Russian Adventures: Money, Sex, Violence and the Law.
© Jeff Schubert 2023
Note: Some names have been changed to protect innocent people.
This is a true account of lies, manipulation, theft and multiple instances of violence experienced by Jeff Schubert and people close to him as result of his activities in Russia.
In 2010 Michael Patton claimed to be a rich black American living in Moscow doing “Christian” work, while Avigail Stern claimed to be a loving mother in an Orthodox Jewish family living in London after moving from St. Petersburg. Both Michael and Avigail were liars and extremely manipulative people. While Michael’s personality projected calmness, Avigail left a trail of violence in three countries involving Jeff and people close to him beginning in 1996. Veronica Akhmetzhanova was a charming young lying and manipulative thief living in Siberia as of 2022.
Apart from his experiences with these people, between 1996 and 2022 Jeff was beaten unconscious in Vladivostok, attacked by thieves in the Moscow metro wanting his money – but did not get the $US50,000 in his coat pockets – and attacked by a crazy women who stole his passport after trying to gouge out his eyes with her long fingernails.
PART ONE: MARCH 2010
Chapter 1: Jeff and Michael Patton (the Blackman) – Millions of $ (Moscow, 2010)
Chapter 2: Avigail, the Jewish Mother and Wife (London, 2010)
PART TWO: WHO ARE THE REAL JEFF, MICHAEL and AVIGAIL?
Chapter 1: Jeff
Chapter 2: Michael
Chapter : Avigail
PART THREE: LIES, MANIPULTION AND VIOLENCE
Chapter 1: Jeff, Lavelle and Finger-nails. (Moscow, 1995-2013)
Chapter 2: Michael the Blackman – with no money? (Moscow, 2010)
Chapter 3: Avigail and Jeff – Family Court. (Sydney, 2002 to 2005)
PART FOUR: SOME CONCLUSIONS
Chapter 1: Jeff (Shanghai, Moscow, Irkutsk, 2013-22)
Chapter 2: Jeff and Veronica (Irkutsk, 2022)
Chapter 3: Endgame!
PART ONE: MARCH 2010
Chapter 1: Michael the Blackman – Millions of $ (Moscow. 2010)
It was the middle of March 2010 when Jeff Schubert climbed out of the white Humvee to come almost face-to-face with a German-Shepard dog held on a lead by a uniformed guard. But neither made any attempt to stop him as he walked towards the steps leading up to the huge white house.
Jeff had never been there before and no-one told him where to go. It was just there was no obvious alternative because he was now inside a compound surrounded by a high wall and the manned gatehouse that the Humvee had just driven through.
Sitting in the rear seat of the Humvee, Jeff had tried to keep track of exactly where it was going after it collected him from his apartment in the center of Moscow. He thought he was now in a housing compound on Lower Usovo Road in the very upmarket Moscow suburban area of Rublyovka about 15 kilometres to the West of the Kremlin. He had briefly seen the number 18 on the gate after earlier seeing a 3. So, maybe it was number 18, 3 Lower Usovo Road?
There may have been a bell to ring but Jeff did not immediately see it, so he knocked on the door which was opened by a slim black man of medium height aged about 50. Jeff’s immediate reaction was that he was some sort of servant that an ultra-rich “new Russian” had employed to impress his contemporaries with his wealth and sophistication.
The black man said “hello”, invited Jeff in, and led him through a door into a study on the right side of the large hallway. It was only when the man went to sit behind a busy looking desk and started talking that Jeff realized that this black man was the “Michael” who had called him several times over the previous week or so and had talked about banking.
Michael now told Jeff that he wanted to create a new bank in Moscow in partnership with Raiffeisen, an Austrian banking group which already had offices in Russia, and that he wanted Jeff’s help in training staff.
Michael said that “Geraschenko has already been here” to discuss the issue. Jeff understood that Michael was talking about Victor Geraschenko, a Soviet-era banker who had later been head of the Russian Central Bank.
Jeff had put an advertisement in the English language Moscow Times newspaper saying that he was a former Australian banker who now taught business English in Russia. What Michael was proposing was immediately interesting to Jeff; particularly the prospect of again becoming wealthy! At the same time Jeff thought the situation odd, so he asked Michael what his background was.
Michael said that he had come to Russia years ago to “sell cement”, had made a lot of money, and now wanted to help poor Russians by supplying cheap prefabricated housing because it was the “Christian thing to do”. Jeff looked around the study as they spoke and apart from one desk, a cabinet, and a couple of chairs, there were only three large paintings on the walls. Each was of Jesus Christ with his disciples. They did not seem to be particularly good representations and, given the house that they were now hanging in, looked rather cheap.
Michael had not sounded particularly educated during the telephone conversations before the meeting, and this impression had not changed – although he found Michael to be quite charming in an unaffected way. Trying to get a better understanding of the situation, Jeff asked Michael what he did before coming to Russia, and Michael said that he had been in the US Army as a “communications specialist”.
Just then the door from the hallway to the study which was just behind where Jeff was sitting opened. He turned to see an attractive dark haired white skinned women – most likely in her 30s – walked in and then seeing Jeff she quickly retreated and closed the door. Michael continued the conversation as if nothing had happened.
Trying to understand Michael’s bank investment intentions, Jeff asked: “Where do you keep your money now?”
Michael: “In houses.”
Jeff interpreted this answer as buying real-estate, but as the conversation continued, he realized that Michael was saying that he kept large amounts of cash in houses. If true, thought Jeff, this would account for the guards he encountered when arrived.
Michael: “I need my own bank”.
Jeff digested this strange situation for a moment and was about to ask Michael why he needed his own bank when a black women came into the study through a door near Michael’s desk with a small tray of food. After she left, Michael told Jeff that he worked “24-7” (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) and that “they are always trying to fatten me”.
Michael did not touch the food and pushed the tray away. This was not easy because the desk was crowded with several laptops and piles of papers. Michael picked-up a closed laptop and repositioned it, saying:
“I have got a new computer and don’t know what to do with this old one”.
Jeff had recently purchased a new computer and faced the same issue, which gave him a slight feeling of empathy with Michael. In fact, Jeff quite liked Mathew who communicated in a matter-of-fact way with a relatively flat voice.
Further conversation in which Michael talked about his “big US corporation” did not help Jeff’s understanding of the situation.
Michael then said that his driver would take Jeff back to his apartment on Studencheskaya Street in Moscow which was not far for the Kievskaya metro station.
Michael led Jeff out of the study into a directly connected kitchen and then through another room back into the hallway and the front door. It was about 8 in the evening and sitting around the kitchen table were a number of black-skinned female adults watching equally black-skinned children frolicking in a large indoor swimming pool situated on the other side of a full-sized glass wall.
Michael offered no explanation for this scene. Of course, there was no reason why Michael was obliged to do so but the strange combination of the very expensive house and cheap paintings, unexpected variety of people – including the patrolling guards – and Michael’s unusual financial claims had Jeff totally intrigued. And then there was the woman who had briefly entered Michael’s study.
As he entered his two-room apartment Jeff felt some elation at the prospect a change in his fortunes. The previous decade had delivered a number of significant financial and personal blows to Jeff and he found his present situation as a lowly business English teacher embarrassing.
Michael had previously given Jeff his business card. It said:
“Michael Patton, Group Executive Director,
Sovereign (AGES) Bancorporation,
American Modular HITEC,
US Global Projects Ltd,
American Billex Credits Ltd,
140 Blundell Road, Luton, Beds, LU3 1 SP, UK
Tel: +7499 347 7695, +7926 515 7865
Email: email@example.com and. firstname.lastname@example.org
When Jeff tried to find more information on the internet, it turned out that the only information was some registered address in the UK of the type that was probably little more than a post-office box. There was nothing to suggest that Michael was head of a “big” US corporation.
When Jeff progressively searched the company names on the business-card he found that Sovereign (AGES) Bancorporation had only been incorporated in the United Kingdom on 5 March — only weeks before, with Michael one of two directors under the name of “Michristly Gmichael-McPatton”, with a birth date of April 1964. His nationality was described as “American”, while country of residence was Russia, and address for correspondence was “H.2, Bld. 1/6, Arhangelskiy Lane Moscow, Ru, 101000.
