During the last two years "Odnako" has been following a smear campaign carried out by the Spanish mass media against Vladimir Kokorev, a Russian entrepreneur residing in Spain. In one of its latest issues ("Odnako" March 19, 2012), we set out a theory that the continuous press attacks on Kokorev are simply a part of a larger media campaign aimed at the President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang, most likely developed within the framework of a major financial speculation.
For those unaware - The Republic of Equatorial Guinea, while one of the smallest and most discrete African countries, is also one of the largest worldwide exporters of oil - with most of its oil being acquired by US corporations. Therefore, any sign of political unrest in Guinea is likely to have an immediate impact on Wall Street.
Since the last publication, the author of this article has been contacted by several individuals linked to George Soros' Fund Management, as well as Spanish legal and journalist circles (for obvious reasons, they prefer to remain anonymous), who have admitted that the so-called "fight" for a greater transparency on economic relations with Equatorial Guinea is all part of an orchestrated financial gamble.
According to these sources, the pair of Spanish journalists - Antonio Rubio and Jose Maria Irujo who have literally pulled "the Kokorev case" out of the thin air, are mere pawns in a much bigger political game - which, by any criteria, they have played quite badly.
How to expose a dictator and earn a little money in the process
Apparently, the campaign against Equatorial Guinea began following several meetings between Antonio Garrigues - a renowned Spanish lawyer with political aspirations and head of one of the largest Spanish law firms - and the American magnate George Soros. It is interesting to note that George Soros has never shied away from allegations of making fortunes as a result of political unrests - in fact, he is quite proud of it and considers an unstable political situation to be decisive for money-making in financial speculations. Antonio Garrigues, on the other hand, is notoriously involved in a number of political anti-Guinean movements. His nephew is often quoted as the person who introduced the English mercenary Simon Mann, Guinean opposition leader Severo Moto and a the Libanese entrepreneur Ely Calil - alleged organizers of the now infamous 2004 failed military coup in Equatorial Guinea - to each other; while Garrigues himself negotiated the political, legal and media back-up of the coup in Spain.
Several months after those meetings, Soros Fund Management made a transfer of several hundred thousand Euros to the account of Manuel Olle-Sese, another Spanish lawyer and a self-proclaimed human rights activist. Allegedly, the funds were to be destined by Manuel Olle to uncover any discrediting evidence concerning President Obiang or anyone related to the Government of Equatorial Guinea. Manuel Olle was somewhat famous in Spain at that time for his attempts to prosecute several former Latin American dictators along with his friendly relationship with famous Spanish judge, Baltazar Garzon. Although Manuel Olle did not succeed in any of his cases, the Spanish press was overwhelmingly favorable to him and there was no reason to suspect that the pro-human rights lawyer would employ the funds received from Soros Fund for any other purpose other than the exposure of an "African dictator".
Manuel Olle's Black List
Manuel Olle indeed took the money, but did not do much else. He searched the Spanish real estate registry for any names that sounded African, and ticked all the purchases made on certain dates which matched the dates of bank transfers received from Riggs Bank by Kalunga Company (at that time, owned by Vladimir Kokorev). As Manuel Olle accounted for his activities to his employers and wrote his reports, it all looked perfectly clear - Kalunga was using these transfers to buy apartments for President Obiang's relatives. Mission accomplished. There was one tiny detail that helped Olle give veracity to his list - thanks to the oil boom, there was a large number of Guineans who invested into Spanish real estate at that time, so he did not have any problem finding the appropriate names to match the dates. The other, more significant omission, was that nobody from "Olle's List" had ever received any money from Kalunga Company, nor had Kalunga been in any way related to real estate acquisitions (this is a fact proven in courts - Kalunga was managing the shipping of goods, ship-building and maintenance, which were services agreed in contracts between Kalunga and the government of Equatorial Guinea). Manuel Olle never bothered to report any of this to his employers - and, more likely, he himself did not even know anything about Kalunga besides the publicly available information, which he used to account for his "job".
Ironically, that just happened to be exactly what the human rights activist actually did with the money he received from the Soros Fund to finance his investigation - Olle invested the money in acquisition of real estate in Madrid.
Sources from the Court of Madrid (where Manuel Olle presented his writ initially) told me that even on the first glance the "Kalunga case" looked to be a complete chapuza (shoddy piece of work). 'The little evidence Olle did present to support his claim, clearly contradicted it - it takes at least a week from the time the payment is made to file the deed in the real estate registry, and in most cases up to two months or more - but Olle claimed that the apartments were paid for and registered on the same day, which is simply impossible.'
