Bush's Brother and the Fugitive Russian Tycoon
It sounds like the pitch for a Hollywood comedy.
The younger brother of the president of the United States, seeking to establish himself independently of his more successful sibling, visits a small country in the company of a ne'er do well business partner. Their arrival sends law enforcement, government officials and local reporters into a tizzy, but the First Sibling emerges unfazed and news of his trip goes unnoticed back at home.
But this is no script.
In September, Neil Bush, brother of President George W. Bush, visited Latvia with Boris Berezovsky, a fugitive Russian tycoon who made millions in the violent scramble for control of Russian government assets after the fall of communism. Their mission, according to the Baltic Times, was educational -- promoting teaching software created by Bush's Texas-based firm, Ignite Learning.
The visit to the former Soviet republic earned lots of media attention in Eastern Europe and provoked an international incident. "Much controversy surrounded the meeting, since Berezovsky is wanted for arrest in Russia, and the scandalous Russian businessman, who now lives in London, met with a relative of the U.S. president," said the Baltic Times in its report.
Russian authorities asked Latvia to extradite Berezovsky, who has been indicted in Russia in connection with a $13 million fraud case, charges that Berezovsky says are politically inspired. "The request was ignored by Latvian law enforcement officials," the Baltic Times noted.
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow distanced itself from the Neil Bush-Berezovsky visit, according to the St. Petersburg Times in Russia. The State Department denied any "involvement in, or any role in arranging, the activities of these two private individuals in Riga."
Berezovsky depicted himself as a business adviser to Bush, who founded Ignite Learning in 1999. "He asked me to think about possible projects in the regions that I know about." Berezovsky told the St. Petersburg Times.
The whole affair put the Latvian government in an uncomfortable position.
"Even with a partner like Neil Bush on board, Berezovsky's Latvia trip caused Riga's political establishment to sweat," the St. Petersburg Times reported. The Latvian prime minister allowed that Berezovsky's visit posed "a real threat to the Latvian state" by putting it at loggerheads with Russia, its powerful neighbor.
In October, Latvia declared Berezovsky persona non-grata, according to Moscow News. In response, the Latvian interior minister resigned, apparently to protest the capitulation to Moscow. The Baltic Times concluded that "the imbroglio has threatened to destabilize the [government's] ruling coalition."
By then Neil Bush was long gone. Ignite Learning did not return phone messages or e-mails requesting comment.
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