“Michristly”! This was strange, but the “christ” part fitted in with Michael’s words about being a Christian and paintings on the wall in his study.
The other director listed was a Victoria Derbina, described as a Russian national born in June 1979 whose occupation was “investor”. Victoria’s address for correspondence was listed as Bolshoi Predtechensky St. 23-48, Moscow, Ru, 123022
Neither of these physical addresses were anywhere near the house that Michael was in. The other company names on Michael’s business-card gave much the same information about both Michael and Victoria.
In addition, there were a number of Russian, British and American nationals listed as directors at various times, but Jeff could find no additional information about them.
Jeff was now impatient for Michael’s next call which only came a week later. This time a late model white luxury Mercedes Benz took Jeff to the same address as before. As on the first occasion, the guard in the gate-house raised the barrier when the car approached, suggesting to Jeff that both the Humvee and the Mercedes were well-known.
Jeff thought it odd that Michael used a different telephone number every time he called. Jeff later started writing the number of each new call on the back of Michael’s business card but gave up after writing down three: +7 909 959 5323; +7 964 708 4418; +7 965 145 1173
Jeff decided to ask him about this and had other questions arising from his internet searches, but Michael’s unusual request made him completely forget.
Michael wanted Jeff to “urgently” fly to New York and withdrawer “a heavy amount” of money from a US bank, buy a large house “just like the one we are in now” and live there with large amounts of cash in the cellar.
A stunned Jeff briefly imagined himself walking out of a New York bank with millions of dollars in cash, and wondered how far he would get before some criminal bashed him and took it. It would not have been the first time that Jeff would have been physically attacked while carrying a large amount of cash but he had never before walked on a street with the amounts that Michael was now suggesting. Jeff would need his own guards!
Jeff suspected something illegal, particularly given money laundering laws. Michael clearly did not like banks — or at least if the banks were not his!
Jeff wondered if Michael really understood what a normal bank was. Sure, it was possible for a bank to take cash deposits and leave it in vaults or the cellar. But generally the cash is lent to other people who pay interest at a higher rate than deposits so that the bank can cover wage and other costs and make a profit for share-holders.
But Michael and Jeff were in Russia! “Banking” in Russia was often little more than money laundering and fraudulent activities. And, on that point, why would a reputable international bank like Raiffeisen want to want to form a bank with Michael?
But Jeff had two problems. He was able to truthfully tell Michael that as an Australian he needed a visa to enter the US, to which Michael simply and calmly replied: “I forgot about that.”
Jeff’s other problem was that he had been physically attacked and deprived of his passport and visa – he was now in Russia illegally!
Chapter 2: Avigail, the Jewish Mother and Wife (London. 2010)
Jeff did not know it, but at about the same time as he was attacked in Moscow and having meetings with Michael, a women named Avigail Stern living in an exclusive area in London was beating her daughter “Jessica” aged 14 – as she had done many times!
Now in her mid-thirties, Avigail had been a champion athlete in Russia – a sprinter – as a teenager, and now used her innate physical strength and aggressive disposition against her mild-mannered daughter. She punched Jessica in the face and when her daughter fell to the floor and screamed – Avigail kicked her!
The woman’s husband, Neville Eisenberg, did not intervene other than to say: “Fuck the shut up, the neighbors might hear.”
Neville was a very successful corporate lawyer born and initially educated in South Africa and Israel, but later in the UK. His generally pleasant personality and search for compromise in situations of disagreement and conflict, combined with high intelligence and workaholic approach had allowed him lead the transformation of a UK focused law firm to one with a significant international presence with the ultimate name of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP.
Although not particularly religious Neville understood the networking power of the synagogue and the Jewish community, and this is where he met Avigail – or more precisely it is where Avigail met him! Avigail had heard about Neville and targeted him at the synagogue.
It was impossible to know the extent of Avigail’s religious beliefs or why she had adopted Orthodox Judaism after a very non-religious secular upbringing in Russia. All who knew her, including her parents, recognized that she had a very narcistic personality and desperately wanted to be admired and considered special.
In truth Avigail was intellectually very talented in addition to her physical beauty and athletic abilities, but her high-handed and often nasty treatment of other people at school and university when she lived with her parents in Vladivostok had not led to popularity. Indeed, her violence had ended up costing her parents a lot of money in compensation and bribes.
Now that she was officially an Orthodox Jew, Avigail did not dress modestly as might have been expected. That would have been going too far, particularly as she sought the attention of many men. At the same time, she had a desperate need to have her conversion to Orthodox Judaism confirmed by marring a “real Jew” – and particularly one with money and status!
Neville, who had never been married and was a little naïve about women, was now approaching 50 and had decided that he wanted children and was quick to propose marriage to Avigail who was about 15 years younger.
He had been surprised when she eventually told him about her background in Russia with the birthname of Elena, and her daughter who lived with Avigail’s parents who had now moved to St. Petersburg from Vladivostok. But by then Neville was hooked!
After their marriage Avigail had wanted to immediately go to Russia and collect her daughter but Neville, who highly valued education, suggested that 13 year-old Jessica be allowed to finish her school year in St. Petersburg and that Avigail rent an apartment there for a few months to allow this to happen.
The first beatings of Jessica had occurred in this apartment but Neville only saw it for the first time in London. He had been shocked and protested, but Avigail had sharply retorted:
“She is my daughter, not yours!”
Thereafter, Neville’s main concern was to try to ignore Avigail’s violence – although he sometimes said sympathetic words to Jessica and touched her in ways that made her nervous. Once he even followed her to a bathroom and stood outside breathing heavily as she showed.
Jessica was beaten so often that she refused to participate in school sport because she did not want to change clothes and let other children see the bruises. But Avigail was still not happy. She needed even more control over Jessica!
On two occasions Avigail rang parents of Jessica’s school friends after looking at messages on her daughter’s mobile phone. One time to tell them that their daughter was expressing lesbian feelings in text messages to Jessica, one time to say that her “Jessica” was Jewish and would not associate with Muslims.
Jessica was eventually confined to home when she was not at school and deprived of a mobile phone. Her bedroom was on the third floor of the house and had what is often called a dormer window opening onto the roof. To escape the confinement, Jessica began climbing through the window onto the roof and using an external water-pipe to help her scramble to the ground.
On one of these occasions she began talking to and drinking with a group of young people in a park, and they became her friends. One of these friends bought Jessica a cheap mobile phone so that she could arrange times to meet them.
Apart from these friends, Jessica felt very alone in the world. Avigail, with her phone calls, had destroyed school friendships. The people Jessica had loved before being brought to London knew nothing of her situation and she had no means to contact them.
There was only fear in her life – fear of beatings by Avigail and fear of her stepfather Neville Eisenberg with his obvious sexual desires and continual bragging of his friendship with powerful people such as the president of Israel.
PART TWO: WHO ARE THE REAL JEFF, MICHAEL AND AVIGAIL?
Chapter 1: Jeff
In November 1991 while working as a prominent economist in the Australian financial sector, Jeff Schubert went to Russia to see “end of communism” after becoming extremely bored with financial markets. He first went to Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland and met many senior government officials with the help of Australian Embassy staff in those countries.
The three East European countries had many of the attributes of a country such as Australia, but Russia was totally weird! There was nothing charming or attractive – but it was fascinating to someone with both economics and modern European history degrees.
Here were people who looked like Jeff living in a strange alternative universe with nearly everything falling apart around them. Public telephone boxes were falling over and the streets were dirty with trash. The shop windows contained stacked empty drink cans and some food, although there was an occasional very expensive clothing shop visited by a few Russians with much money.
Against all this, the spartan but clean foyer of the Intourist Hotel not far from Red Square seemed a small piece of sanity. On his second day in Moscow Jeff met an American aged about thirty siting there. After various adventures in Eastern Europe this man had entered Russia without a visa by hiding in part of a train for no particular reason other than an adventure – or, even simply to see if it could be done! For a while he was stuck in Russia not knowing what to do.
