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by John Helmer, Moscow

Computer programmes used in universities to detect student plagiarism, along with semantic, style, and cognitive tests, reveal that Putin’s People, a book published by HarperCollins and bylined Catherine Belton, has another author or authors.

Comparison testing of the vocabulary of Belton’s book and of transcripts of podcasts when Belton has been interviewed by Russia experts show that her vocabulary shrinks by more than half – 56.2% — when she is asked to explain her story to the experts. The testing also reveals that when requested for evidence and examples from her book, she hesitates, filling the gap with three  phrases repeated many times over — “sort of”, “kind of”, “you know”.  

The machine testing also reveals that Belton fails to pronounce  the name of Mikhail Khodorkovsky,  the Russian oligarch Belton met, interviewed and reported more than any other during her fourteen years in Moscow, with a linguistic consistency which the transcription programme  recognised in more than 24% of her mentions. For three-quarters of the time Belton’s pronunciation of Khodorkovsky  is transcribed by the programme as “Otto Karski”, “Photo Kowski”, and several other variants.

Lawsuits are currently underway in London’s High Court; these charge Belton and her book publisher, Rupert Murdoch’s HarperCollins, with fabricating facts and libelling the Russian oligarchs Roman Abramovich and Igor Sechin, and the Rosneft oil company, which Sechin runs.

The court filings, and now the new evidence, have added to the controversy at the Pushkin House organisation in London. There Belton’s book has been a contender for the annual prize for best non-fiction book on Russia. The faking alleged in the current  lawsuits and admitted by HarperCollins in an out of court settlement with Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven of Alfa Bank,   has already upset some members of the book prize panel, triggering repeated postponements of the book prize short list and the final award decision.  Discovery of the role of Alexei Navalny in giving large sums of money to Pushkin House for promotion of his political campaigns has upset others connected to Pushkin House

According to Russians who heard Belton in a Pushkin House presentation of her book on October 11, “she was continually mispronouncing” the name of Sergei Pugachev, the name of the most frequently cited Russian source for the book’s allegations against President Vladimir Putin. Pugachev has been adjudicated in the British courts to be a serial liar and he is on the run from a British jail sentence. Belton identifies Pugachev 599 times in the 873-page book.

Asked this month at Pushkin House to say why she had relied on such “unreliable narrators”, Belton claimed she had “documentary material” not in the book. “I can’t go into detail of what some of that documentary material,” she claimed, “because we have pending litigation about that.”

Evidence of cribbing and ghosting is now likely to trigger fresh controversy on the prize panel, which has scheduled its announcement of the book winner at a London ceremony on October 28.  

Two series of computer tests have been run of chapter-length samples of Belton’s book, two of the podcasts in which she was interviewed about the book, and for control purposes, samples of Belton’s reporting for newspapers. The podcasts have been converted from YouTube sound to text by a Google transcription programme, and the interviewer voice and remarks removed.

In the first computer analysis, equivalent-length samples of book text and of the spoken podcast were measured and compared.   In 11,609 words of the book sample Belton uses 2,545 unique words. In 11,575 words of podcast she uses 1,861 different words. This means that when Belton is talking to Russia experts and asked for her evidence on the subjects of the book, instead of increasing her use of specialist language, her vocabulary shrinks by 36.8%.

In the counts of the most used or preferred words for the book and for the podcasts, according to the Burrows Zeta test, Belton reveals that the gap in her vocabulary grows even larger. The book  count of her most preferred words is 920; the podcast count is 589 words. Belton’s vocabulary has shrunk by 331 words, or 56.2%

Five words or terms appear in the computer counts as Belton’s standbys – the most common, overlapping,  or repeated terms she uses in both her book and podcast interviews. They are:  “soviet”; “KGB”; “Soviet Union”; “security services”; “Red army”. Six terms are recorded as frequent in the book but not transferred to nor appearing in the podcasts: “person close to”; “behind the scenes”; “the KGB men”; “a string of”; “close Putin ally”; “Putin’s men”.  This measuring tool shows that “Putin” is a term of Belton’s book. By contrast, when she is speaking impromptu about the book to experts, she avoids talking about the central allegations of the book against the Russian president.

Psycholinguistic analysis of the podcasts also reveals verbal fillers or cognitive tics. These are words or terms which Belton uses in the podcasts to fill the gaps of vocabulary and  conceptualizing as she is framing her answers to questions.  These words have no meaning as such to Belton’s audience. To psycholinguistic analysts, they indicate cognitive hesitation, imprecision, uncertainty. The most frequent of Belton’s tics are: “sort of”; “kind of”; “you know”; “I think”. Belton says “sort of” three times more often than her next most common expression.

A sound analysis was undertaken to test Belton’s familiarity with the Russian language.  According to disclosures by Belton and her friends, she studied Russian in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk,   and then to graduate standard at University College London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies. There is a gap of several years in Belton’s curriculum vitae between completing her university training in Russian in London and starting as a reporter in Moscow in 1999. Belton refuses to clarify where she worked and who employed her before 1999.   

Belton then spent almost fourteen years living in Moscow, reporting first for the Moscow Times and then for the Financial Times. Associates and colleagues remember she frequently complained of lack of money. They also claim she was a fluent Russian speaker. At the time Belton was paid by the Moscow Times, a Lausanne-registered company belonging to Khodorkovsky was a shareholder and financier of the publication. Computer analysis of Belton’s reporting for the Moscow Times shows Khodorkovsky was the single most frequently mentioned individual, followed by his corporate lawyer, Tim Osborne;  his press agents Alexander Shadrin and  Claire Davidson;   and two of his American executives, Steven Theede and Bruce Misamore. Counted altogether, Khodorkovsky and his spokesmen were reported by Belton six times more often than President Putin.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/ 
The Carnegie Endowment broadcast its interview on July 7, 2020; after fifteen months the audience totals 6,169.

Belton’s familiarity with the Russian language was tested by analyzing her pronunciation of the name Khodorkovsky in the podcast of her interview with the US Carnegie Endowment on July 7, 2020. Belton cannot pronounce Khodorkovsky’s name either consistently or correctly. In her podcast with Russia expert Andrew Weiss running for 66 minutes, Belton said the name Khodorkovsky 17 times – once every four minutes. No Russian name appeared as frequently, not even Putin.

In transcribing her articulation, the computer programme recorded Belton pronouncing the Russian consistently just 4 times out of 17 – 24%. The remaining pronunciations of the name were different from each other, and inconsistent with the correct Russian pronunciation. The transcribed forms include, for example: “Horicon skis”; “Haruko of squeeze”; “Photo Kowski”; “Otto Karski”; “Her Akatsuki”. This indicates that Belton cannot pronounce Khodorkovsky in standard Russian; her lack of consistency also reveals that Belton does not recognize this herself.

The computer analyses, according to sources familiar with Belton’s book and reporting, indicate that she is not as familiar with the stories of her book as would and should be the case if she was the originator of the research and author of the material.

Further analysis of Belton’s use of the terms  “behind the scenes”, “close Putin ally”,  and “person close to” indicate a constant narrative tool of the book employed to advance the script of “behind the scenes” and Putin’s “web” – terms Belton repeats 39 and 52 times, respectively.  When asked in her interviews to give details or examples of what she means by the terms,  however, she does not or cannot.  In place of the book’s associative terms she inserts fillers or placers – “sort of”, “kind of”, “you know”, “I think”.  In the book Belton doesn’t use the term “I think” at all; she quotes Pugachev as saying it three times.

Two professional sources familiar with Belton, one an international banker and another a journalist, describe her as a “stenographer”, copying down what she was told.  The computer analyses indicate that to produce the book for HarperCollins she edited scripts provided to her by others, repeating what they told her to report without her understanding the details or acknowledging the contradictory or conflicting evidence.

The audio analysis and her most recent performance at Pushkin House indicate that Belton does not hear Russian well enough to pronounce the names of the two Russians on whom she has depended most for her stories. Belton is their ghost writer.

For Belton’s dependence on and defence of Pugachev, read this archive.  

Financial Times collaborators in the promotion of Sergei Pugachev, left to right,  editor Lionel Barber and reporters Neil Buckley and Catherine Belton. For Belton’s answers to direct questions on her reporting of Pugachev (bottom left of picture) , read this.  

Requested at Pushkin House to explain how she justifies relying on Pugachev’s word after the British courts have examined the evidence and judged him to be a fraudster  and perjurer, Belton said on October 11 that she has “other documentary material…I can’t go into the detail of what some of that documentary material was because we have pending litigation about that. But believe me, there’s a lot of stuff”.

In the High Court lawsuit filed against Belton for the book allegations she reported against Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Avenue of the Alfa Bank group, Belton’s publisher HarperCollins and its lawyers agreed to settle out of court with the admission that there was “no significant evidence” for Belton’s allegations.  The publisher also faulted Belton’s method and apologised. “HarperCollins and the author recognise and regret that comment was not sought earlier from Mr Aven and Mr Fridman…”  The HarperCollins press release of July 28 has disappeared from the company website.  

Earlier this month Belton dismissed the wording of this court agreement. At Pushkin House she said: “we have been able to deal with that out of court without any costs or damages and some very small alterations to the text.”  HarperCollins declines to say how much it had paid out in investigations, research and legal expenses to respond to the Fridman-Aven case. The litigation continues on libel charges from Abramovich and Rosneft.

The High Court has already tested the veracity of Belton’s reporting on Khodorkovky’s Yukos oil company.  That was in the case of Yukos Finance and Yukos International versus Stephen Lynch, Stephen Jennings, Robert Reid, Richard Deitz and Robert Foresman;  the verdict was dismissal of the Yukos claims and of Belton’s reporting, with vindication of the defendants whom Belton had attacked.  The court also ordered the Khodorkovsky group to pay the legal costs of those they had accused; the appeals court then dismissed their application for appeal as groundless.

Above, left to right: the vindicated defendants Stephen Lynch; Robert Foresman; Richard Deitz. Below, the condemned Yukos claimants David Godfrey, Steven Theede; and  Bruce Misamore; for Misamore’s continuing war against Russia, click to read. 

After preliminaries lasting four years and two months of courtroom hearings, the 49-page judgement by Sir Michael Burton was issued on October 8, 2019. Belton was writing her book at the time. “All of the Defendants were impressive witnesses,” the judge ruled, “and gave a very good account of themselves in very difficult circumstances, and, despite vigorous cross-examination, did not accept or indicate any dishonesty.”

Belton’s book makes no mention of the court case or Burton’s verdict. Instead, she reports Misamore and Theede as “well-versed in Western management techniques, hardworking Americans who took the Moscow subway to the office.” They were victims, she wrote, “far out of their depth in the Byzantine labyrinths of Kremlin negotiations.”

Burton revealed in court that the materials Belton had reported in the Financial Times and Reuters in support of the Yukos allegations included emails stolen from the Renaissance Capital bank in Moscow by hackers working for Yukos. The evidence was worthless, according to the judge. The material had been “very sketchily explained”, he said, and Belton had jumped to false conclusions. “The fact that the RenCap cache [the stolen emails] included internal communications between the Defendants, and legally privileged documents: and I have not found in any of them any admission or confession of wrongdoing, as might otherwise have been expected.” For detailed analysis of the case, read this and this.  

Source: https://s3-eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/ 

A source contacted by Belton during the litigation says that “after the [case] started she contacted me to give me what she called an update. She told me she had run out of money; that she had spent all of the [book] advance and was borrowing from friends and family. Not long after, she sent me materials which I recognized were the RenCap emails which had been hacked and were being used by Misamore and Godfrey in their case… Then she wrote the story. After her story ran, it became clear she was taking one side. In my experience, she refuses to retract or apologize when she gets the facts wrong or misreports things.”

Richard Deitz, an American international financier based in London, said Belton had contacted him on the case also. “It was transparently obvious to me,” he comments, “that she was interested not in the truth, but only in putting those [Yukos] accusations into print. When the English courts found all of the accusations meritless, she did not have the journalistic integrity to report that story.”

In New York Robert Foresman refused to comment on the contacts Belton had with him.

A legal source revealed that after Belton’s report on the case appeared in Reuters she and her publisher were issued a lawyers’ letter warning that if she repeated the allegations in print, they would be sued for libel. Deitz’s and Foresman’s names do not appear in the book.   

Christopher Steele has been an acknowledged source of Belton’s book, he is the ex-MI6 agent and fabricator of the Russiagate dossier alleging Russian intervention in the 2016 US presidential election and Kremlin corruption of Donald Trump. “I’ll always be grateful to Chris [Steele] for his moral support,” Belton declared on her last page; she repeats Steele’s materials and allegations but doesn’t name him. After the book appeared in April 2020, Steele admitted his relationship with Belton to lawyers engaged in a High Court lawsuit against him. The evidence of Belton’s cribbing from Steele, word for word, has been documented here.

Right: Christopher Steele

The veracity of the Steele allegations was investigated by the US State Department, the Justice Department, and FBI officials at the time and subsequently. They no longer endorse them; Belton has not retracted her version of them.

The Pushkin House book prize panel which has been reviewing the Belton book is chaired by Fiona Hill, one of the supporters of Steele’s and Belton’s allegations against Putin.   The former British NATO Secretary-General, George Robertson, is another member of the panel.  A London source familiar with the matter says support of Belton’s book at Pushkin House “has been about political solidarity”; a London publishing industry source confirms the same. A third source believes that some of the panel  members have favoured an uncontroversial non-political choice for the prize, “but of course selecting anything other  than Belton’s book would invite accusations from her journalistic and other supporters that the Russian oligarchs had paid to prevent her winning.”

HarperCollins was asked to say whether, in the publishing contract it agreed for Belton’s book, Belton signed that she was the sole and original author of the book? The publisher refuses to answer.

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