When communism collapsed, Andrei Kozlenok “was tasked with selling Russia’s diamonds to the highest bidder”, says Giles Whittell in From Russia with Diamonds, a two-part Tortoise podcast. His company in San Francisco, Golden ADA, received large shipments of state-owned Russian diamonds, as well as emeralds, rubies and Tsarist gold coins, from treasury vaults beneath Moscow. His job was to flog them and return the proceeds to the Russian government.
But Kozlenok’s wild spending habits meant little made its way back to the motherland. He bought Picassos, mansions in California and Bermuda, a private jet and a military helicopter so vast that when it landed on the roof of the company’s office, the downdraft blew out the ground-floor doors. He also threw a Gatsby-style party attended by “all of San Francisco”, including Nancy Pelosi.