This American eventually found someone who got him a Russian visa and employed him to take cash out of Russia. He said that he was still tired from trying to cope with Russian, so Jeff thought that he was glad to have some English conversation. The American got some alcohol direct from the hotel kitchen with the help of a for a small bribe, and he and Jeff spent several days doing things together including going to a large market to buy some souvenirs.
Jeff could speak or read absolutely no Russian and was always grateful when he found someone on a street who could give him directions in English. In one case it was 15 years old Kostya Orlov. He, and eventually his family who lived in a large apartment just across the Moscow River from the Kremlin, was often to be of great assistance to Jeff in later years.
Jeff was able to make contact with John Helmer, an Australian journalist who had already spent a couple of years in Russia. Helmer invited Jeff to lunch with a journalist named Mikhail Leontiev, an enthusiast for very liberal economic reform. Jeff was effectively lectured by Leontiev on the workings of a “market economy” and would not listen when both Jeff and Helmer tried to tell him that the market economy did not always work in the romantic way that he believed.
Years later Leontiev was very disillusioned with Russian economic reforms and threw in his lot with Igor Sechin, a close associate of Putin, to become spokesperson for the state owned Rosneft oil company. Over subsequent years, Jeff was to meet quite a few people whose disillusionment with the experiences of the 1990’s led them to become, in the end, supporters of Putin.
Jeff met foreign advisers to the Russian government, such as British economist Richard Layard, who had basically arrived in Moscow with no personal knowledge or experience of Russia and prescribed “shock therapy”:
“There was less than 50% chance of this working, but it was worth a try”.
But it was not only in economics that foreigners pushed reckless ideas onto Russians.
Jeff was in Moscow in 1993 when Boris Yelstin attacked parliament. He was staying in an apartment close to the Kremlin and awoke to the sound of large guns being fired. The previous evening Jeff and the young Kostya Orlov had made their way down the Old Arbat Street which had been almost completely closed by barricades hastily installed by people opposed to the USSR and supportive of more “liberal” people such as Boris Yeltsin.
Jeff was shocked when he realized that Yeltsin supporters were shooting tank shells at the White House where the parliament sat. He was even more horrified when drinking beer in a popular bar that evening he heard many Western foreigners hail the attack. Jeff thought that this stupidity by Yeltsin was part of a series of events that eventually would lead to a Russian dictatorship.
After returning to Australia for a while Jeff found work with Pacific Gemini, a fund manager which was mainly working in the Russian Far East. One morning he arrived at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and – as agreed – declared $US50,000 of Pacific Gemini money to Customs because of concerns that it might be compensated if discovered undeclared. Jeff was asked by officials to count out the notes in the airport while being watched by many people standing behind a glass wall waiting to meet arriving passengers. Although a little nervous after this, he caught taxi to a Moscow hotel without trouble.
It was cold when Jeff left his hotel later in the day and he did not want to leave the money in his room where he feared it could easily be stolen by a hotel staff member. He put 10 packets of $US5000 in various parts of his clothes, mostly in his coat pockets.
When Jeff entered the heated metro transport system he unzipped the coat at the front with the result that it tended to flap as he walked. Suddenly Jeff was attacked by around a dozen gypsy-children, but they only aimed for his wallet in his right hip-pocket. He grabbed one of the girls (maybe around 10 years old) by the arm and yelled “thief” many times. A policeman eventually came and Jeff adamantly refused to let-go of the girl even when they were in the metro-station police post.
Jeff did not tell the police about the $US50,000 and kept his coat on and zipped-up even though the small metro police station was quite stuffy. About two hours later, the gypsy mothers came with Jeff’s wallet and all its contents intact and he let the girl go – and, he still had the $US50,000!
Jeff then spent some months based in Vladivostok working for Pacific Gemini which was managed by Andrew Fox and his Russian wife. Jeff impression was that Andrew, a very intelligent man who could be very charming, was playing fairly loose with the money which had been entrusted to him by Pacific Gemini investors. His wife was an accountant and a few years older than him and was probably the person with most influence on equity investment decisions. Andrew certainly was the marketer!
During this time Jeff formed a relationship with a young woman who was a law student at the Far Eastern University. Her name was Elena. During this time Jeff got to know her parents very well. They were very nice and intelligent people, but only her father spoke any English. Their apartment was small but comfortable.
Jeff and Pacific Gemini eventually parted ways over Andrew Fox’s determination to keep investment decision making power totally confined to himself and his wife. Jeff returned to Australia but obtained a commission from a very large Australian based international funds manager, Platinum Asset Management headed by Kerr Neilson, to return to the Far East to do some investment research.
One morning Jeff walked out of his apartment building in Vladivostok and was confronted by a young man who asked if he was “Jeff Schubert”. The next thing that Jeff remembered was regaining consciousness as a doctor inserted stiches in his face. Jeff had been hit on the head with some heavy object and kicked in the face.
Jeff was to subsequently hear that Andrew Fox was telling people that he had been savagely beaten because of his research activities in the Russian Far East. Only later Jeff heard a story that his former girl-friend Elena had arranged his beating – apparently on the basis of some rumour that he had recorded some of their sexual activities!
Jeff finished his reports and returned to Australia. He was then offered a short assignment by a group of Australian businessmen to help investigate the possibility of activating a dormant electric blast furnace in Komsomolsk-on-Amur in the Russian Far East.
Arriving in the drab city of quarter of a million people, Jeff and the steel-production analyst with him were taken to a villa largely built from concrete blocks that had been especially constructed for a one-night visit by Leonid Brezhnev who led the Soviet Union from 1964 until his death in 1982. It consisted of a very large general living area and a number of connecting bedrooms and was functional rather than luxurious.
Jeff and the other analyst were taken to a large field about 20 kilometres away where there were hundreds of aging tanks neatly line-up in rows. Jeff assumed that these tanks were to be a source of metal for the electric blast furnace.
Jeff’s co-analyst turned out to be the very secretive – and even devious – type. He wrote with his right-hand and his left-hand positioned in an attempt to stop other people seeing what he was writing – just like a school child! He did not share any of his “electric blast-furnace” technical knowledge with Jeff, and Jeff only found out later that the furnace had been stripped of its electrical components; and that in any case, the armored steel of tanks was not suitable for use in an electric blast furnace. What was needed was more ordinary steel scrap, such as that from old motorcars and whitegoods.
After leaving Komsomolsl-no-Amur Jeff passed through Vladivostok where he again met his former girlfriend Elena. She subsequently went to Australia on a tourism visa and they eventually got married in 1997 and had a daughter named Maxine.
Chapter 2: Michael
Jeff’s sometimes strange conversations with Michael Patton and his internet research after his March meetings had convinced him that Michael was a con-artist and not to be believed. But, wondered Jeff, how did this explain the expensive house where he met Michael? And how to explain the black women in the kitchen and children swimming in the pool at 8 in the evening – presumably they lived there!
On 28 March Jeff sent a short email to Michael on email@example.com – saying “just making contact” – to which Michael gave a short “OK” reply.
Jeff next heard from Michael in mid-April – again from a different telephone number — and Michael wanted to meet him near his apartment. Jeff waited near Kuklachyov’s Cat Theatre on Kutuzovski Avenue.
Michael arrived in a tan Mercedes station wagon that was probably around ten years old with a Russian woman – who was a decade or so older than the one he had seen enter Michael’s study during their first meeting. Michael explained that this tan Mercedes was his personal car as he did not want to draw attention to himself with a flashy car like the ones that had taken Jeff to his meetings with Michael. The women got back into the car and left with the driver. Michael later told Jeff that he had become “quite close” to this woman, leaving Jeff with the impression that other relationships had become frayed.
In his typical low-key way Michael requested that he and Jeff not stand on the sidewalk of busy Kutuzovsky Avenue but instead go behind some buildings because he did not want to be in a “public place”. Jeff momentarily had a vision of being shot at and readily agreed.
