MOSCOW, August 4 (RIA Novosti)
Khodorkovsky: other big businessmen need not fear now
The Kremlin will not persecute other big businessmen, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former board chairman of the Yukos oil major, told a leading business daily Thursday.
"The Yukos case was enough for Putin, and Yuganskneftegaz and other assets of the plundered company were enough for his team," he said. The authorities do not have the security resources, energy or confidence to attack another nationwide corporation, he added.
The former oligarch, who was jailed for nine years on May 31, 2005, said that the Kremlin was now talking about the exceptionally selective application of law in the Yukos saga and was offering a "non-aggression pact" to business. But the trust between the state and business has been lost, Khodorkosvky said.
He said he was convinced that no pacts would help unless a new team came to power and big business took decisive steps to come to terms with society, in particular by initiating the legalization of privatization results.
Khodorkovsky told the paper: "Unless privatization results are made legitimate, the struggle for major property will continue, with semi-privatized courts and interior ministry agencies and prosecutors taking an active part in it." Hence, nobody can be certain that he or she is safe.
"The Kremlin is not the only player," Khodorkovsky said. "Those who accept the current rules of the game will have to play by them, which can make them victims any day. 'Personal insurance' is impossible."
He said his personal hopes for the future were connected with public activities, his fund supporting Russian poetry and philosophy, and the union of assistance to Russian inmates. In this undertaking, he is "completely free of any external obligations and hence optimistic."
Khodorkovsky said he was convinced that Russia's Supreme Court would not simply cut his sentence but quash it in three or four years.
Russia has no resources for revolution - expert
Russia has no resources for its own "color revolution," most people attending an international conference on election campaigning said last month, according to a weekly political magazine.
Politichesky Zhurnal writes that Igor Bunin, director of the Center for Political Technologies, said Russia, whose democratic revolution happened in 1991, had no resources for a new one. The country has no active middle class and young people have an individualist, rather than social, mindset. Furthermore, he said Russia had no opposition leader like Ukraine's Viktor Yushchenko, who came to power after Kiev's "Orange Revolution", and the West was less willing to export democracy to this country.
Bunin put party-of-power United Russia's popular support at 30% to 35%, whereas it needed at least 40% to achieve a political majority. In his opinion, with public welfare as the only viable campaigning platform for the next election, the party could fail to handpick a successor to President Vladimir Putin and might try to secure him in power beyond his constitutional term.
Gleb Pavlovsky, the head of the Effective Policy Foundation, said the parliamentary and presidential elections, which will be held in 2007 and 2008 respectively, could revolutionize the country top-down rather than bottom-up. Before the election campaign begins, the government should draw up a new social contract based on voters' demands - something United Russia cannot do, he said. The nation is not ready to make a choice between ideologies, and it is more likely to be forced to select either reformism or counter-reformism, he said.
The two projects fighting for power in Russia will involve the internal and external control of the country, he added.
"If the government fails to become competitive by 2008, the people will find their own solution," Pavlovsky warned.
Novye Izvestia/Rossiiskaya Gazeta
Experts: Kremlin takes the edge off Moscow mayor's team
On Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin nominated a deputy mayor of Moscow, Valery Shantsev, as the new head of Nizhny Novgorod region.
Two respected dailies, Novye Izvestia and Rossiiskaya Gazeta, Thursday cite some political analysts as saying that Shantsev's nomination marked the start of a campaign to knock the leading players out of the race for the mayor's office in the capital and to clear the way for a candidate from Putin's home city of St. Petersburg.
The current term of Yury Luzhkov, the incumbent mayor of Moscow, ends in December 2007. Alexei Mukhin, the director of the Center for Political Information, said Luzhkov's other deputies were likely to drop out of the race for City Hall. Mukhin said the current presidential envoy to the Central Federal District, Georgy Poltavchenko, was most likely to become the capital's new mayor.
