Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 50

Russia’s Anti-Monopoly Committee announced yesterday that no antimonopoly laws were broken in the recent sale of stakes in three of the country’s largest aluminum-producing factories. According to media reports, companies connected to the tycoons Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich, including the Sibneft oil company and LogoVAZ automotive company, recently bought controlling interests in the Krasnoyarsk, Bratsk and Novokuznetsk aluminum plants from the London-based Trans-World Group and aluminum baron Lev Chernoy. If the media reports are true, it would mean that some two-thirds of the aluminum sector, which yields billions of dollars in export revenues, have fallen under the control of Berezovsky and Abramovich.

In explaining the finding, Antimonopoly Minister Ilya Yuzhanov said yesterday that since none of the stakes sold were larger than 20 percent, no antimonopoly laws had been broken. According to some observers, the deal was probably carried out using a chain of front companies whose ownership is murky, which allowed the masterminds of the deal to circumvent Russia’s antimonopoly legislation. Companies connected to Berezovsky and Abramovich have also reportedly bought stakes in two other enterprises that play key roles in the aluminum sector–the Krasnoyarsk hydroelectric station and the Achinsk Alumina Plant (Moscow Times, March 10).

Acting President Vladimir Putin said earlier this month that he had not known in advance about the sales of the stakes in the aluminum plants, and ordered the antimonopoly committee to investigate them. Yuzhanov had previously said both that the investigation might take weeks or months, and that his committee’s quick conclusion that no laws were broken is very significant politically. It suggests that despite Putin’s promises to establish equal rules for all economic actors–which some observers have interpreted as a signal that Berezovsky and Abramovich are heading for a fall once Putin is elected president–the two tycoons will continue to wield tremendous political power in the future. Yesterday’s decision by the antimonopoly committee would also appear to be a major defeat for both Oleg Deripaska, the head of the Sibirsky aluminum factory and a Berezovsky-Abramovich rival, and United Energy Systems chief Anatoly Chubais, who backed Deripaska in his battle with the rival oligarchs.