Jeff personally knew two Russians who had been murdered. One was the husband of a woman who was an executive in a start-up type economic consulting business that Jeff had establish contact with about the time of his $US50,000 experience in the Moscow metro. Her husband was a very personable and robust looking “businessman involved in construction” whom Jeff immediately liked. Sometime later his body was found in a forest tied to a tree. He had been tortured to death.
The other murdered Russian was Andey Kozlov, first deputy chairman of the Russian Central Bank, gunned down in 2006. Jeff had first meet him when he was a junior Russian Central Bank analyst trying to understand and analyse financial markets and Jeff offered his assistance. Andrey was frustrated that he did not have a computer. At a chance meeting with a more senior official sometime later Jeff raised this issue and was sharply told: “He will have a computer!” Jeff last met Andrey a year or so before he was killed.
Standing behind an apartment building, Michael said he had some “temporary” financial problems and wondered whether Jeff knew of a bank that could lend him money until he could “sort things out”.
Jeff was again surprised by Michael’s unreal view of banking. Jeff tried to explain that – in his new life in Russia – he did not know any bankers, and that even if he did there was no apparent reason for them to lend Michael money.
Jeff then told Michael about his failed internet attempts to find out more about his “big US corporation” and the companies listed on Michael’s business card. Rather than trying to offer some explanation, Michael took offence at being thought “untrustworthy”.
Jeff decided to push the issue. “What about Victoria Derbina? She is listed as a director of your main company in the UK. Is she the women who came into your study the time we first met?”
Michael: “Yes. She betrayed me.”
Michael then said he had to go and proceeded to make a phone call as he walked away. Jeff was tempted to follow him, but instead decided to follow up on an idea he had.
About nine months earlier at the end of summer Jeff had been sitting and drinking beer in an outdoor café not far from the covered Bagration pedestrian bridge across the Moscow River, which connects Kutuzovski Avenue to the main Moscow international business center with its numerous high-rise buildings.
Jeff eventually struck up a conversation with the only other customer – a blackman! He said his name was Adam and that he had come to Moscow from Chad decades ago to study at the People’s Friendship University where he was now a professor of chemistry. He had married a Russian woman and lived nearby. Just as they had finished exchanging contact details a Russian woman appeared walking towards the café and screaming at Adam, causing him to say goodbye to Jeff. She was clearly unhappy.
A few weeks later when Adam’s wife was visiting relatives, he and Jeff had another beer and Jeff was shown Adam’s nice apartment in a building on Kutuzovski Avenue. Jeff got the impression that Adam’s wife was bit of a tyrant, but the two remained quite devoted to each other as he explained that he was “waiting” for her to “return” from her relatives.
After the last meeting with Michael behind a building so as not to be seen in a public place, Jeff called Adam and explained the situation with Michael. He said that he quite liked Michael but really wanted to “solve the Michael mystery”. He suggested that Adam be introduced to Michael as a wealthy potential investor.
Given that Michael had called him from various telephone numbers, Jeff dialled the number from the most recent call.
Michael readily agreed and surprisingly arrived on foot at the agreed meeting place, a small park area not far from Adam’s apartment, a few days later. The meeting lasted about an hour and took a strange turn with Michael continually talking about the “need for air-conditioning” in Africa. As air-conditioning was nothing to do with any of his previous conversations with Michael, Jeff took this to be a pitch to Adam for money on an issue that might interest him.
Adam said that he would call a childhood friend who was now a senior official in Chad to discuss the issue. The meeting then ended up without a conclusion, with Michael saying he would later contact Adam.
“He is from Nigeria!”, Adam exclaimed as soon as Michael was out of earshot. Jeff was less sure. He had met several Nigerians during his years in Russia, mainly younger people who were working in informal jobs after overstaying student visas. Their English had some unusual characteristics which Michael did not have; although Jeff was the first to admit that he had little talent for languages – in fact, he thought he was rather bad!
After Michael later called, Adam told him about Jeff’s reason for organizing the meeting. Michael called Jeff one more time after this and wanted to borrow a very small amount of money to stay the night in a hotel – but Jeff declined. Michael then told Jeff that he was “dishonest” for claiming that Adam was a rich potential business partner.
Chapter 3: Avigail
At birth Avigail was actually named Elena by her parents, but after she and Jeff divorced in Sydney in 1999 she and her second husband converted to Orthodox Judaism – and she had adopted the more Jewish name Avigail!
In 2002 Australian Family Court Justice O’Ryan wrote in a judgement on custody:
“I am firmly of the view that the child – Maxine (in the time before she became Jessica) – should spend as much time as practicable in the care of the husband”. Adding that if it were not for the amount of time that Avigail had previously spent caring for Maxine, he “would have no hesitation in ordering that the child reside primarily with the husband”. O’Ryan also directed that Maxine be added to the so-called PASS system managed by the Federal Police to prevent her being taken out of Australia.
There was no evidence put forward that Jeff was violent, but considerable evidence that Elena-Avigail was very violent – hitting Jeff on a number of occasions and then calling the police and claiming he had hit her.
A second Family Court case in 2005 led to a different result. Given the results of the 2002 case, and the large number of people prepared to testify about his very good relationship with Maxine – and the fact that Elena was representing herself (that is, was not employing a lawyer) – Jeff decided to save a large amount of money and self-represent.
A “family report” was prepared in 2005 by Family Court employed “mediator” Paul Lodge, a slightly effeminate man aged about 50 with greying hair. He was apparently regarded as something of a guru within the Court because he had written a paper and given a speech at an international conference on the subject of “child alienation” from one parent. He thus had a predisposition to try to both protect and enhance his reputation by fitting as many cases as possible into this intellectual framework.
Under cross-examination, Lodge said:
“The intense and chronic conflict between the parents has began to erode whatever attachment there was between Jeff and Maxine, as is entirely predictable given her age and intensity of the conflict”. Lodge claimed that Maxine “would not suffer serious consequences if she were not permitted to see Jeff again”, saying that “observations of Maxine with Jeff suggested that the relationship was not affectionate”.
This was despite an affidavit prepared by a woman at Maxine’s Sydney Rose Bay Primary School after-school care who wrote:
“In the afternoons when Jeff comes to collect Maxine she always runs up to him to meet him when she sees him and she will not let him talk to staff members or even sign her out. She often says during the course of the afternoon when Jeff is picking her up, in an exited tone: ‘Daddy’s picking me up this afternoon; Daddy’s picking me up this afternoon.”
Lodge had clearly succumbed to the Elena-Avigail playbook of “a woman is distress”, crying and begging for help from the claimed threats and intimidation by her older former husband. During cross-examination, Lodge unwittingly identified the ability of Elena-Avigail to lie and manipulate:
“It emerged almost volcanically in terms of distress, when we were talking about the impact on her of this ongoing conflict that had gone on for years and years. She inferred that this was an attempt to destroy her, and that it was basically emotionally, at least, succeeded in that. But she had had enough. She really just felt that she could not take any more. That is probably the best way of summarising it.”
Justice O’Ryan in 2002 – and the then Family Report writer, psychiatrist Dr. Caroline Quadrio – had recognized that Elena-Avigail was violent, but Lodge had no interest in pursuing such possible facts. In his mind, the only thing that mattered was his own superior judgement base on limited conversations and his theories of “child alienation”.
Elena-Avigail submitted affidavits from people saying that they thought Jeff was dangerous and a threat to the welfare of Maxine. These turned out to be forgeries.
The new husband of Elena-Avigail, Oleg Spiridonov originally from the Ukraine, had served nearly four years in a NSW prison in the late mid-1990’s for financial fraud, and had previously been charged with similar offences in Canada and Queensland. It emerged in the Family Court hearing that he was still actively using three different names on various personal and business documentation!
Justice Steele eventually said that he had no choice but to indicate in his final judgement that Elena-Avigail “she knowingly put forward the affidavit said to be that of Mr. … which was not signed by him and an affidavit of Ms. … not sworn by her.”
This could have led to a charge of perjury and jail!
