A suit filed June 21 by the Moscow City Prosecutor’s Office contesting the 1997 privatization of Norilsk Nickel, coming on the heels of its moves against the Media-Most group, suggests that the administration of President Vladimir Putin is moving against some of the country’s leading oligarchs. The operative word here, however, is “some.” While Media-Most founder Vladimir Gusinsky is under criminal investigation and Vladimir Potanin, head of the Interros financial-industrial group, could lose his controlling stake in Norilsk Nickel, other oligarchs, namely Boris Berezovsky, have actually been strengthening their positions.
The Moscow city prosecutor’s lawsuit claims that the sale of controlling share in Norilsk Nickel, which was handed over to Potanin’s Oneksimbank in trust in a controversial 1995 “loans-for-shares” auction and formally sold off in 1997 to Interros affiliates, was “illegally disposed of” and should be returned to the government. Yesterday, however, the Moscow arbitration court dismissed the suit, saying that it included too many charges against too many entities. The Moscow City Prosecutor’s Office plans to re-submit the suit. For his part, Potanin, whose Interros group now holds a 55-percent stake in Norilsk Nickel, reasserted the legality of the group’s acquisition of the metals giant and said he had sent Putin a letter asking him to take “personal control” over the situation surrounding it. Putin, who promised last year that the results of privatization would not be overturned, has not reacted publicly to the suit against Norilsk. Meanwhile the price of shares in Norilsk, which is a major world producer of nickel, cobalt and platinum-group metals, have plunged (Russian agencies, June 21-22; NTV, June 21; Segodnya, June 22).
NORILSK CHALLENGE: ANOTHER BIT OF “FAMILY” BUSINESS?