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Murder convictions.

I have read 'Murder on the Metro' (January 2010) with interest and believe it to be a valuable addition to our knowledge of the Cagoulard underground who often acted on the orders of Mussolini's Organizzazione per la Vigilanza e la Repressione dell' Antifascismo (OVRA) as in the case of the Rosselli brothers. However, I cannot share the authors' conviction that the murder of the Russian banker Dmitry Navashin (whom they call 'economist Dimitri Navachine') was the work of the Cagoule. As a matter of fact, the movement had no reason to kill him. But Stalin's NKVD (the predecessor of the KGB) certainly had.

To this day the case remains in the archives of the French Surete marked unsolved. Despite the intensive investigation, the killer was not found and the reasons that led to the crime could not be determined and so the French criminal investigation service, the Surete Generale, decided to close it. Onlyin 2004, KGB related historians published the name of the assassin: Panteleimon Takhchiyanov, officer of the NKVD special reserve. Different sources give different reasons for this murder but, suffice to say, for many years Navashin had served as the vice-director and then director of the Banque Commerciale pour l'Europe du Nord (BCEN), a Soviet banking institution operating in Paris under French law. Back in March 1930 Grigory Besedovsky, a Soviet detector, named Navashin as a secret agent of the OGPU who regularly wrote reports to the NKVD station in Paris. But of much greater interest is the fact that BCEN was the very financial institution selected by both Soviet and Spanish authorities to carry out financial transactions on behalf of the Spanish Republic in connection with the sales of Spanish gold in exchange for foreign currency. The currency equivalent of gold sold to the Gosbank for purposes other than repayment of Republican debts was transferred to the Soviet bank in Paris (BCEN) where the Republican government had opened a network of accounts. This ensured that the insurgents as well as western financial circles would remain in the dark about many of the devices used for spending foreign currency funds. Navashin, who had excellent contacts both in the banking circles of Paris and in the NKVT (People's Commissariat for Foreign Trade) in Moscow, could easily learn about those secret transactions. That would only be part of the problem. Whether he collaborated with the Soviet intelligence or not, the NKVD suspected Navashin of being in contact with the British. That is, a double agent. If so, the whole operation would be compromised.

Two previously unknown details add more mystery to this tragic case. On September 5th, 1936, Jose Diaz, the general secretary of the PCE (Spanish Communist part},) reported to Moscow that, thanks to the assistance of Diego Martinez Barrio, probably the most moderate of the left Republican leaders actively involved with Masonic elements, a contact was established with a French freemason in order to purchase airplanes. The latter demanded a direct contract with La Pasionaria (Dolores Ibarruri) or another responsible comrade.

It is known that Navashin was a prominent freemason. In Russia, he was a member of the lodge Astrea and in 1924 joined the lodge Grand Orient of France recommended by Anatole de Monzie, French minister of transportation. In the lodge, Navashin's contacts included bankers, members of the cabinet and senators. It is clear that, as soon as the Spanish Communists contacted French freemasons, the information would reach Navashin. That in itself made him a source of trouble in addition to the fact that, as a former director of the BCEN, he could have access to information that might permit him to reveal this Soviet institution's operations to both British and French authorities.

On January 17th, 1937, the attache of the Soviet Embassy in Spain, Alexander Orlov (in reality the chief of the NKVD station Lev Nikolsky) applied to the French Embassy in Valencia for a short-term visa to visit France. A two-week visa was issued and he left Spain for France on January 23rd, travelling by train via the border-crossing tunnel Port-Bou-Cerbere. In a few hours, he was in Paris. Navashin was murdered on January 25th (not on January 26th as the authors of 'Murder on the Metro' claim), after which date Orlov quietly returned to his duties in Spain. Such coincidences happen very rarely, especially when secret services are concerned. The NKVD officer Orlov was not the assassin in this case but almost certainly acted as an observer. His Soviet diplomatic passport and the fact that he was a diplomat from a neighbouring country could definitely be of use ira cover happened to be necessary.

Boris Volodarsky

London School of Economics, London WC2.
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Title Annotation:Letters
Author:Volodarsky, Boris
Publication:History Today
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Mar 1, 2010
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