In his judgement in May 2005, Steele wrote that Elena-Avigail “was an unsatisfactory witness”: “She appeared to present as someone who was uncertain and lacking in confidence and knowledge but seemed acute to any nuances which would assist the version of events which she was putting forward”.
In his final judgement Steele said Elena-Avigail could take Maxine overseas subject to a “payment of a $20,000 bond into a joint account” of Elena-Avigail and Jeff. He said that if Elena-Avigail were permitted to take Maxine overseas, he would “not expect Jeff to make significant efforts either in terms of time or money to see her”.
Jeff asked Steele to make an order to ensure that the Federal Police continued to observe the O’Ryan 2002 PASS order preventing Maxine being taken from Australia while he lodged a legal appeal. Steele refused the request and said he would only grant this after the appeal was lodged. When Jeff objected that “they could leave Australia straight away”, Steele said: “Probably. You better hurry up and get your appeal in”.
“Child representative” lawyers Jane Saltoon and Suzanne Christie (later appointed a Family Court Judge) said nothing in response to this. Days later when Jeff lodged an appeal, Steele told Family Court registry staff to delay the issue. Steele’s Family Court legal assistant (officially an “Associate”) then informed the Federal Police that the PASS order preventing Maxine leaving Australia no longer applied.
Unknown to Jeff, Elena-Avigail, Oleg and Maxine left Australia a few days later.
Jane Saltoon later suggested to Jeff that Justice Steele had “intentionally” frustrated his efforts to lodge an appeal, and thus allowed Elena-Avigail to take Maxine-Jessica overseas — and thus avoid both paying a $20,000 bond and a perjury charge! Saltoon seems to have regretted her – in her own words – “went along with it” approach.
It was later suggested to Jeff that Steele thought Australia would be better-off without “criminal fake-Jews”! This had led Steele to lie and bolster his judgement with claims that Jeff would in future make no effort in time or money to see Maxine.
A few months after Maxine was taken from Australia, Avigail called Jeff twice to ask if he wanted to talk to her. Maxine was not taking the new situation well. Some years later, Maxine’s grandfather was eventually to tell Jeff that Maxine had nearly always lived with him and her grandmother in St. Petersburg and that when for two years he read to her every night before bed, she would say: “I want to go back to Australia!”
Thereafter Jeff was allowed to talk to Maxine a few times, and Avigail tentatively agreed that Jeff could come to see her – and she gave Jeff some details of where they lived and where she went to school.
In June 2006 Jeff went to St. Petersburg and soon found that Avigail had lied about where they lived and where Maxine went to school. With some hard work and a little luck Jeff eventually found where Maxine’s grandparents lived, that she lived with them and that – according to a neigbour – Avigail was there only “sometimes”. No one was home, but Jeff was given a telephone number by the neighbour and was able to meet some of the teachers at Maxine’s school.
It was only when he was back in Australia that someone answered that the grandparents telephone number – it was Maxine! Regular telephone contact was then established with the support of the grandparents.
Thereafter Jeff decided to return to Russia as soon as he was able and did so in 2007. Jeff found work as an English teacher in Moscow and then regularly travelled to St. Petersburg to see Maxine.
But such visits came to an end in 2010 when Maxine refused further contact with him – for reasons that Jeff did not fully understand until over ten years later – in 2021. The only further information that Jeff had in 2010 was from Maxine’s grandfather who came to see him in Moscow and told him that Maxine now lived with Avigail in St. Petersburg and had also pushed him and his wife out of her life. It distressed him – he had tears in his eyes –and his wife because they had been her primary career since she left Australia in 2005.
Only years later was Jeff to understand what had happened! Elena-Avigail’s marriage to Oleg Spiridonov eventually fell victim to the violence both parties displayed to each other and the inability of her husband to hold a steady job in Australia, in Israel – where they live for a time – and Russia..
After marrying Neville Eisenberg in London – her third marriage – Elena-Avigail reappeared in St. Peterburg in 2009 to claim her daughter who had for all of 13 years since her birth in Sydney been known as Maxine. Avigail immediately insisted that Maxine’s grandparents now call Maxine by a Jewish name — Jessica!
So, in this narrative she will now be referred to as Maxine-Jessica.
After temporarily renting an expensive apartment in St.Petersburg, Avigail was quick to begin beating Maxine-Jessica. When she fled to her grandparents after having water poured over her in bed and being threatened with a knife, Avigail took police to the grandparent’s apartment and demanded that Maxine-Jessica go with her. But she refused to go.
Maxine-Jessica’s grandfather then drove her to stay with friends in a nearby town to protect her from Avigail. This only enraged Avigail further who paid thugs to slash all the tires on the grandfather’s car.
When Maxine-Jessica eventually returned to school, Avigail paid two police officers (one a female) to go to the school, take Maxine-Jessica alone to a room and tell her that “something bad” would happen to her grandparents if she did not sign a document saying that she would live with Avigail.
Fearing the worst, Maxine-Jessica signed.
Maxine-Jessica was soon taken from Russia to London and prevented from having any contact with her grandparents.
Avigail could not understand why Maxine-Jessica was performing poorly at school. After all, Avigail reasoned, Maxine-Jessica was now lucky to be living in London with a real Jewish family – and a wealthy one at that – with a new father, Neville Eisenberg, and she should simply forget about her previous happy life.
“You have to move on”, she would say.
Maxine-Jessica lost weight because her depression caused her to lose interest in eating and she slept little. Unknown to her mother she began a diary which recorded her thoughts of suicide. She was taken to see a pediatrician. Realizing that there was some abuse happening, the pediatrician then referred her to Dr. Gary Townsend (of Nightengale Hospital in London) – a well-known psychiatrist who specialized in PTSD issues.
But Maxine-Jessica was afraid to talk about the physical abuse by her mother because Townsend was being paid out of the medical fund of Eisenberg’s law firm and she was afraid that anything she said would get back to Eisenberg and Avigail.
Townsend had once been in the air-force and suggested to Maxine-Jessica that she join the military to give “structure” to her life. She had Israeli citizenship and, with the help of Israeli government funding, moved to Israel to join the army for two years when she was 20. She “loved” the army because she was told “when to eat, when to sleep, when to go to the toilet” etc. It gave “structure” to her life and protected her from Avigail and Eisenberg.
Maxine-Jessica eventually left the army with a hip injury caused during training which left her using a walking stick for a time. Aside from what she learnt in the army she had no formal educational qualifications and few prospects. Life was not to get better!
PART THREE: LIES, MANIPULTION AND VIOLENCE
Chapter 1: Jeff, Lavelle and finger-nails. (Moscow, 1995-2013)
After working for a year or so with a company providing English lessons to Russian businesses in Moscow, Jeff went his own way and after a slow start found that he could not cope with the number of businesspeople wanting to pay for his English lessons. Jeff struggled to cope with teaching the intricacies of English grammar, but his students were more interested in his ability to engage in conversations on subjects ranging from management, to business taxation and finance, to Russian politics and corruption.
Overall, Jeff was impressed by the energy and intelligence of these people – both men and women – as they attempted to go about their business in a difficult environment.
Perhaps the most interesting was a man who was CEO of a group of companies mainly engaged in health care activities such as dental clinics and maternity products. He spoke good French and some English. He had got started by importing two large pieces of earth moving equipment from China. In order to ensure delivery – and not be stolen – he had sat in the driver’s seat of one of the machines while it was in the cargo-hold of a large plane as it flew to Russia.
When Jeff encouraged him to speak English by describing his daily activities this man said his first task was to meet with his “head of security” to check on the “security of the business” – and he literally meant “security from gangsters” and not such things as sales or production reports. This, after all, was Russia!
Jeff’s Moscow apartment on Studencheskaya Street, and not far from Kievskaya metro station, was on the ground floor of a typical four-story red brick block and separated from a pathway by a garden with a few very large trees the large trunks of which did not obscure the view of who was on the pathway. Almost every day between 16.00 and 17.00 a middle-aged portly man – who seemed to have an extensive, varied and expensive looking wardrobe – would walk past with 3 small dogs.
