Russian oil magnate
Mikhail Khodorkovsky (C) listens to Platon Lebedev (R), another key
shareholder in oil group YUKOS, as they stand inside a cage guarded by
an interior ministry serviceman at the Meshchansky court / Photo:
Campaign Against the Oligarchs
group of Russia’s top businessmen formed close ties with the country’s
leadership in the 1990s, gaining significant influence with the Presidential Administration and President Boris Yeltsin himself. When Vladimir Putin assumed office in 2000, the destiny of most of these influential tycoons turned to disfavor.
Vladimir Gusinsky: The Trials of a Media Baron
of the first to suffer President Putin’s wrath was Vladimir Gusinsky,
owner of a media empire famous for financing printed and broadcasting
media outlets — among them the popular Ekho Moskvy radio station
and the NTV television channel — often openly critical of Russia’s
authorities and government policies. In May 2000 the headquarters of
Gusinsky’s Media-Most Group were raided by armed and masked federal
agents who identified themselves as officers of the tax police. In June
2000 Gusinsky was arrested on charges of stealing state property valued
at $10 million. After three days of detention he was released under a
Meanwhile, NTV shareholder, the partly state-owned Gazprom
gas company, and various state-controlled lending institutions demanded
that Media-Most repay loans totaling hundreds of millions of dollars.
Gusinsky resolved the conflict by signing a secret protocol with press
minister Mikhail Lesin and head of Gazprom’s media arm Alfred Kokh, who
dropped all charges against Gusinsky on the condition that he sell his
controlling stake in Media-Most to Gazprom. With the criminal case
against him closed, Gusinsky left Russia but soon announced that he had
been forced to sign the protocol “under the barrel of a gun”, refusing
to sell the stake.
Gazprom sued Media-Most for breach of contract, and the Prosecutor General
opened a new criminal case, this time related to alleged illegal
transfers of assets abroad by Gusinsky and other Media-Most executives.
In December 2000, Gusinsky was arrested in Spain on an Interpol
warrant filed by Russian prosecutors. He was later released on bail.
Some of his newspapers were shut down, Gazprom became the owner of
several media outlets belonging to Most Group, the NTV board was
replaced, its key staff leaving the channel. In August 2003, Gusinsky
was arrested once again, this time in Greece under a treaty with Russia
but released soon afterwards.
In May, 2004 Vladimir Gusinsky
won a case against the Russian government in the European Court of
Human Rights in Strasbourg, the judges deciding unanimously in favour
of the exiled tycoon, and ruling that Russia’s authorities had violated
Article 5 and 18 (the said articles dealing with freedom and security)
of the European Convention for Human Rights in relation to Gusinsky.
Potanin, et al
In July 2000 another oligarch, the head of the InterRos investment company Vladimir Potanin
received a letter from the deputy prosecutor general with demand to pay
$140 million to the state as compensation for the cheap purchase of the
controlling stake in Norilsk Nickel. The case was soon dropped. At the
same time, the head of Lukoil Oil Company Vagit Alekperov was charged with tax fraud.
Boris Berezovsky: The Fall of the Kremlin’s Grey Cardinal
the Yeltsin-era the name of Boris Berezovsky — media, car and
airline tycoon — was virtually synonymous to shady
behind-the-scenes influence and covert power. One of the closest
members of President Yeltsin’s inner-circle, in the mid-1990s
Berezovsky openly entered politics and was appointed secretary of
Russia’s National Security Council and head of the Executive Committee
of the CIS. He was behind the creation of the pro-Kremlin Unity party that came second (after the Communists) in the 1999 parliamentary elections, as well as being chief negotiator of the peace treaty that ended the first Chechen war in 1996.
