Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 135

Media-Most was not the authorities’ sole target yesterday. The tax police launched a criminal investigation of Vagit Alekperov, president of Russia’s largest oil company, LUKoil, for allegedly evading taxes by falsifying oil export operation and illegally receiving compensation for value-added tax payments. LUKoil officials denied the charges (Russian agencies, July 11). Following his release from jail last month, Gusinsky said he had information that Alekperov and several top officials in the Yukos oil company might also be arrested in the near future (see the Monitor, June 19). LUKoil dismissed Gusinsky’s prediction, and announced last week that it was suing NTV for 10 billion rubles (approximately US$357 million) in connection with an investigation broadcast in early July concerning the death three years ago of LUKoil Vice President Vitaly Schmidt (see the Monitor, July 7).

Meanwhile, First Deputy Prosecutor General Yuri reportedly sent a letter to Oneksimbank founder Vladimir Potanin ordering him to pay the government US$140 million in compensation for the 1995 privatization of the Norilsk Nickel plant, which prosecutors claim was sold off cheaply, or face criminal charges. The letter reiterated charges made following the Norilsk sale that Potanin conspired with then privatization tsar Alfred Kokh to rig the Norilsk privatization auction (Kommersant, Izvestia, July 11). Kokh was a protege of Anatoly Chubais, the architect of Russian privatization who now heads United Energy Systems, the country’s power grid.” Last month, the Moscow city prosecutor’s office filed a suit claiming that the controlling share in Norilsk Nickel was “illegally disposed of” and should be returned to the government. The Moscow arbitration court subsequently dismissed the suit, saying that it included too many charges against too many entities (see the Monitor, June 22).

In addition, the tax police announced today that it was launching a criminal case against the heads of the automaker AvtoVAZ, which produces the Lada car, for evading “several hundreds of millions of dollars” in taxes (Russian agencies, July 12). This is interesting in that AvtoVAZ, headed by Vladimir Kadannikov, was, at least at one time, connected to Boris Berezovsky, the controversial tycoon, Kremlin insider and State Duma deputy. In May, tax police searched AvtoVAZ’s offices in Moscow and twenty-six other regions (see the Monitor, May 24).