By John A Donovan
Oleg Mitvol has recently been described as a “Kremlin attack dog” by a British newspaper, The Guardian. http://business.guardian.co.uk/story/0,,1886783,00.html
Reportedly a multimillionaire, Mitvol has since the summer of 2004, transformed himself into an environmental crusader and corporate giant killer in his role as Deputy Head of Rosprirodnadzor, the Service for Supervision of Natural Resources Management based in Moscow. Such is his impact in the global business community, that he is probably as well known (and feared) as the Russian leader, President Putin.
Strangely, Mitvol is far better known than his supposed boss, the head of Rosprirodnadzor, whose name does not immediately spring to mind. Clearly Mitvol is far removed from being a typical environmental official. We know that he has a sense of humour because after I personally drew his attention to above description of him as a “Kremlin attack dog”, he wrote a letter to the editor of The Guardian which was published under the headline: “Oleg bites back”. The following are extracts.
The stereotypical portrayal of me is worthy of Robert Ludlum: I am called Oleg (at least you got that right); I am 6ft 2in; I am called an attack dog – well, I’ve been described as many things but my resemblance to a rottweiler is marginal; I am wearing a black coat (I do own one, in common with many Russians, although it’s not a full-length trench coat);
I am portrayed like the assassin in The Bourne Supremacy (although, believe me, any such likeness really is slight); the kind of man who is motivated solely by greed and money and who couldn’t possibly have any bona fide environmental interest.
The world’s largest oil giants – Exxon-Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Total have all come under fire from Mitvol in recent months for alleged environmental breaches in respect of multibillion dollar projects in the Sakhalin region.
Royal Dutch Shell, the lead partner in the biggest of the projects, Sakhalin II, has been the main target of threats of license and permit revocations made by Mitvol, including the possibility that Shell will be kicked out of the $22 billion project and sued for $10 billion in damages. Shell is therefore faced with a potential financial and reputational disaster. Shell management was so rattled by the turn of events that it used a registered charity, The Shell Foundation, as a vehicle to make improper representations to the UK government in respect of the Sakhalin II crisis – a crisis precipitated by Mitvol. As a consequence, Shell has been publicly admonished by the UK Charity Commissioners.
An indication of the potential impact from a threat by Mitvol was provided just a few days ago after he raised the possibility of revoking the licenses of the gold mining company Peter Hambro, allegedly based on environmental concerns. Shares in the company fell by almost 14% overnight, cutting more than £130m off its Aim-listed value.
Mitvol’s link with the Russia newspaper, Noviye Izvestia (New Izvestia)
Before taking on his environmental crusader role, Oleg Mitvol was the board chairman and majority shareholder in the Russian daily newspaper, Noviye Izvestia. Igor Golembiovsky, its former editor-in-chief, claims that he was sacked by Mitvol in February 2003 for being too outspoken: an ironic allegation under the circumstances. Golembiovsky also reportedly claims that Mitvol was “used by the Kremlin to orchestrate the attack on him over Noviye Izvestia’s harsh editorial line against the government”.
The following is an extract from an article published by “Reporters Without Borders” in 2003.
“Noviye Izvestia was part of the media empire of the exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky whose main media holdings, known for their independent approach to news, were systematically taken over by the Kremlin since Vladimir Putin took power. In 1997 Boris Berezovsky handed over control of the majority of Noviye Izvestia’s shares to Oleg Mitvol.”
According to a report in gazeta.ru Boris Berezovsky could not recall how Mitvol became involved in the newspaper. He is quoted as saying: “Mitvol appeared as if from nowhere.” The circumstances in which Mitvol acquired a majority shareholding are also clouded in mystery. Apparently the relationship between Mitvol and the billionaire Boris Berezovsky ended in acrimony. There is a suggestion in the report that Mitvol may have been used as an instrument to “exert additional pressure on Boris Berezovsky”.
Berezovsky is an arch-enemy of President Putin. According to an article published by The Independent on 7 December 2006: “Boris Berezovsky, the fugitive oligarch exiled in Britain… heads the list of Russia’s “most wanted”.
Alexander Litvinenko, the former FSB Colonel recently murdered in London after being poisoned by a large dose of highly radioactive polonium 210, was a close ally of Berezovsky.
My own dealings with Oleg Mitvol
I have had some dealings with Mitvol in my capacity as co-owner of a news based website, www.royaldutchshellplc.com focused on the activities of the Royal Dutch Shell Group. Mitvol has publicly acknowledged that I supplied him with documentary evidence on which he is planning to bring the threatened $10 billion claim against Shell for alleged environmental damages resulting from an alleged cover-up by Shell. The evidence was in the form of Shell internal emails and Shell insider information alleging potentially calamitous flaws in the design and construction of the Sakhalin II project.
In November 2006, Oleg Mitvol was quoted in an interview published in “This Week in Argus FSU Energy” as saying:
“Who will take Sakhalin Energy to court? I will take them. I have documents proving that the Sakhalin Energy management was aware that the company violated technical standards, but carried on trying to meet project deadlines and refused to stop work. I am confident of winning my case in Stockholm. What documents are these? Where are they from? I have email correspondence between executives in Sakhalin Energy management from 2002. I received these letters from John Donovan, owner of the anti-Shell website www.royaldutchshellplc.com.”
Further confirmation was contained in an Interfax news agency report published by “Johnson’s Russia List”. Intefax reported on 13 November 2006:
“On October 19, Rosprirodnadzor deputy chief Oleg Mitvol sent a letter to Sakhalin Energy CEO Ian Craig, asking him either to confirm or deny information contained in confidential e-mails from Shell natural gas field manager Hans Bouman to Engel Van Spronsen, then Sakhalin Energy technical director in 2002. Copies of the e-mails were forwarded to Rosprirodnadzor from John Donovan, a Shell shareholder and the owner of a website providing news on Shell.”
I have no illusions about the Sakhalin II high-stakes poker game currently in progress. I supplied authentic Shell internal documents in the probably forlorn hope that some good will come of it in terms of the environment and in particular the endangered Gray Whale population. Oleg Mitvol may have his own agenda: perhaps Presidential ambitions. He certainly knows how to generate publicity.