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Genesis Prize: Flattering Oligarchs and Laundering Their Ill-Gotten Gains

mikhail fridman

Mikhail Fridman undoubtedly contemplating the fate of the Jewish people or his asset portfolio.  (Konstantin Zavrazhin/Getty)

A group of Russian oligarchs has pumped buckets of their ill-gotten cash into creating an award, the Genesis Prize, that flatters their egos and those of their fellow fat cats who will receive it.

First up is Michael Bloomberg, fellow billionaire founder of Bloomberg Media and former New York mayor. In bestowing the award on him, a bunch of Russian oligarchs flattered an American oligarch.  How nice for all of them.

Among the oligarchs are Mikhail Fridman (net worth, $18-billion and 46th on Forbes list of the richest people in the world and second richest Russian) and some of his cronies, Petr Aven (chairman of Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest commercial bank) and Stan Polovets (who made his billions in Russian energy).  Here’s a Foreign Policy article from way back in 2000, detailing how these crooks stripped assets and stole billions:

…Asset-stripping has also victimized major international oil companies. In a highly publicized case, [Mikhail] Fridman’s Tyumen Oil Company (TNK) allegedly stole Sidanko’s most valuable assets by manipulatinig the bankruptcy process. According to defrauded Sidanko shareholders (who include BP Amoco), the theft was carried out through the corrupt appointment of a TNK-friendly receiver, the unlawful reduction of the claims of major creditors such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (in which the United States holds shares), and a rigged bankruptcy “auction” in which only TNK-affiliated companies could bid.

It’s now twelve years later and Fridman has gone from being a ticket scalper, to a robber baron, and now a ‘respected philanthropist.’  His billions of ill-gotten gains have been laundered clean and now only smell of so-called good deeds.  Bibi Netanyahu is a co-conspirator in this charade which implicates the entire nation, since so many of the oligarchs have found safe haven in the “Jewish state.”  Let me ask once again a rhetorical question I’ve asked many times before here: is this the type of state that the Jewish people want?  Are these our Jewish exemplars?  Do they speak for you?  I know they don’t speak for me.

The Genesis Philanthropy Group, which funds the prize, is supposed to build Jewish identity among Russian Jewish youth (hence the participation of the oligarchs):

Genesis Philanthropy Group’s mission is to develop and enhance a sense of Jewish identity among Russian-speaking Jews worldwide, with a particular emphasis on the former Soviet Union, North America, and Israel, where up to three million Russian-speaking Jews reside.

We are committed to supporting and launching projects, programming, and institutions that are focused on ensuring that Jewish culture, heritage, and values are preserved in Russians-speaking Jewish communities across the globe.

We believe that informed and engaged Russian-speaking Jews will contribute to the cultural enrichment of their communities, strengthen the Jewish community and support the betterment of humanity.

To do this, the Genesis Prize was launched as a sort of Jewish Nobel, meant to recognize Jewish achievement:

jay leno genesis prize

Jay Leno flatters egos and humors Russian and American Jewish oligarchs.

The Genesis Prize seeks to recognize individuals who have attained excellence and international renown in their chosen professional fields, and whose actions, in addition to their achievements, embody the character of the Jewish people through commitment to Jewish values, the Jewish community and/or to the State of Israel. Beyond demonstrated qualities of achievement and commitment, the Genesis Prize, in keeping with the Jewish values for which it stands, serves to recognize the laureate’s contribution to the betterment of humankind.

It’s not clear what Michael Bloomberg has ever done to strengthen the Jewish identity of Russian Jewish youth.  Nor is it clear that Russian Jewish youth know or care particularly who Michael Bloomberg is.  The choice of awardee lies in the hands of 12 ideologically right-wing judges including Bibi Netanyahu, Natan Sharansky, Yuli Edelstein, Elie Wiesel and Jack Rosen.  Only two of the judges are women.

Bloomberg was savvy enough to understand the poor optics of a billionaire awarded what is a dinner tip in the context of his overall wealth. So he gave the money back to the oligarchs, who announced that they would bestow it on some worthy youth who will become the oligarch of the next generation.

Hosting this shindig, worthy of a show at Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands, was the relatively impoverished (net worth a mere $350-million) comedian, Jay Leno. Knowing his audience of 1%ers, Leno made the requisite cracks at the expense of John Kerry and Obama. Here’s a sample of the Leno “wit:”

“President Obama has declared the month of May Jewish American Heritage Month. He is calling it an opportunity to renew our ‘unbreakable bond with the nation of Israel.’ And he knows it’s unbreakable because he’s been trying to break it for the last five years,”

No zingers at the prime minister’s expense, since Leno had a private audience with King Bibi on this, his first visit to the “State of the Jewish People.”  Leno even made a crack about Genesis being the “Jewish Nobel.” If there is a more inflated, ego-driven, self-important or corrupt Jewish award, I haven’t heard of it.

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