The same person also stated that Antonio Garrigues had personally asked for meetings with judges and prosecutors that could be involved in the case, but despite these pressures the judges refused to examine the case and neither Kalunga nor its current or previous shareholders were summoned into court - not even as witnesses. Finally, even Manuel Olle's old backer - Baltazar Garzon - rejected to examine the case and it was re-directed to the Las Palmas court, where it has not been admitted by the judge as of this date - that is, four years after its filing.
When you cannot win, you can always fake it
Meanwhile, another group operating with a similar relationship to George Soros in France has been fairly successful in their legal persecution of one of President Obiang's sons - Teodorin Obiang, and there have been on and off reports relating to confiscation of Teodorin's real estate property in California. On the background of these successes, the Spanish African adventure and its masterminds look positively embarrassing.
However, Antonio Garrigues and Manuel Olle cannot simply admit that the whole enterprise is basically a chapuza - they need to find some justification for the money that was spent on their endeavor. And although they admittedly lack any political influence to support their ludicrous claims in court - this does not really matter, because nobody reads court papers anyway - but people (including those who invested in this project) do read newspapers.
Two of the biggest Spanish newspapers - El Pais and El Mundo - and traditionally bitter rivals on every topic - keep reprinting the same "information" reminding the public through the same expressions that "the circle in narrowing... the prosecutors are investigating..." They have been putting up the exact same material for the last three years, once every three or four months, as an account of Manuel Olle's job well-done.
What exactly is the "circle" they are writing about? What have they been investigating for 5 years and why don't the Spanish legal authorities have any idea about this investigation so vividly described on the pages of these Spanish newspapers?
Oddly enough, the foreign journalists who attempted to follow the "investigation" monitored by the Spanish journalists, have failed not only to find any traces of the "Kalunga case", but also of any evidence that the Spanish journalists Antonio Rubio (El Mundo) and Jose Maria Irujo (El Pais) themselves have ever followed or even investigated this case.
'It's weird, but it looks like none of them have even ever been to Las Palmas,' I was told by a local journalist, 'or if they were here, they probably stayed on a beach in the south.'
By the way, this journalist also said that he wrote an article about this case for his newspaper, but the editor had stopped it before going to print. 'He told me that if I was to publish anything on this matter from a perspective different than that offered by the official line of El Pais and El Mundo in a foreign newspaper or internet site, I would lose my job.'
The "Official Line"
As it seems, the only interpretation of the "Kalunga case" acceptable in the Spanish press happens to be the one that contradicts the one stated by the Spanish courts or Spanish Anti-Corruption Authorities - who deny any knowledge of "Kalunga Company", Vladimir Kokorev, or any wrongdoing carried out by either of them.
On a closer examination, the line adopted by the Spanish newspapers also lacks any consistency. For instance, it is ridiculous to dub President Obiang as the richest dictator in the world and evidence this claim by a 90m2 flat purchased in one of the cheapest Las Palmas boroughs - even more so, an acquisition that you claim was made using a particularly sophisticated corruption scheme. And this is exactly what Antonio Rubio and Maria Irujo have been claiming for years.
In 2010, when "Odnako" drew the attention of the Spanish journalists to this obvious discrepancy, they immediately turned their focus away from the abovementioned flat and on the properties of another of Obiang's sons - Gabriel Nguema Lima (Teodorin's step-brother) - also "blacklisted" by Manuel Olle.
Jose Maria Irujo writes about Gabriel's Spanish flat, but omits the address for reasons that has nothing to do with journalistic ethics. "Obiang's son, who has control over about 500 thousand barrels of oil produced daily in Equatorial Guinea..." - states Irujo in every article before introducing the readers to the lavish property owned by Gabriel Nguema in Spain. Admittedly, if Irujo was to add that the "lavish property" is, in fact, a flat in an 8-storey co-op block overlooking a wasteland, which is gradually turning into a garbage dump, located in a far-from-prestigious suburb of Mostles, the whole argument would not sound as powerful, and quite probably would lead to a suspicion that the rest of Irujo's story is similar nonsense.
Compared to the evidence of wealth Obiang's family achieved through "ransacking African national riches", the two apartments acquired by Manuel Olle in the centre of Madrid with George Soros' money indeed look like a pillage of epic proportions.
The real spies... sort of
According to their Spanish colleagues, the media spinners of the "Kalunga Case", Antonio Rubio and Jose Maria Irujo are not your run-of-the-mill journalists.
