Wednesday, November 30, 2022

KGB kingpin helped Tati Nickel alleged Russian spy skip Botswana

Fresh evidence has emerged linking former Tati Nickel employee and alleged spy, Victor Stebletsov, to the Russian spy network.

Sunday Standard has turned up information revealing that Stebletsov, who skipped criminal charges in Botswana, was helped by the KGB high command embedded in Norilsk Nickel to settle in Australia.

Although the Managing Director of Norilsk Nickel Tati mine, Farhad Sattarov, claimed in a letter two months ago that Stebletsov had terminated his contract with the company, Sunday Standard can reveal that the Russian fugitive received an Australian Visa through the help of Elena Vavilova a top Russian spy.

Elena Vavilova was arrested by the FBI in 2010 in the biggest espionage scandal since the end of the Cold War that caught 10 Russian spies living in the US.

Using the false name Tracey Lee Ann Foley, Vavilova worked as a real estate agent in Massachusetts while reporting intelligence gathered from business and political contacts back to Moscow. She was repatriated to Russia in a spy swap in exchange of four men accused of spying on Russia for the United States and the United Kingdom.

Back in Russia, Vavilova was decorated by leader Vladimir Putin. Within six months, Vavilova was appointed “adviser to director of international production assets” at Norilsk Nickel. Vavilova is described in Norilsk Nickel Australia documents as senior human resources manager. One of her roles was to make travel arrangements for more than a dozen Russian nationals who were sponsored for temporary visas in Australia by Norilsk.

It was under the temporary visa system that Stebletsov who was facing criminal charges in Botswana managed to enter Australia. Stebletsov’s Australian visa is part of an ongoing investigation into alleged visa rorts that resulted in Russians moving to Australia to work for the nickel miner.

The Australian West Weekend newspaper reported this week that, “though there is no direct evidence Norilsk used the 457 visa system to bring Russian intelligence agents to Australia, the newspaper has established that last year Ms Vavilova helped a Russian mine worker enter Australia after fleeing Botswana where he was facing minor charges. Botswana media later accused the man of being a Russian spy, which the company denied.”

The Sunday Standard has also established that Bogdan Kuzel, the then Acting Managing Director of Tati Nickel later transferred Stebletsov’s personal savings from FNBB to a Russian bank. Kuzel was interrogated by Botswana Police for his role in helping Stebletsov skip Botswana although no charges were laid against him. In January 2013, eight months after Stebletsov skipped the country; Kuzel left Botswana on transfer to the Head Office of Norilsk Nickel in Moscow where he was appointed Operations Department Director.

Tati Nickel Mining Company was acquired by the Russian nickel, copper and palladium giant Norilsk in 2007 from Lion Ore. Norilsk is the world’s largest nickel producers responsible for about 17 percent of total global production. While 85 percent of the Tati mines are owned by Norilsk, the other 15 percent is owned by the government of Botswana. The history of Norilsk Nickel is inextricably entwined with the Kremlin. It was originally established in 1933 as Norilsk Correctional Labour Camp by the NKVD, the Soviet Union’s political police and the precursor to the KGB. Norilsk remained a strategic city right through the Soviet era, and the umbilical link to Moscow remains although control of the company passed to Potanin’s Interros Group in the 1990s.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper