Leonid Nevzlin, Yukos Shareholders, Plan Seizure of Russia’s Overseas Assets

Leonid Nevzlin

The Russian government missed the January 15 deadline for paying $50 billion to the shareholders of defunct oil company Yukos that was awarded in what has been called the largest commercial lawsuit in history, the Kyiv Post said.

Yukos’ shareholders are planning to seek seizure of Russian government assets abroad as payment for the debt, dealing yet another blow to the Kremlin amid an economic and financial crisis. The lawsuit, along with falling oil prices and the plummeting ruble, could make it harder for the Kremlin to finance its ongoing war against Ukraine, the report said.

In July 2014, The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration required the Russian government to pay $50 billion to Yukos’ shareholders. The court ruled that the Kremlin violated the Energy Charter Treaty and illegally expropriated the company from its lawful owners, the Post said.

Starting from Jan. 15, interest will be accrued on the $50 billion debt owned by the Russian government to Yukos’ shareholders at a rate equal to the yield of 10-year U.S. Treasuries. The current rate is 1.89 percent per year, the report said.

Russia’s 2015 budget does not envisage expenses from paying $50 billion to Yukos, Vedomosti reported on Jan. 15, citing a government source. Russian Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov said on Jan. 14 that the government had not decided yet whether to pay the debt and would further consider the issue, the Post said.

The Russian government declined to comment, while Olga Pispanen, a spokeswoman for Yukos’ founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky, said by phone that he had nothing to do with the case and could not comment on it, the report said.

Graham Ackerman, a spokesman for Group Menatep Limited – an entity representing Yukos’ shareholders – said by phone that the group would file lawsuits over the next few weeks seeking to seize Russian government assets abroad. Yukos’ shareholders are also making progress on several other cases against the Kremlin, he added, according to the Post.

Ackerman also said that he did not know anything about possible negotiations between Yukos’ shareholders and the Kremlin. Leonid Nevzlin, a former Yukos co-owner, said in July 2014 that he was willing to negotiate with the Russian government on reducing the amount of the claim in exchange for the release of former Yukos executive Alexei Pichugin and closure of all criminal cases against Yukos executives. Pichugin is serving a life sentence on murder charges, the report said.

Yukos was broken up by Russian authorities from 2004 to 2007 as a result of what is widely believed to be a politically motivated and illegitimate tax evasion case. Many Yukos executives were jailed as part of the case, the Post said.

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