04:51 GMT07 June 2020
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    Sberbank denies calling in RussNeft debt

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    MOSCOW, September 7 (RIA Novosti) - Sberbank denied Friday reports that it is seeking $1 billion and 17 billion rubles ($660 million) from oil company RussNeft in early loan repayments.

    "That information is untrue," a spokesman for the Russian state-controlled savings bank said.

    Earlier Friday, unidentified lawyers said the bank could call in the RussNeft debt.

    RussNeft's shares, collateral for the loans, have been frozen as part of a criminal probe against RussNeft former chief Mikhail Gutseriyev.

    Russian prosecutors said on Wednesday that billionaire Gutseriyev, wanted for fraud and tax evasion, is currently residing in Turkey.

    The Moscow City Court upheld on the same day an arrest warrant for the fugitive tycoon and a ruling to freeze 100% of RussNeft's shares. The court also banned any transactions with the frozen shares.

    If tried and convicted, Gutseriyev faces up to six years in prison, in a case reminiscent of legal battles for the now bankrupt oil firm Yukos.

    The Yukos case was widely seen in the West as targeted against its founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky for funding the opposition and as part of a Kremlin campaign to regain control of oil and gas assets.

    When the allegations were first announced, Gutseriyev said he had no plans to sell the company or move his assets overseas, but later said he would pass control of the holding to a new owner capable of resolving RussNeft's problems.

    The announcement coincided with reports that BasEl, owned by Kremlin-friendly tycoon Oleg Deripaska, intended to buy Gutseriyev's former company.

    BasEl is awaiting a decision from the anti-monopoly authorities on the deal. BasEl representatives could not be reached for comment.

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