Another Russian oil tycoon goes down

Mikhail Gutseriyev, head of Russneft (not to be confused with state-controlled competitor Rosneft), looks like the latest victim of the Kremlin’s aggressive energy-sector policies. He has announced that he is stepping down as head of the Russian oil giant, citing “unprecedented prosecution” from multiple arms of the Russian state—tax authorities, the prosecutor general’s office, and ...

600273_070730_yukos_05.jpg
600273_070730_yukos_05.jpg

Mikhail Gutseriyev, head of Russneft (not to be confused with state-controlled competitor Rosneft), looks like the latest victim of the Kremlin's aggressive energy-sector policies. He has announced that he is stepping down as head of the Russian oil giant, citing "unprecedented prosecution" from multiple arms of the Russian state—tax authorities, the prosecutor general's office, and the interior ministry.

Mikhail Gutseriyev, head of Russneft (not to be confused with state-controlled competitor Rosneft), looks like the latest victim of the Kremlin’s aggressive energy-sector policies. He has announced that he is stepping down as head of the Russian oil giant, citing “unprecedented prosecution” from multiple arms of the Russian state—tax authorities, the prosecutor general’s office, and the interior ministry.

Russneft will most likely be sold to the investment group headed by Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum billionaire and a close friend of the Kremlin. And in case there were any questions about Mr. Deripaska’s loyalties to the state, the BBC reports that he has previously indicated his willingness to sell his aluminum assets to the state if asked.

But Gutseriyev didn’t go down without a fight. When murmurs started last week about a possible sale—conveniently after a Moscow court reaffirmed a $134 million tax evasion claim against the company—Gutseriyev told Russian news agency Interfax that “he wasn’t going anywhere.” But his gumption apparently failed him.

TATYANA MAKEYEVA/AFP/Getty Images

All this sound a bit familiar? Nearly four years ago, Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovksy was sentenced to nine years in jail for fraud, embezzlement, and tax evasion. Rosneft later acquired most of Yukos’s assets. And ironically enough, the Russian government’s current gripe with Russneft is over the company’s purchase of certain assets from Yukos, reportedly without the approval of authorities, before that company went bankrupt last August.

So will Gutseriyev be sharing a jail cell with Khodorkovksy in Siberia? Not likely. “This seems like a negotiation on a sale, not expropriation,” explained Denis Maslov of the Eurasia Group. That’s how they do things in Russia these days.

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