the closest employee of Ben Smulders, substitute judge of The Hague Court of Appeal.
Of course, Khodorkovsky's money officially went to the cash office of the European Commission, but a useful acquaintance also took place! It took place, in distinction from the "mythic" Alternative summit EU-Russia, under the specious pretext of which this lobbyist meeting came about. 8 million for "access to the body" of the substitute judge of The Hague Court of Appeal? And why not, this in a Khodorkovsky style, and, in particular, in his partner Nevzlin’s style.
Flaming euro-commissioners tarred with the same brush?
Some years ago ended abruptly the great career of Ben Smulders. Nowadays, he is a rather small officer – the main legal adviser in the trade group "Trade politics and WTO" of the European Commission juridical service. The collapse of his career they connect with an extremely powerful scandal that took place in the same fall of 2016 with regard to his former boss Neelie Kroes. For a long period of time, he, in fact, had been her confidant.
In 2016, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published documents from the giant database of confidential documents of the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca.
The “leak” exposed disgusting mystery: hundreds of acting and former European politicians and statesmen hide in offshores their money and real estate. Ms. Kroes, the boss of Ben Smulders, was also in this database.
It turned out that, working as Commissioner on antitrust policy, that is as head of the main European antimonopoly watchdog, she hid from her superior that during almost nine years, from July 2000 to October 2009, she had parallel worked as director of the offshore company Mint Holdings Limited, registered on the Bahamas.
Thus Kroes brazenly violated the Code of Conduct of the European Commission, where there is such regulation: “Commissioners may not engage in any other professional activity, whether gainful or not”.
This company was created by the former council of the president of the United Arab Emirates Amin Badr-El-Din. He hired Kroes when, in 2000, he headed a group of investors, and began negotiations about the acquisition of foreign assets of the biggest American energy company Enron. The negotiations started shortly before the bankruptcy of Enron caused by machinations with its bookkeeping. Namely, because of this bankruptcy, the deal was off.
As later Amin Badr-El-Din told a correspondent of the newspaper “The Guardian”, in the article “Ex-EU commissioner Neelie Kroes failed to declare directorship of an offshore firm”, it was planned to acquire power plants and utility groups, oil and gas reserves, and an international gas pipeline to the amount from 6 to 8 billion euros. The idea was to create one of the biggest gas companies in the world. One of the purposes was to make the European Union less dependent on Russian gas. According to the Arab financier, Kroes found this strategy “intriguing enough to join a few friends in the company”.
In 2002, Amin Badr-El-Din ordered to close the offshore company, but, according to his words, it did not happen because of a technical failure. Only in 2009, it was found that Kroes was still in the registry of directors. Kroes herself told reporters that she had known nothing of that, believing that the offshore company was already closed.
But this is hard to believe, say the journalists from “The Guardian”.
When Kroes was assuming office, she, according to the law, mentioned more than 60 of her previous positions – from universities to automobile and airspace concerns. But in that list, there was no Mint Holding Limited. And during her work as a commissioner, she had been actively interested in the oil and gas sector.
For two years she had been conducting investigations against leaders of the branch. In 2006, the controllers examined six gas companies, and after that, the German company E.ON and the French company GDF Suez had to pay 500 million euros each for antitrust violations. The professional press noted then a significant coincidence – particularly these two companies had actively collaborated with Gazprom.
The exposure of Kroes has whipped up passions about business connections of the former EU bosses. Yet again they flared up in summer 2016 when it became known that Jose Manuel Barroso, the former president of the European Commission, took the position of director of the International Business Department of the American investment bank Goldman Sachs.
Jean-Claud Junker, that took over from him the position of the president, asked the ethics group to carry out an investigation, and active citizens drew up a petition demanding to deprive Barroso of his pension. It was signed by more than 145 000 people. Depriving of pension and some perks is the only punitive measure for bureaucrats of such level. Moreover, it comes into force only after a decision of the European Court of Justice.
Commenting on this scandalous event, Carl Dolan, director of the campaign group "Transparency International" in the EU, told the Guardian correspondent that "the blatant case" with Kroes reinforces the need for public registers to be more transparent about owners of offshore companies. “Kroes’ links to the proposed Enron deal would have remained a secret were it not for this leak. All EU commissioners, and in particular competition commissioners, have access to privileged and market-sensitive information”. Like this.
What is why we now have no hope that in the nearest future we will find out on what purposes went nearly 8 million euros, “brought in” by the well-known financial trickster Khodorkovsky in 2016 to the committee of the European Commission headed totally by Ben Smulders – “cabinet” director of the first vice-president of the European Commission. But, perhaps, an objective investigation will show how this money has influenced his second job as substitute judge of The Hague Court of Appeal?” noted the website Prigovor.ru.
* “Otkrytaya Rossia” (“Open Russia”, Great Britain) organization, activity of which, according to the decision of the Office of the Prosecutor General from 26.04.2017, is recognized as undesirable on the territory of Russia.
** “Human Rights Project Management”, former “Otkrytaya Rossia” – organization, activity of which is recognized as undesirable on the territory of Russia.