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THE HERITAGE OF RUSSIA'S LAST TSAR

BUSINESS MIR, Business mir #2015 - 0001-01 MAIL PRINT 
In October, the Russian Supreme Court rehabilitated Russia's last emperor, Nicholas II, and his family. This has raised the matter of property restitution which the Romanovs' heirs may demand from Russia.
On Wednesday, October 1, the Presidium of the Russian Supreme Court passed a ruling to rehabilitate Russia's last emperor, Nicholas II, and his family, shot dead in 1918 in Yekaterinburg.
The very fact of rehabilitation has raised the matter of property restitution which the Romanovs' heirs may demand from Russia as the legal successor of the Soviet Union. On July 13, 1918, Lenin signed a decree on the nationalisation of property of the deposed Russian emperor and members of the former imperial house. The decree applied to "any property, no matter what it consists of and where it is situated, not excluding deposits with lending institutions, both in Russia and abroad." The huge wealth that belonged to the Romanovs was confiscated. The cost of the real estate alone now exceeds $1 trillion. This can be seen from an attempt made in 1995 to win in court $600 billion and the Winter Palace in St Petersburg.
Immediately after they came to power, the Bolsheviks began actively looking for "tsarist treasures" and "tsarist deposits" in foreign banks. The above-mentioned decree envisaged all kinds of punishment for concealing information about such assets. Who can claim this wealth today? Representatives of the Romanov family have repeatedly said that if the royal family were declared victims of political repressions they would not ask for reimbursement envisaged by law. They affirmed their decision after the Supreme Court made its ruling.
The day after the ruling had been released, sad news came from France: Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov, a film director and the son of Princess Paley and Nicholas II's grandnephew, died.
I met Mikhail in Paris in June 1992, when France hosted a meeting of the Heritage Association. Debates were already heated at that time. All the more so as immediately after the Soviet Union had broken up, "legal heirs to the throne" surfaced in Moscow - the widow and daughter of the late Vladimir Kirillovich Romanov, the son of Grand Prince Kirill. He was one of the few Romanovs who managed to escape from Russia after the revolution.
After Nicholas II and his family were executed in Yekaterinburg, Kirill pronounced himself heir to the Russian throne and became a leader of Russian emigrants. Strictly speaking, none of the Romanovs who are still alive can claim the Russian throne - and, consequently, the Russian monarchs' heritage - because of their morganatic marriages.
Among those who were named as candidates to the Russian throne was a Windsor, Prince Michael of Kent. After the "royal remains" had been buried in St Petersburg, I asked Mikhail Fyodorovich - he had not attended the ceremony, unlike other Romanovs - to explain to me what was behind it. Here is what he said. "For over 70 years we thought that the imperial family's remains no longer existed. After the bodies were sprinkled with petrol and burned, they were further destroyed by sulphuric acid. I have a feeling that the English had something to do with it. I don't know why they would be interested. I was told in St Petersburg that the English had found some money that belonged to the Romanovs and they want to know for sure that the royal family is dead." Mikhail believes that the biggest interest may lie with the House of Windsor, notably, Michael of Kent. His full given name is Michael George Charles Franklin. He was born in 1942 on July 4, the day when the United States celebrates its Independence, and his godfather was US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His grandfather, British King George V, was Nicholas II's cousin. His father was Prince George of Kent. His mother, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, was daughter of Russian Grand Princess Yelena Vladimirovna, Nicholas II's cousin. Michael of Kent is believed to be 3/8 Romanov. At the time he was born, Princess Marina was an Orthodox Christian, which would increase his chances in the struggle for the Russian throne.
There were numerous reports about royal deposits and treasures. There was especially much talk about a deposit with the Bank of England, but there is no certainty about this, just as there is no certainty about any other deposits by the Romanovs with English banks. The investigation conducted in the 1930s by American lawyer Edward Fallows on request of Gleb Botkin (son of Nicholas II's doctor, who had been executed together with the emperor) did not yield any results. Fallows could not confirm Botkin's claim that Nicholas II had deposited 5 million gold roubles in each of his daughters' accounts with the Bank of England prior to World War I. These accounts were not found, and the investigation ceased after Fallows' death in 1940. In 1955, Ms Lily Den, who was believed to be a close friend of Empress Alexander Fyodorovna, testified under oath that after the royal family had been arrested in Tsarskoye Selo the empress told her that the emperor had deposited "a fortune" with the Bank of England.
In 1960, Sir Edward Peacock, who had been the director of the Bank of England from 1920-1946, said he was absolutely certain that there was no money from the Russian royal family deposited with the Bank of England or with any other English bank. At least it was not there after World War I and throughout the period when he was the bank's director, he insisted.
The private, London-based bank Baring Brothers kept ?4 million on the tsarist government's accounts, which were frozen by the British government on November 7, 1917, after the revolution in Russia. By 1986, the sum, with interest, had grown to ?62 million. The fate of this money was decided after talks between Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher. It was used to pay English holders of stocks in Russian companies bought before the revolution. The remaining sum was used to repay the Soviet Union's debt.
John Orbell, who was in charge of Baring Brothers' archives, insisted that neither the emperor nor his family members had had personal accounts with the bank. If the legend were true and the emperor did deposit 20 million to his four daughters' accounts, the sum would now exceed 300 million.
The only place where royal accounts did remain was the Bank of Berlin. It held several million Deutsche marks, but after Germany lost the war, the mark's rate dropped so low that millions could buy only a couple of cigarette packs.
Officially, no foreign bank today holds money that belonged to the Romanovs or their children.
Soon after the "royal burial" in 1998 in St Petersburg, I met Prince Mikhail in Paris and asked him a few questions. My first one was whether it was possible to restore monarchy in Russia.
"I wouldn't approve of it," he said. "It does not matter who has more rights to the Russian throne. I do not think Russia is ready for such a turn. History cannot be rushed or reversed." And he added with a sad smile, "Apparently, Russians do not want us to return yet."
BUSINESS MIR, Business mir #2015 - 0001-01  MAIL PRINT 
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Ежедневные новости и аналитика из Швейцарии и Европы, политика, экономика, интервью

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