Jeff eventually spoke to him when they were both in a nearby small shop where he was buying beer, and they became quite friendly for a couple of months.
Peter Lavelle had come to Russia after doing a PhD in East European politics and living in Poland, where he said he had carried cash across borders for the famous Kaczyński twin brothers. He had a bad experience in Moscow, having been drugged and found under a car with his feed so frozen that “I nearly lost them”.
After witnessing some of the chaos of the 1990’s, Peter had become an ardent Putin supporter saying: “I think he is a great man”.
Peter was host of a television show on RT (Russia Today) and explained that he was well-dressed because RT staff chose and purchased his clothes.
Over the years Jeff had met a lot of people in Moscow, mainly in business but also a few in official positions. Most were stunned when Jeff them about Michael Patton but none could provide further information on him – although one had called several of Michael’s telephone numbers and decided that Michael could not speak Russian.
But Peter insisted that he could get some information because he “worked for the state”.
This comment surprised Jeff given Peter’s knowledge of the USSR, Eastern Europe and communism. Jeff eventually realized that, at heart, Peter was an authoritarian! It seemed that Peter had been seduced by his newfound fame, money and – the possibly of – power. And, like Mikhail Leontiev (at the meeting with John Helmer) the disastrous policies of the 1990’s – implemented with Western encouragement – had led to a conversion from liberal ideas to support for Putin.
In personal life – as on his television program – Peter was very intolerant of people with a different view of things. Jeff was no fan of Putin, but he had experienced some of the 1990s and understood some of Peter’s perspective. After a couple months of friendship, Peter took offense when Jeff disagreed with him on a comparatively minor issue on an on-line discussion group and thereafter flatly refused to communicate with him.
Jeff’s possible informant on Michael Patton was gone!
However, Jeff continued to sometimes look at Peter’s RT internet site. For a while he seemed to conduct part of his personal life on-line and proudly announced – with photos – his marriage to a younger attractive Russian woman, saying that it was a mutual “love of dogs” that brought them together. About 2 months later, however, he was publicly proclaiming that his new wife would continually “disagree” with him and said he wanted a divorce.
According to the wedding photos, Peter’s best man at his wedding was also one of his regular “guests” on his television show. Oddly, this Russian had at one time served in the US Navy in a lower-level technical capacity. But almost at the same time as Peter announced that he was getting divorced this regular guest no longer appeared.
One day walking on a Moscow street, Jeff found himself walking in the same direction as this man and introduced himself and saying he was once friends with Peter. When Jeff asked him why he was no longer on Peter’s television show, he got the following reply:
“She only married him for money and an American visa. I warned him about this but he would not listen. I was right and so now he will not talk to me.”
One evening in early March 2010 – a few days after his first meeting with Michael Patton – Jeff was browsing on a dating site when he came across a photo of a dark-haired woman proudly displaying extraordinarily long fingernails. Her other photos showed a very attractive woman with her profile saying she was 34. Jeff sent her a message and eventually they agreed to meet at Tsaritsyno Park, which is a very large and attractive place in the South of Moscow with many fountains and Tsarist-era buildings.
The woman, who was taller than average and of slim build, arrived with her very active son – aged about 8 – and an attractive blond female who was supposedly going to meet her boyfriend in the park. The blond actually seemed to have a nicer personality than the woman with long fingernails, and Jeff was initially happy that her boyfriend never showed up.
Jeff spent a couple of hours walking with them before they all went to a cafe inside the park. While they ordered food and drinks, the boy began making a clear nuisance of himself by running between tables and trying to take things off them.
Jeff went to the toilet which was situated in another small building close by. When he returned to the café there was a huge fight underway with – to his amazement – both women physically swinging chairs at other diners.
Jeff left the café when the two women did but got no answer when he asked what had happened. It was dark and pouring with rain and they managed to hail a taxi which took them to a nearby apartment. All four of them were totally soaked and Jeff stayed in the main living room while the others went into another room. Jeff took off his wet jacket and shirt and put his wet passport and wallet on a table in the living room to dry.
The boy suddenly came out of the other room and began randomly picking-up Jeff’s things. When Jeff tried to stop him, he began screaming. The boy’s mother came out of the other room and immediately attacked Jeff, trying to gouge his eyes with her long fingernails. Her female friend made some effort to stop the attack and said “sorry” to Jeff several times.
Jeff escaped from the apartment with his wallet, and banged on the door of another apartment yelling for help because the women had followed him and was still trying to gouge his eyes – and his passport was still in the apartment!
Jeff punched her hard in the face and she retreated to her apartment.
The police eventually arrived and took both Jeff and the woman to a police station. As Jeff explained what happened – including showing photos of woman on the dating site – he heard much noise and banging upstairs.
“Is it her?” Jeff asked. One of the police nodded.
The women denied having Jeff’s passport. Jeff was then taken to a doctor who applied some medication to the scratches on his face.
The next day Jeff returned to the police station but was told the women continued to deny she had Jeff’s passport and there was nothing the police could do about the situation.
After a couple of days when the scratches were less obvious, Jeff went back to the café in Tsaritsyno Park to ask what happened. He was told by a waitress that the son had been running around the café pulling things off tables and had been asked by one of the male customers to stop. When the boy persisted, the customer grabbed his hand. The boy had screamed and this led the woman with long finger nails to attack him with a chair.
The waitress described the women with the long-finger nails as an “animal” who had also attacked a security guard and ripped his shirt with her fingernails.
Jeff later received a message from the woman claiming that he had molested her son and demanding money as compensation. This would have worried Jeff if he had not been back to the café to find out what had happened, so now he just ignored the demand.
But there was still the problem of the passport! Jeff offered to pay some money to get it back.
Over the next few weeks Jeff received more emailed demands for money which made no mention of the passport. There were no direct threats but the tone of the emails led Jeff to ask a Russian friend for advice. The only concern that this friend had was that the women with long fingernails might be able to get Jeff’s address which he had provided to the police – after all, this was Russia!
Chapter 2: Michael the Blackman with no money? (Moscow 2010)
In those days – before the Russian invasion of Ukraine – McDonalds fast-food chain had a very large store situated across a narrow street from a pleasant Novopushkiinsky Park, which itself is separated from Pushkin Square by the very busy Tverskaya Street. The large statute of Alexander Pushkin on Pushkin Square is a popular meeting place with good access to three connected metro stations. It was also a place for occasional political protests and there was always a bus full of policeman parked nearby to prevent this.
If Michael Patton wanted to hide somewhere, this was not the place., although were hardly ever police in Novopushkiinsky Park across the street from Pushkin Square.
On a warm June day Jeff walked through the park toward McDonalds and saw Michael sitting alone on a bench. Jeff went up to speak to him and found Michael polite but non-talkative. Michael’s bag was half open next to him and Jeff could see several mobile telephones.
Several days later Jeff again saw Michael in the park – wearing exactly the same light colored clothes as previously, suggesting that he did not have any other. Jeff sat next to Michael with the intent to finally solve the mystery of who Michael was. Michael remained silent until Jeff pulled out a $US100 note. Gradually, Jeff got a story from Michael – even if it was only partially true!
Michael said that “Victoria” – the woman whom Jeff had seen enter his study at their first meeting – had stolen all his money with her Russian partners. He said that he had first hired her to do some “interior decorations” and that she later became his business partner. She had now taken over his house and hired new security guards.
Jeff: “What about your money in the New York bank”?
Michael did not reply. Jeff did not really believe the story about money in New York – but had sometimes wondered what would have happened if he had been able to go there as Michael had requested.
PART FOUR: Some Conclusions
Chapter 1: Jeff (Shanghai, Moscow and Irkutsk, 2013-22)
Jeff eventually applied to the Australian Embassy for a new passport and obtained a Russian teaching visa with the help of a small private Russian university where he taught English part-time. Despite the sometimes bad experiences of Jeff in Russia, the people in this small university were very nice. Indeed, Jeff found most Russians over the years to be nice people.