July 8, 2000, Vladimir Putin announced in his address that Russia would
no longer tolerate ’’shady groups’’ that divert money abroad, establish
their own ’’dubious’’ security services, and block the development of a
liberal market economy. Soon after Berezovsky voiced his plans to
create an opposition party led by regional governors and other
influential figures threatened by Putin’s drive for power. At the end
of the year the prosecution declared Berezovsky the main suspect in the
misappropriation of large sums from Aeroflot — Russia’s national
airline in which he owned large stakes. A similar case against
Berezovsky dealt with large-scale fraud in his Logovaz car company.
left Russia at the end of 2000. In March 2003, he was arrested in
London but released on bail. In October of the same year he received
political asylum in the United Kingdom. His stake in Russia’s major
television company ORT (now First Channel) was sold, and his own TV6
channel was closed by a ruling of the Russian Arbitration Court. Still
an active critic of President Putin, Boris Berezovsky is now living
under the name of Platon Yelenin.
The Yukos Case
latest and most talked-about case of the Kremlin’s fight against the
oligarchs began in July 2003 when one of the major shareholders of
Russia’s oil giant Yukos
Platon Lebedev was arrested on charges of illegally acquiring a stake
in the state-owned fertilizer plant Apatite. On October 25, Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky,
known for his funding of liberal opposition parties and open criticism
of President Putin’s rule, was arrested at gunpoint by a special squad
of FSB agents. Khodorkovsky was charged with tax fraud and evasion, with several bail requests denied by the courts.
in custody, Mikhail Khodorkovsky resigned as Yukos CEO. Several other
core Yukos shareholders, including Khodorkovsky’s close friend and
former rector of the Yukos-sponsored Russian State University for the
Humanities Leonid Nevzlin, left Russia and were placed on the
international wanted list by Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office. The
“Yukos case” received wide publicity and was denounced by various human
rights groups as being politically motivated.
In March 2004
Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s open letter titled The Crisis of Liberalism in
Russia was published by Russian business daily Vedomosti. In it
Khodorkovsky called on Russia’s top businessmen to face up to the fact
that most major privatizations in the country were conducted with a
disregard for the interests of its people and to ’’recognize the
legitimacy of President Vladimir Putin“. Khodorkovsky later stated that
the letter was in fact a result of a ”collective authorship“ but that
he agreed with its content and admitted responsibility as the person
who agreed to put his name under it. Soon afterwards Leonid Nevzlin,
now living in Israel, announced his withdrawal from politics and the
end of his funding of the liberal opposition in Russia, namely Irina Khakamada, saying that he regarded Khodorkovsky’s letter as a request and even an order to leave the political scene.
an appeal from Platon Lebedev’s lawyers, the criminal cases of
Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were joined into one, with the two Yukos
shareholders currently awaiting trial, set for July 12, 2004.
Updated: 23.09.2005 21:36 MSK
07.03.2005 13:53 MSK, MOSNEWS.COM
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Russian police have detained two Chechens over
suspicion of carrying out a hit on famous reporter and HR activist Anna
Politkovskaya, a Russian newspaper reports.
British Trade Secretary Alistair Darling warned
Russia on Thursday, Feb. 8, that it should “play by the rules” and
ensure “legal certainty” for British investors. Darling spoke at the
end of his three-day visit to Moscow.
ITAMAR AICHNER, NATASHA MOZGOVAYA
Moscow has continuously denied four Israeli
nationals convicted in Russia permission to serve their terms at home
unless Israel extradites Jewish Russian-born entrepreneur Leonid
Nevzlin, once the second-in-command of Yukos and business partner of
the jailed Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Yedioth Ahronoth
In an interview with the Russia Today television
the two men at the centre of British accusations over the murder of
former Russian security agent Aleksandr Litvinenko have denied the
claims they were suspects in the case.
The �2008 question� increasingly being put to
Vladimir Putin is important not only for because it will decide who
will lead Russia until 2012, but also because of its symbolic
significance. Will the constitution be changed?
Despite isolated tactical victories in fight
against terrorism, the West has failed to learn the lessons of
September 11, Russian pundit Sergei Karaganov is convinced.