Russian Oligarchs Flee To Safety In Israel
2005 03 26
Yukos Oil Fugitives Find Safe Haven In The Promised Land
By Harvey Morris | The Financial Times - UK
For the Russian government, they are allegedly dangerous criminals who have made off with billions in unpaid taxes and are wanted on charges that range from embezzlement to murder. For Israel, they are potential valued investors in the country's slowly reviving economy.
Two of Israel's normally publicity-shy Russian "oligarchs" this week surfaced to announce their first investment in Israel since they sought refuge there 18 months ago in the wake of the debacle over Yukos, the Russian oil company.
In an interview with the FT, Leonid Nevzlin and Michael Brudno, whose Menatep group owns 60 per cent of Yukos shares, outlined a business strategy based on the likelihood that they will not be returning to Russia anytime soon.
The two men live a hundred yards from each other in the affluent anonymity of Herzliya, an upscale suburb north of Tel Aviv. Propped against a wall of Mr. Nevzlin's living room is a "Free Khodorkovsky" placard in honour of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Yukos founder jailed in Russia in October, 2003 on tax evasion and fraud charges.
The two men and their partner, Vladimir Dubov, took out Israeli citizenship at about the same time, setting up home in Israel in the hope of avoiding extradition over their alleged role in the Yukos affair. As well as the fraud-related charges, Mr Nevzlin is also wanted in Russia for conspiracy to murder.
Mr Nevzlin rejected all the accusations against him and his partners and said they were part of an ideological campaign by Vladimir Putin, Russian president, against the Russian private sector. "It has been totally developed by the [former] KGB, which has a lack of tolerance for anything it does not control. This is a long-term consequence of Stalinism."
Yukos lost 60 per cent of its oil production capacity when the Russian government ordered it to sell off its main subsidiary in December to pay back-taxes. The buyer, state-owned Rosneft, has since filed an $11bn suit against Yukos.
Mr Nevzlin said: "The Yukos story is not over yet. The volume of illegal tax claims would be enough to confiscate the rest of the company."
Describing the Rosneft claim as "complete bullshit", Mr Brudno claimed it had been filed on orders from the Kremlin.
Announcing their investment in Israel, the two men said Menatep was acquiring a stake in the holding company of Israel Petroleum Enterprises.
They said they would be looking into further investments in fields within the group's area of expertise. Menatep already has about $100m invested in telecoms companies in eastern Europe.
Although the Russian tycoons have maintained a low profile since moving to Israel, they have not managed to escape controversy.
Mr Nevzlin's name was among those raised in connection with a current Israeli police investigation into the alleged laundering of at least $500m through a branch of Bank Hapoalim, Israel's largest bank.
"I've had no problems with the authorities," he said. "Everything is quite transparent if you look at my assets. So much time has passed since they started the investigation, they would have had a chance to look at my accounts."
In an indication of how important Israel regards investment, Benjamin Netanyahu, finance minister, recently said the money-laundering case had been blown out of proportion.
"Israel will lose a lot if some TV viewers think that the country does not need immigrants from the former Soviet Union and can afford to reject investments," he told the RTV1 satellite channel, owned by Vladimir Gusinsky, an exiled Russian media magnate.
Article From: http://www.rense.com/general63/oky.htm
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