Friday, September 07, 2007

Fit and Proper Persons (Part II)

Lots of people have been going around making comparisons between Thaksin Shinawatra and Alisher Usmanov, and suggesting that the two are both prime cases of people who shouldn't be allowed control of UK football clubs, etc. etc.

But I'm not so sure how comparable the cases are. Review the cases and you decide:

Shinawatra, a former business tycoon, was the democratically elected PM of Thailand, until ousted in a military coup last year. He has been accused of, among other things, human rights abuses (specifically, extra-judicial killings in a "war on drugs"), corruption charges related to tax evasion, insider trading and conflict-of-interest while PM.

Although he is currently facing a host of charges of varying severity, the fact that he is being charged in court by a military government that overthrew him casts the expected guilty verdicts in some doubt. Of the various charges against him, the clearest-cut case against Shinwatra is the conflict-of-interest charges. Rather like Berlusconi (whom he resembles a great deal), Thaksin tended not so much to break the law as to amend them to suit his purposes. Unfortunately, a trial by junta isn't likely to answer those questions in a manner that a fair-minded person would find...well..fair.

The nastiest charges against him are those regarding the extra-judicial killing of drug dealers in Thailand; evidence of which has been widely documented (see here among other places). These are the charges most in need of impartial investigation, but they also seem to be the ones least likely to be investigated by the junta since presumably any evidence against Thaksin would rebound against themselves, too.

But there are legitimate questions to be answered here, most notably the extent to which Thaksin himself is to blame for what happened (as opposed to people further down the command chain). Also to be taken into consideration is the extent to which the organization of drug runners in places like Thailand make the fight against them more like civil conflict (Thai drug runners are damn-heavily armed) than a criminal justice operation. This isn't to excuse malfeasance - it's to suggest that there may be more to the Thanksin story than the average self-righteous Guardian reader might have you believe.

Also - and this is a personal rant and possible over-generalization here - anti-Thaksin types are guilty of some pretty heavy double standards here. I have never, for instance, seen anyone criticize Thierry Henry for wearing Che Guevara T-shirts, despite Che's well-documented involvement in extra-judicial killings after the Cuban revolution and his classic statement of the need for hatred:

"Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine."

Oh yes, much better than Thaksin...

Now to Usmanov. I was going to post something very interesting about Usmanov, based on a post by Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan (Usmanov's nation of birth) who now spends his time as a vocal critic of the Uzbek regime. However, Usmanov's lawyers have been sicced on Murray's web-host and he has had to take them down. A similar cease and desist order went to my admired compadre Tom at Pitchinvasion, and his article on the same subject had to come down, too (though Murray's original missive is, for the moment, still available at this blog).

Briefly, Usmanov spent some time in jail in the 1980s but was pardoned, released and his criminal record expunged when Gorbachev came to power. In this article, the Daily Mail says that his conviction was for fraud, corruption and theft of state property. Usmanov claims he was a victim of a political frame-up. It's possible - but not everyone buys this story. And a pardon does not mean that the crime was not committed in the first place. Nixon, for instance, was pardoned; that doesn't change the fact that he obstructed justice.

The Mail also claims that Usmanov "has been dogged by claims that he has links to the KGB and to Russian mafia godfathers, among them Gafur Rakhimov, an Uzbek who is also - according to differing accounts - either a highly influential cotton trader, a sporting patron or a major drug baron in Uzbekistan's booming heroin trade." I make no comment here - I am merely passing along information.

Usmanov's dealings as a Director of Russian state-owned Gazprom have also come under scrutiny, not least of which from here.

As I read back over this page, I need to check my own biases. Am I harder on Usmanov because he's with my team while Thaksin is someone else's problem? Do I have a bigger problem with central Asians than south-east Asians? Am I being too cavalier about the Human Rights Watch report? Do I give Thaksin too much of a pass on human rights because he was a popular politician with a good record on fighting poverty (which, let me be clear, shouldn't give one any kind of pass on human rights).

I'm not sure about any of this. I think if clubs are limited companies, then tycoons - foreign and domestic - have as much right to buy them as anybody. And while both men seem to have a lot of questions to answer before they can be considered fit and proper, tycoons need a fair presumption of innocence, too.

But, that said, my gut just tells me that Usmanov is a much, much shadier character than Thaksin.

What do you think?


Anonymous Tom said...

I couldn't possibly comment!

9:24 PM  

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