The return of Yukos

This week is marked by the "Yukos affair". In Moscow two former Yukos shareholders Vladimir Dubov and Leonid Nevzlin are tried in absentia. They both have been living in Israel for 9 years and are not going to return to Russia where they are accused of committing a series of economic and criminal offenses.

Former co-owner of Yukos, Vladimir Dubov, was found guilty on August 1 by Zamoskvoretskiy Moscow court of theft of 76 billion non-denominated rubles from the state budget.

According to the investigators, in 1997 a tripartite agreement on the mutual payments was signed between the Ministry of Finance, subsidiary of Yukos Yuganskneftegaz and the administration of the Volgograd region. Knowing that the Treasury owned the administration of the Volgograd region 76 billion non-denominated rubles, and subsidiary of Yukos - OAO "Yuganskneftegaz" - owed the federal budget, the participants of the case prepared false documents indicating that the regional administration owed the same 76 billion rubles for oil to LLP "Emitent" and LLC "Aval," one-day firms that have opened bank accounts in "Menatep". Once the Ministry of Finance transferred the entire amount of the debt to the regional administration, the money was moved to the accounts of these firms, and the next day the debt of Yuganskneftegaz to the federal budget was paid.

The fraud has become possible because of the decree of President Boris Yeltsin of August 17, 1997 that included a special order on settlements between enterprises and the federation in the case of debt to each other and to the federal budget. Apparently, this is what Mikhail Khodorkovsky meant when he said he enjoyed the gaps in the legislation in his activities at the time.

Dubov was not present at the trial. Back in 2003, after learning about the ongoing searches at his office, the businessman left Russia in a hurry and settled in Israel. In 2004 he, along with a few employees and owners of Yukos, including Nevzlin, were put on the international wanted list (first by the Prosecutor General's Office, and a year later by the Interpol). However, Israel refused to extradite them.

Nevzlin, being in fact the right hand of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is much better known to the public, including by the effect of his active political life that he had in Russia and funding various projects of the opposition.

Claims against Nevzlin were much more serious. He was indicted in absentia under Article 198 (tax evasion by an individual) and 160 of the Criminal Code (embezzlement or misappropriation of another's property), as well as the crimes related to the organization of assassinations.

Russia's attempts to extradite Nevzlin have failed as the Israeli prosecutor's office twice rejected requests for the extradition of the former Yukos co-owner. The request was rejected even when in August of 2008 the Moscow City Court has found Nevzlin guilty in absentia of murders and assassinations, embezzlement and tax evasion and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

In July of this year, the Central Investigation Department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation announced that it completed the investigation of the criminal case against Nevzlin, accusing him of committing an offense under Part 4 of Article 160 of the Russian Criminal Code (misappropriation). According to the investigators, in 1998 Nevzlin, as part of an organized group, misappropriated 38% of the shares of companies "Tomskneft" INC, "Achinsk refineries" and others that were included by the Russian Federation in the authorized capital of the "Eastern Oil Company" in excess of 3 billion rubles.    

Earlier major shareholders of Yukos Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Platon Lebedev, and YUKOS EP Ramil Burganov who managed the affairs of the organization were convicted in this episode. Since Nevzlin is wanted internationally, like in the case with Dubov, the trial could be held without the participation of the accused. The case was transferred to the Simonovsky Court of Moscow that has already begun the preliminary hearing.

Of course, from the standpoint of an observer it seems pointless to put Nevzlin who has already received a life sentence through another trial. However, the law in this case is guided by other reasons, namely, just punishment on all counts of the offense. In the end, nobody is surprised by several terms of life imprisonment generously handed out by the American Themis, or persecution of war criminals of World War II who are already well over 80 years old.

In the case of the "Yukos affair" everything comes to its logical outcome. Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev serving their sentences in Russian prisons are not the only participants of the "Yukos affair" in a global sense.

As of early 2011, 19 defendants directly involved in the criminal scheme in this case were on the wanted list of the Interpol.

In particular, few people paid attention to the trial in absentia of the former Yukos manager Alexei Spirichev accused of fraud and tax evasion that began in Zamoskvoretsky District Court of Moscow in July of this year. According to the investigators, in 1998-2001 Spirichev "in conjunction with partners, and under the direction of the actual managers of Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev," prepared the paperwork that contained inaccurate information about fictitious companies headed by Spirichev and dependent on Yukos that illegally obtained from the local government tax breaks, resulting in the state losing 10 billion rubles in taxes. Kartashov in the summer of 2003 wisely immigrated to Cyprus, where he lives to this day. After the Russian government turned to the Cypriot colleagues with a request for his extradition, Kartashov was detained by the Cypriot police, but managed to convince the District Court of Nicosia that he was being pursued for political reasons.

The country should be aware of its "heroes", regardless of where they have settled. The "persecuted" always have a chance to defend their "good name" in the courts. Although, apparently, they do not always want to do it.

Lev Pravin

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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey