Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Moscow court sanctions arrest of former RussNeft chief
MOSCOW, August 28 (RIA Novosti) - Moscow's Tverskoi Court issued an arrest warrant for former head of RussNeft oil company Mikhail Gutseriyev, a spokesman for the Moscow City Court said Tuesday. The billionaire resigned as CEO on July 30 amid accusations of tax evasion and illegal business made by the Interior Ministry. He is currently living abroad, and an international search is underway, according to the ministry's investigators. The oil company, one of Russia's top 10 crude producers, faces substantial back tax claims. In July, Moscow's Arbitration Court upheld a claim by tax authorities against RussNeft of over 3.7 billion rubles ($145 million) in back taxes for 2003 and the first quarter of 2004. The court is now examining a series of transactions involving RussNeft securities that the Federal Tax Service claims were illegal. In a statement briefly posted on the company's Web site on July 30, Gutseriyev said he had been forced to resign and sell his stake in the company under pressure from prosecutors and tax authorities. The tycoon is 31st on the Forbes list of the world's richest people, with a personal fortune of around $3 billion. Earlier, the company reported that that structures affiliated with pro-Kremlin industrial holding Basic Element, controlled by billionaire Oleg Deripaska, had applied on July 27, 2007 to the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service for permission to acquire a controlling stake in RussNeft. Under Russian law, the service must make a decision within three months. According to the business daily Vedomosti, Gutseriyev's problems stem from his conflict with the Kremlin and the reluctance to sell his company. He set himself on a collision course with the Kremlin by buying some of the embattled oil company Yukos' assets shortly before it was declared bankrupt, the paper said. On Monday, Igor Artemyev, the head of the Russian Anti-Monopoly Service, said in an Internet news conference that Basic Element's application to buy Russneft did not meet the service's requirements and had not been considered. If charged and convicted, Gutseriyev faces up to six years in prison, in a case reminiscent of legal battles for the now bankrupt oil firm Yukos, widely seen in the West as punishment against company founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and as part of a Kremlin campaign to regain control of oil and gas assets. Russneft has recoverable oil reserves of more than 630 million metric tons (4.6 billion barrels).