Antonio Rubio is tightly connected to the Spanish National Intelligence Centre (CNI), and is a "channel" frequently used by its agents to divulge sensitive information, usually as a result of internal disputes. For instance, it was Rubio who made public the infamous story of Spanish agents delivering one million dollars to a group of swindlers whom the agents believed to be Somali pirates (the money was supposed to be a ransom for Spanish sailors). As it turned out, the fact was disclosed to Rubio by the very CNI agents in charge of the operation who had grown tired of their boss. On another occasion, Rubio published a piece on the misdemeanors of the CNI Director - once again, based on the information supplied by discontent subordinates.
Antonio Rubio's colleagues mentioned that he picked up the "Kalunga case" at first because of his long-standing relationship with Manuel Olle, and published the materials delivered by his friend, without personally checking the sources. As it became increasingly apparent that the materials were fabricated, he replied to his co-workers concerns that he was not able to rectify his statements because of "acquired obligations" with third parties. Since Rubio himself was a vice-director of El Mundo, his articles were not subject to editorial control.
Antonio Rubio's smear campaign against Vladimir Kokorev and his family was brought to a hearing in a Moscow court. El Mundo lost the case and the subsequent appeal, in great part thanks to Rubio's own recklessness during the hearing. As a side note, the newspaper announced its technical bankruptcy several days after the final verdict.
The story behind Jose Maria Irujo, on the other hand, seems to be directly drawn from a spy novel.
Irujo was actually a staff member of CESID (Spanish Intelligence Agency before it was renamed to CNI). His operations' record includes the capture of Luis Roldán, the chief of the elite corps of Spanish Guardia Civil in the early 90s. Curiously enough, Irujo had known Roldan almost since childhood. Both were born in the autonomous region of Navarra and were close neighbors.
When Luis Roldan fled Spain with a rather large sum of money, Jose Maria Irujo chased him around the globe - under the cover of making an investigative report - and captured his old neighbor somewhere in Laos, a story that he would later publish in El Pais.
However, while Irujo was hunting for Roldan, their other childhood friend, a CESID agent named Francisco Paesa, and one of close collaborators of Luis Roldan, also went missing. Once again, not empty-handed, but with 20 million dollars stolen from the Spanish treasury.
Interestingly enough, Paesa started his career as a spy and adventurer in Equatorial Guinea, just after it gained its independence from Spain and was under the rule of its former president, and by all accounts a very real dictator, Macias.
In the early 1970s Paesa suggested to Macias to set up a National Guinean Bank, in which Macias and Paesa (in representation of Spanish government) would put equal amounts of money. Macias placed several million dollars, while Paesa brought two sealed bags from Spain, allegedly filled with money, which he tried to put in the bank's safe-deposit box. When Macias insisted on examining the contents of the bags, they turned out to be full of phone books.
Not so long ago, Russian banker and politician Alexander Lebedev had a similar experience with Paesa (yes, even though his spy career was over, the adventurer's was far from it). Paesa suggested to open a jointly owned bank in the United Arab Emirates and, to make a long story short, fled away with 40 million dollars.
Jose Maria Irujo played an interesting part in that story - he ended up chasing Paesa around the world just like he did with Roldan. Well, almost. Instead of capturing his old colleague with the stolen money, Irujo published a gripping article in El Pais, which - as hard as it may seem - largely downplayed Paesa's role in the scam, even attempting to present him as an almost a Robin Hood figure, and was mostly focused on posing not-so-rhetorical questions of where the "Russian money" came from in the first place. Some speculate that his position is understandable - because Irujo's part did not start when his old friend went missing with a case of money, but long before.
In my experience of talking to Spanish people while preparing this article, I came to an interesting revelation - it seems like almost everyone in Spain is somehow related to everyone else: either as long-time friends, neighbors, relatives or co-workers. Given the right connections it seems very easy to by-pass laws, judges, even common sense and reality itself. But this is also the way in which all Spanish stories of spies and corruption scandals really start - it is so easy to spy on your neighbor.
Nowadays, as the country is crippled by a profound economic crisis, and the living standards of ordinary Spanish citizens plummet, those who have any connections are trying to earn money wherever and however they can. As it usually happens, this leads to an even greater number of "chapuzas" - in a country that has a certain tradition of botching things.
Antonio Garrigues, who had initiated this particular chapuza concerning Equatorial Guinea and the Kalunga Company, is running a major law firm. His staff members' activities have damaged, and are continuing to damage, the relationships between Spain and Equatorial Guinea. But this does not seem to bother Garrigues. It seems that his only worry is that he may someday have to answer to George Soros about the low efficiency of his shady operation.