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Monday, September 17, 2007

Russian prosecutors say ex-RussNeft chief hiding in Turkey

MOSCOW, September 5 (RIA Novosti) - Russian prosecutors said Wednesday billionaire Mikhail Gutseriyev, a former RussNeft chief wanted for fraud and tax evasion, is currently in Turkey. "Gutseriyev disappeared on July 30, and investigators put him on the wanted list," said Viktor Gvozdev, a spokesman for the Prosecutor General's Office. "We have established that he flew from Minsk airport [Belarus] to Turkey." The Moscow City Court upheld Wednesday an arrest warrant for the fugitive businessman and the ruling to arrest 100% of RussNeft's shares. The court also banned any transactions with the arrested shares. The Russian Embassy in Ankara said it had no information that Gutseriyev was staying in Turkey. Gutseriyev, 49, whose personal wealth has been estimated at almost $3 billion, was ranked Russia's 31st richest man in 2007 by Forbes. A relative said the last time Gutseriyev was seen in public was on August 23, when he attended the funeral of his son Chingiz. The son was fatally injured in a car crash a month after Gutseriyev resigned as chief executive of RussNeft, one of Russia's top ten oil and gas companies, in late July. The businessman said he had been forced to quit and dismissed the charges against him as "ridiculous and withstanding no criticism." The billionaire also said he had no plans to sell the company or move his assets overseas, but later said he would pass control of the holding to a new owner capable of resolving RussNeft's problems. This announcement coincided with reports that BasEl, owned by Kremlin-friendly tycoon Oleg Deripaska, intended to buy Gutseriyev's former company. BasEl is awaiting a decision from the anti-monopoly authorities on the deal. RussNeft has refused to comment on the share arrest. "There will be no comments for the moment," Eduard Sarkisov, company vice president, said. BasEl representatives could not be reached for comment. If tried and convicted, Gutseriyev faces up to six years in prison, in a case reminiscent of legal battles for the now bankrupt oil firm Yukos. The Yukos case was widely seen in the West as targeted against its founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky for funding the opposition and as part of a Kremlin campaign to regain control of oil and gas assets.

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