The affair about Yukos and its owners widened last Friday. It seems that the Russian prosecutor office is hunting down on each of the six billionaires whose fortune is connected to Russia?s biggest oil company.
The affair about Yukos and its owners widened last Friday. It seems that the Russian prosecutor office is hunting down on each of the six billionaires whose fortune is connected to Russia?s biggest oil company. In July, they arrested Platon Lebedev out of his hospital bed where he was recovering from a heart attack and accused him of defrauding the state of $280 million in a privatization deal in 1994. Since then Lebedev has spent 15 weeks in the Moscow-based Lefortovo prison. Some days later, prosecutors ordered the head of Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Vice-president Leonid Nevzlin to its office in order to answer questions connected to the issue. Additionally, they conducted armed raids on the homes and offices of Mikhail Brudno and Vladimir Dubov. Now they have turned their attention to Vasilly Shakhnovsky. Shakhnovsky has been working for Yukos since 1997, is the president of Yukos Moscow and a member of the Management Board. He owns 7 percent in Russia?s Menatep Group which controls 61 percent of Yukos.
Shakhnovsky handles government relations for Yukos and is not unknown in Moscow. He was a famous political strategist in the 1990s, including Mayor Yury Luzhkov?s chief of staff from 1991-1997 and a member of President Yeltsin?s election team in 1996 that was funded by oligarchs. He was even rumoured to become the head of the presidential administration in Yeltsin?s second term.
On Friday the prosecutor office charged Shakhnovsky with large-scale tax evasion for fraudulently making 29 million rubles in deductions in 1998 and 2000. If guilty, he faces up to five years in prison according to article 198 of the Russian Criminal Code. Additionally, he is accused of forging documents. Shakhnovsky was only released after assuring that he would not leave Moscow.
After the four-hour interrogation at the Prosecutor General?s Office on Friday, Shakhnovsky said that the accusations were not true and the whole affair baffling. His tax declaration are regularly checked and approved beforehand. It is hard to see hat there was anything illegal.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky was fast to comment the incident. For him, it was another unprecedented legal assault on his business empire which would only show how lawless Russia still is. Shakhnovsky was asked to return to the Prosecutor Office on Monday for further questioning.
Also on Friday, prosecutors tried to summon Anton Drel, a Yukos lawyer. However, he declined as this would have been a violation of the Moscow Bar Association?s code of conduct. Drel is legally not allowed to give evidence in a case in which he represents a client. He is the private lawyer of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev. If Drel would have followed the invitation he could have had his license to practice law revoked.
The stock market did not show a strong reaction to latest incident. But it is likely another attack of law agencies and a Kremlin fraction against Khodorkovsky?s intentions to sell a strategic stake to an American oil major. There are strong indications that Exxon Mobile will purchase a stake between 25 percent to 40 percent of the newly merged YukosSibneft and pay up to $25 billion. In 2007, Khodorkovsky will step back as Chairman of the company. This could open the door for Exxon to acquire control over the whole YukosSibneft. But the opponents to such a deal do not only come from the Kremlin. The state-owned Rosneft and Gazprom have their own plans to develop oil and gas reserves in Siberia and seem to be afraid of the competition of a Russian-American heavyweight in their own backyard. It was even quipped that the legal assaults would continue until no one is left to sign off the transaction with Exxon or Chevron.