While in Moscow teaching English to businesspeople, Jeff had started an Internet blog on Russian economic and business affairs and had emailed links to various people whose email addresses he had found on various university internet sites and any other possible places. This blog was to eventually lead to more interesting times and opportunities.
But these opportunities were to come after Jeff returned to Moscow after spending nearly two years living in Shanghai.
When Putin returned to the presidency in 2012, and Jeff was no longer able to contact Maxine-Jessica, he began learning Mandarin and eventually moved to Shanghai where he did work as a university and business researcher – including writing a report on reform of the Chinese financial industry for the Australian Chamber of Commerce which was launched at a lunch in Shanghai by Scott Morrison who was then Treasurer of Australia and later it’s Prime Minister. Jeff had never seen Morrison before this but was struck by his bombastic approach and lack of nuance in his speech.
Although the financial return from Jeff’s almost two years of in Shanghai was very low and his Mandarin never really made it past very basic, there was an upside.
Jeff’s internet blog on the Russian economy and business had attracted the attention of some influential liberal orientated Russians. He was offered work at two of Russia’s top universities – a full-time job at the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) as Director of an Institute for Eurasian Research, and a part-time job at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) where he taught Russian foreign policy in the Department of Asian Studies.
Jeff’s China experience had turned out to be worth something because he was now teaching HSE Masters-degree students about Russia-China relations!
At the same time there were people at RANEPA and other places who were clearly nervous about some of the things that Jeff had written about Putin – and this included his use of the term “annexation” in relation to Crimea!
But it was not only some Russians who were unhappy. A short series of university meetings and lectures in China had to be abandoned after three – in Shanghai, Beijing and Shandong – because Jeff compared the security implications of Crimea to the South China Sea for Russian and China respectively. The Chinese students loved the lectures because it appealed to their nationalist feelings, but some Chinese officials expressed their displeasure to RANEPA representatives.
Jeff kept building his knowledge of Russia-China relations by attending conferences and meetings – and sometimes found himself to be the only person in the room who was not from Russia or China where the lack of closeness in the relationship between the two countries was often very obvious.
But things moved on and one day while he was in his RANEPA office Jeff received an invitation to speak about the development of Russian technology for international markets. The occasion was a 4-day boat cruise down the Volga River devoted to the work of the Russian Technology Initiative (NTI).
Towards the end of this “Foresight Fleet” river cruise – named after the forecasting methodology use – Jeff found himself drinking champagne with Andrey Bezrukov, the Russian “sleeper-agent” spy known as Donald Heathfield who was arrested in the USA in 2010 along with the more famous Anna Chapman.
Jeff and Bezukov had earlier disagreed in a working group discussion about the best way to develop Russian technology in business. At the time Jeff did not know his career, but over a few glasses of champagne Bezrukov opened up about his life as Heathfield in the US.
Bezukov did not strike Jeff as a particularly unusual either in intelligence or personality. He was just an ordinary man – and perhaps this was one of the reasons that Russia had selected him to be a “sleeper-agent” spy!
Not long after this, time an Australian delegation of self-proclaimed “greybeards” – to mean experienced and sagacious former officials – led by Paul Dibb arrived at the premises of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC). Attending the meeting at the invitation of the RIAC, Jeff could not get a handle on what they hoped to achieve as the delegation’s “former officials” seemed to have little understanding of then contemporary Russia even though one of them had served as a diplomat in Moscow and spoke Russian. They did not understand Russia as an evolving society and economy.
It was the same sort of ignorance that led foreigners – such as Richard Layard – to give bad policy advice to Russia in the early 1990s, and eventually contributed to the rise of Putin.
After Jeff had spent about two years in Moscow a Russian friend from RANEPA, who had subsequently worked in China, had taken a senior university position at the Irkutsk National Research Technical University, near Lake Baikal in the middle of Siberia. Despite its name this was by no means a prestigious university, but some Russian officials had decided that Russia needed to actively push the BRICS concept and established the Baikal School of BRICS on the university premises. Jeff has always thought that the whole BRICS idea was a testament to the power of a silly PR idea to gain popular traction, but was open to a new experience.
Jeff went to Irkutsk to investigate – and stayed! The people he worked with – mainly from Russia, India, China and Iran – were highly intelligent, interesting and likeable. In fact, it was the best work experience of his life!
There were also a flow of visits by Chinese academics and officials and some interesting discussions. One Chinese official who was introduced to Jeff as a “leader” of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), laughingly told Jeff that Chinese understood the concept of “Greater Eurasia” because they read the writings of Russian polemicist Sergei Karaganov. He also thanked Donald Trump for pushing Russia and China closer together.
Jeff at one stage had an international business class of 70 Chinese students whose English was generally poor because Chinese students with good English would have preferred to go to where English was the native language. However, the students could add and subtract, so Jeff whenever possible used accounting data to illustrate what he was trying to teach them. Apart from a couple of students who continually tried to cheat, he found these students very likable – and nationalistic!
Unfortunately, when COVID19 struck nearly all of these Chinese students were temporarily in China for the Lunar New Year – and never returned to Russia.
Jeff’s blog about Russian economic and business issues had also attracted international attention, and in June 2019 he was invited to Bavaria in Germany by the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies to talk about the Russian economy.
Various people who attended his talk in Germany were intrigued that Jeff was living in the “middle of Siberia”. “Why would you want to live there?”, they asked.
Indeed, Jeff was also surprised because Irkutsk had turned out to be much different than expected. Yes, it was very cold in winter – generally more than minus 20 degrees celsius and occasionally even minus 40 – but the sun always seemed to be shining during the short days. Summer days were long and often a balmy plus 20 degrees, and sometimes even approached plus 30.
All things considered Irkutsk turned out to be a very pleasant place to live with generally good infrastructure and modern shopping malls and good bars with music.
Mandated COVID19 health restrictions in Irkutsk were mild compared to Moscow and especially to the draconian situation Jeff read about in the Australian idiotic state of Victoria. University policy was that masks should be worn but Jeff refused and no action was taken against him. This may have partly been due to the university rector being required to take a COVID19 test before meeting a visiting Moscow official and recording positive while feeling totally fine while he continued his daily exercise routine.
The drying-up of work and the departure of some of his foreign friends led Jeff to seriously consider what he would do next in life. His thoughts turned back to Maxine-Jessica.
Over the next few weeks Jeff spent hours searching various social media sites looking for clues. One day he suddenly remembered the word “Wild”! He didn’t know why the word now became stuck in his mind – but he increasingly included it in his on-line searches.
When Jeff did find what he thought was certainly Maxine-Jessica on Instagram he hesitated to send a message. How would he cope if she did not reply? What if she blocked him? It was another two days before Jeff finally steeled himself to send a message.
To his great relief, Maxine-Jessica replied the next day. She said she was initially reluctant to reply to Jeff because Elena-Avigail had over many years painted him as a nasty and dangerous person who was best forgotten. Indeed, Maxine-Jessica had only vague memories of her past happy life in Australia, and even had largely forgotten most of the meetings with Jeff in Russia when she lived with her grandparents.
Maxine-Jessica was not in London, but in Israel!
Using on-line videos over the following months, Maxine-Jessica described to Jeff in considerable shocking detail the events of the previous 10 years of her life. Both cried many times!
Chapter 2: Jeff and Veronica (Irkutsk. 2022)
Once again on a dating site in Irkutsk, Jeff contacted a young attractive Russian woman. Veronica seemed very young and her WhatsApp messages and talk at their first meeting suggested that she was very intelligent but very poor. She said that she had a job as a waitress in a café in what was considered a down-trodden area in the northern part of Irkutsk, but it was not enough money to leave home and get away from her parents who were “always drunk”.
Few people would have regarded Jeff as a particularly “caring” sort of person and he was known for “calling a spade a spade”. But Jeff’s childhood had been very tough and he had later been through some difficult financial and emotional times in his life and could be quite sympathetic and generous to people whom he considered to really “be in need of help”. So, Veronica’s story had some effect on him.