According to Novye Izvestia, Sergei Markov, the director of the Center for Political Studies, viewed Shantsev's departure as the beginning of the end for Luzhkov's team. The political analyst said the mayor's team had earlier developed a plan for Shantsev to succeed Luzhkov. Now, the head of the City Hall will be "a representative of one of the two administration cohorts: St. Petersburg liberals or men from the security services," he said.
The president of the Polity Foundation, Vyacheslav Nikonov, disputed this opinion. He said Shantsev's nomination was the beginning of a new trend - the appointment of figures outside particular regions as their governors. Nikonov said he believed it marked the start a wide personnel rotation system, where regional leaders would come to Moscow and Muscovites would be delegated to the regions. The political analyst said he was convinced that this meant the Moscow group and Luzhkov himself had increased their power, because Shantsev is Luzhkov's most trusted supporter.
Yukos may be sold to avoid bankruptcy - experts
Russian experts put the aggressive judicial campaign in the West to recover debts from the Yukos oil company down to its creditors' wish to bring about the former major's bankruptcy and get at least something from it. However, they consider such a development improbable and think that most likely Yukos will be sold as a whole to a Kremlin-accredited company, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily writes.
On Wednesday, a Texas court was to consider the suit brought by a syndicate of Western banks demanding that a $482-million debt be recovered from Yukos. The London High Court upheld a similar claim a month ago.
After state-owned oil major Rosneft acquired Yuganskneftegaz, the main asset of Yukos, there were ample opportunities to sell the embattled company's other assets. But, although considerable tax arrears remained, the Yukos subsidiaries were not sold, said Dmitry Tzaregorodtsev, an analyst with Russian brokerage Rye, Man & Gor Securities.
At that time Yukos' all assets were already distributed among various companies. There were many bidders, but the sale did not take place, "because everything is being done to sell Yukos as a whole," Tzaregorodtsev said. In his view, the sale has been delayed because the price the subject of detailed discussion. In the analyst's opinion, this is the only explanation that makes sense.
If Yukos wholesale changes its owner, the latter will not allow it to go bankrupt. It is therefore obvious that the new owner will be a businessman loyal to the authorities. The paper cites the analyst as saying it will be either a state-run syndicate or a Kremlin-accredited businessman.
Foreign creditors have slim chances of getting their money back. "Yukos has no money," Tzaregorodtsev said. "The syndicate can do nothing more than demand that the money received from the sale of Yukos assets be remitted to it."
Russian Audit Chamber accuses TNK-BP of tax evasion
The Audit Chamber of Russia has accused the Russian-British oil company TNK-BP of failing to honor the terms of license agreements on a number of deposits and of using transfer schemes to avoid paying taxes, a leading business daily reports Thursday.
Kommersant writes that the company rejected the accusations.
According to auditor Vladimir Panskov, the Chamber had sent a letter to the Federal Tax Service stating that in 2004 and early 2005 TNK-BP had used a tax-evading scheme by lowering prices.
In particular, TNK-BP set up two companies in the Tyumen region in Western Siberia, with an authorized capital of 3 million rubles each (about $105,000), to which producers supply oil at reduced prices. Then these enterprises sell the same oil to refineries at normal prices. As a result, the two companies reported profits of 84 billion rubles (about $3 million) in 2004. Besides, they enjoy a 4% profit-tax break from the Tyumen region. As a result, their net profits rose by another 4.2 billion rubles (about $146 million).
"For some reason the federal tax service has turned a blind eye to this," Panskov said.
TNK-BP said that the transfer pricing used by the company was legitimate and did not amount to tax evasion. The company, moreover, said it had received no claims from tax authorities so far.
The Chamber also sent a complaint to the Natural Resources Ministry. The complaint said that TNK-BP, in particular, failed to observe a license obligation to put the Malosiktorsky oil deposit (Khanty-Mansi autonomous area in Western Siberia) into operation.
Besides, TNK-BP has a working well index significantly lower than that of rivals Surgutneftegaz and Tatneft. "An average of 30% of the company's wells are idle, and in individual producing companies that belong to the TNK-BP group the figure is even 50%. We have never seen anything like it. I think these figures must set us on the alert," the auditor said.