The prevalence of ‘fake news’, and the ways in which it is disseminated and used, has become one of the main media policy issues of the day. Under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2018, which took place in Warsaw (10-21 September), a debate on the “Cooperation between Government and Civil Society in the post-soviet countries” took place, which involved concerned publishers and journalists from Armenia, Italy, Lithuania, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.
During the discussion, serious concerns were raised about the growing phenomenon of the creation and subsequent use of fake news by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the pursuit of their clients’ agendas.
One of the case studies given was that of the highly controversial so-called ‘human rights’ NGO, the Brussels based Open Dialogue Foundation (ODF), originally founded in Warsaw in 2009, by Ivan Szerstiuk, who is now reportedly currently serving a sentence for ordering a murder in Ukraine. There are strong and long-standing rumours circulating in the EU institutions, and amongst the Brussels press corps, that ODF was founded at the behest of Kazakh fugitive Oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, who has been described in the British press as “the world’s richest fraudster”, and who has multiple convictions and outstanding arrest warrants, including one for suspicion of involvement in murder, in his name. There are proven connections between Ablyazov and senior figures within ODF.
The ODF recently attracted media attention across Europe when the foundation’s current president, Lyudmyla Kozlovska, a Ukrainian citizen who has enjoyed residency rights in Poland for 10 years on the basis of her marriage to a Polish citizen, Bartosz Kramek, who is also head of the ODF management board.
However, for whatever reason she herself has not been granted Polish citizenship. In August of this year she was turned back at Brussels airport arriving on a flight from Kyiv, on the grounds that she had been banned from entering the Schengen zone by the Polish government as she was allegedly a threat to the national security of Poland.
The ODF has been linked to allegedly seditious activities including a call to bring down the Polish government by Kramek.
A recent (April 2018) report by the Independent investigation body on the allegations of corruption within the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), presented strong evidence of manipulation, and indeed bribery, of parliamentarians by lobbyists and NGOs. An investigation by a Brussels-based journalist revealed that in 2016 ODF lobbied PACE on behalf of Vyacheslav Platon Kobalyev, a Moldovan citizen and reputedly one of the country’s richest men. He is currently serving an 18 year prison sentence having being found guilty of fraud and money laundering. A declaration by PACE (No. 617 | 11 October 2016) calling for Kobalyev’s release from jail describes him as having been subjected to “political persecution”.
In the name of “human rights”, ODF represents a number of extremely wealthy fugitives, mostly wanted for money laundering in their respective countries, presenting them all as persecuted “political oppositionists”.
This was indeed the defence that Kozlovska presented when turned back by the authorities at Zaventem airport in August after being told at border control ‘Poland is looking for you on a high alert. There is a ban to enter the Schengen countries.’ She has been reported as saying ‘I told the police officer that I recognise the case as one of political prosecution of my husband and Polish authorities want to punish him’.
There is no evidence that her husband has been arrested himself. Despite his allegedly seditious comments, it would therefore appear that it is her, not him, that the Polish authorities are most concerned about. It has been noted that whilst she herself is somewhat reticent when it comes to answering questions on the subject, although presenting herself as ‘pro-Ukrainian’ she also possesses a Russian passport, allegedly granted to her following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.
Following the OSCE conference, delegates unanimously signed a Written Declaration stating that, “foundations such as the Open Dialogue use the money of their sponsors and distort real information about the human rights situation and try to propagandise (their) biased point of view in countries with a developing civil society. In this regard, constructive cooperation between government and the non-governmental sector can be threatened.”
Delegates also called on the OSCE leadership to “pay attention to the activities of the Open Dialogue Foundation, which has an ambiguous reputation in the countries of the European Union.”