At their second meeting, again in a “Papa Johns” pizza restaurant near Jeff’s apartment, Veronica brought her “sister” which Jeff thought a bit odd but passed it off as inconsequential. It was nearly summer and Jeff suggested that they go to some holiday place together, and that she send him a photo of her passport so he could make an on-line booking. Veronica then sent him a photo of her passport which indicated that she was 21.
In reality Jeff was already suspicious about Veronica and wanted official information about her. He had no intention of paying for a holiday for her.
But Jeff was also sloppy!
Veronica never arrived at a third planned meeting, saying that she had been in a taxi which had a crash because the driver was drunk. She claimed to be in hospital and even sent a photo of herself lying in a bed. Over the years Jeff had been hospitalized twice in Russia and to him the photo seemed odd, but again he decided that the issue was not important.
Just fifteen minutes prior to their next meeting some weeks later, Veronica texted that she had to cancel because her two “cousins” would arrive from another city. Jeff invited them all to his apartment.
Wary of being drugged – as had happened in Moscow in the mid-1990s – Jeff drank only beer from a narrow top bottle held in his hand while the women drank red wine from glasses. Jeff thought that Veronica’s “cousins” seemed almost too nice – with much almost crocodile-type smiling but little conversation – and he began to wish he had not invited them.
For some reason Veronica and one of her “cousins” went together to his apartment bathroom. Jeff thought little of it until they did it a second time and he realized that his unlocked mobile phone – which he had used to take some photos – was no longer on the table. He tried to open the bathroom door but it was locked.
When they came out of the bathroom, Jeff immediately grabbed his phone and could see that some kind of transaction had occurred with his Sberbank account.
All three women then fled the apartment, although the “cousin” who had not been in the bathroom hesitated for a moment and Jeff later regretted that he had not grabbed her by the arm and dragged her onto the lockable balcony.
Running to another apartment, Jeff begged the occupants to call the police. Two officers eventually arrived, with one holding a Kalashnikov. While he explained to two officers what had happened – a significant amount of money had been transferred from his Sberbank account – a third officer arrived unannounced and began rummaged through Jeff’s laptop. Jeff was then glad that there were no incriminating photos of any sort on it.
Soon a two-person forensic team arrived. Photos of both the apartment and Jeff were taken and he was both finger-printed and prints taken of both hand palms. Jeff eventually got to bed about four hours later, and the next morning went to a follow-up interview at a regional police station. There were a number of officers who came and went from the meeting at various times.
Some of the police seemed a little sceptical of Jeff’s story and he recounted what had happened to several different officers over the next couple of hours. It was around mid-day when one young detective sitting in front of a computer began smiling.
Thanks to a very efficient police communication network – and probably lack of separate legal jurisdictions – Veronica and her “cousins” had been arrested in a Moscow airport that morning after a 6-hour flight from Irkutsk. It turned out she was only 17 years old. Veronica had “photoshopped” the passport photo which she had earlier sent to Jeff to show that she was 21– the passport number had not been changed, only her birth date!
Veronica then spent a couple of days in custody in Moscow sending Jeff numerous WhatsApp messages offering some sort of compromise deal in which she paid the money over a period of time. Even though she quickly sent some of the money, she did not send even half of it so Jeff rejected a deal. Veronica was eventually returned to Irkutsk under police guard and was held in jail for several days while police investigated further.
Both Veronica and Jeff were taken back to Jeff’s apartment to re-enact part of the events while photos were taken. Jeff was surprised how cooperative she was but she also seemed a little shocked about the situation that she was now in.
After much work and several more meetings with Jeff, the police put together an impressive looking case brief around 2 centimeters thick. Jeff was asked to review it to check for mistakes and was very impressed with the professional approach. It was not the first time that he had been impressed by Russian police involved in low-level criminal matters.
A date was set for Veronica to appear in court several weeks later after she was released on bail. During the court hearing it emerged that Veronica had seen and memorized Jeff’s Sberbank access code in the App on his phone during the first time that they had met. What she then needed was access to his mobile phone when it was unlocked so that she could open the Sberbank App and make a transfer from Jeff’s account to hers.
This had clearly been a reason for bringing her “sister” to the second meeting and the “cousins” to Jeff’s apartment.
Strangely, Jeff admired Veronica’s audacity in transferring money from his Sberbank account to hers, even though such stupidity resulted in a “paper trail”.
At one stage Veronica told the police that the money had been transferred in return for sex in – of all places – the bathroom while the “cousins” waited in the main living room. There was a single bed set against a wall in this large living room which was occasionally used by one of Jeff’s friends – who had his own door key – when he wanted to escape his wife and meet one of his girlfriends, and Veronica and her “cousins” probably assumed that this was Jeff’s bed. In fact there was also another room with a large double bed where Jeff slept.
The very young Veronica probably hoped to disappear into the vast Moscow urban space with little understanding of its monetary costs and consequences.
The court date finally arrived and Jeff was present with an Russian interpreter from the university. The court room was a rather small room on an upper floor of a non-descript building although set out in much the same way as a typical Australian court. There was no barred cage as often appears to be the case on televised news reports of Russian court activities.
It was revealed that Veronica had a very extensive criminal history, with shoplifting and other stealing offences beginning at a very young age. In this case a very tearful Veronica admitted her guilt to the court, and her nose started bleeding – possibly from stress! Veronica’s mother – who had clearly been drinking – was present in the court and the female judge directed a lot of adverse commentary at her for being a poor example to her daughter.
Veronica promised to repay the money to Jeff and a separate future court hearing was planned that would consider Veronica’s intent and ability to repay the money. Jeff was so far pleased about how things were proceeding!
But it turned out that Jeff would need to prepare an official claim with legal assistance for this future hearing, which he eventually decided not to do given the cost and great doubts about whether any judgement in his favor could be enforced. Veronica might go to prison if she could not pay, but apart from revenge this was of little use to Jeff.
Moreover, Jeff was expecting to soon leave Russia!
Chapter 3: Endgame!!
Jeff made a plan to visit Maxine-Jessica in July 2022, but in May again injured his back while exercising in his regular gym and was little more than bed-ridden for over a month.
During this time Jeff received an invitation to go to New Delhi in October to speak on Russia-China relations at an internal conference organized by the Centre for Contemporary China Studies, Indian Ministry of External Affairs. He was specifically asked to talk about the war in Ukraine and the relationship between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. Jeff perceived the latter part of the request to be related to book he had written on dictators – “Dictatorial CEOs and their Lieutenants: Inside the Executive suites of Stalin, Hitler, Napoleon, Mao, Mussolini and Ataturk.
Since the “annexation” of Crimea in 2014, Jeff had noticed a slowly increasing unwillingness of Russians to directly criticize Putin or the Russian authorities. Even when he was teaching Russian foreign policy in the Asian Department of the Higher School of Economics (HSE) some students would openly say “we don’t trust our government”.
But the effect of the officially announced “special military operation” (SMO or SVO) and banning of the word “war” was immediate and pervasive. People whom Jeff knew well would use the term SVO in private conversations with him even when he clearly referred to “war”. To Jeff it sometimes seemed to be practice to prevent them accidently using the “war” word when around someone who might report them at work or overhear a conversation in a café – or even see something on social media!
This is not to say that there were not SvO supporters. Jeff knew and met quite a few, and they were sometimes young and highly educated. The ongoing violence in Eastern Ukraine since 2014 was regarded by many as a “terrorist” attack on “Russians” – and by extension Russia! For many of these people this was no different from a terror attack from Gaza on Israel.
Jeff thought – and even told Russians – that “Western” sanctions would have a very severe effect on the Russian economy. Some Russians hit back at him saying that Russians were historically used to hardship. Russians would stick together. There was little sense of panic or real concern.
Of course, Jeff was wrong about the short-term effect of sanctions, but Russia has got itself into a longer-term economic mess. This is now a story for another time.
After deciding that it was best not to return to Russia after his New Delhi speech Jeff went to Australia. In late November 2022 he then went to Israel – where Maxine-Jessica lived with her partner.