There is a real possibility that Russian authorities can start questioning privatization procedure compliance with the law, and therefore British businessmen would like to know beforehand what kind of losses they can encounter in Russia.
Some auditors of the Auditing Chamber of Russia have been analyzing the privatization results to find out who of the newly established capitalists violated the law. According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, only 7-10 tycoons (oligarchs) committed criminal actions during the privatization process. This means all the rest will avoid legal prosecution.
Sibneft company was the one often publicly accused of breaking the privatization regulations and tax-evasion by Head of Auditing Chamber Sergey Stepashin. The accusations became more severe after key shareholder for Sibneft Roman Abramovich had purchased Chelsea soccer club in London. Irritated Roman Abramovich said in one of his interview to foreign media that he was not interested in “Stepashin’s opinion”. Probably the activity of Mr. Stepashin caused the statements of the two high-ranking officials from the Interior Ministry Investigation Committee and Attorney General Office that they have no claims to Sibneft company.
The Auditing Chamber stopped uttering accusations. However, when making a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Ministry Head Alexei Kudrin named Sibneft on the list of the companies the state intends to prosecute in future.
This intention has not been realized so far, but Sergey Stepashin decided to soothe the concerns of President of Russian-British TNK-BP joint venture company Robert Dadly. The Auditing Chamber Head was explaining to the British CEO that while revising the half-forgotten deals of the mass privatization period, the Auditing Chamber was not pursuing the goal of changing the privatization results. According to the officials, their purpose was assisting the companies which had not broken the law during the privatization.
Mr. Stepashin also told Mr. Dadly about the Auditing Chamber participation in “the work of Russian government on making the national economy more transparent and improving the investment climate in the country”. In addition, he informed the British businessman on the state of Russian tax legislation and the prospects of improving it to encourage business activity. Mr. Dadly was concerned about the recent amendments to the legislation, such as increasing export duty for oil and oil products. He is afraid that the government is in a position to go further and undertake more radical actions because it has the pro-government majority in the State Duma.
Sergey Stepashin did not argue with the British CEO, but expressed his position. According to Stepashin, the recent State Duma elections results made it possible to have “the conditions for adopting the legislation encouraging reforms and the country economic development”. By this the Auditing Chamber Head could mean filling the gaps in the legislation allowing “unprincipled” Russian companies such as Yukos and Sibneft (Sibneft holds the record of minimizing tax payments among all Russian oil companies) to reduce their payments to the state budget by many billion roubles.
The recent statement by Alexei Kudrind in Davos could make the British executive have this meeting. However, Mr. Kudrin named neither TNK-BP no TNK companies on the ”black list”. However, Russian authorities are well aware of the dishonest methods of establishing Alpha Group and its TNK subsidiary. The methods used by Alpha for creating TNK were similar the ones Yukos company was practicing, and currently some of Yukos’s shareholders are imprisoned, and others became spotted by Russian and foreign law-enforcers. Therefore the concerns of Mr. Dadly are easy to understand.
In addition, British partners are familiar with the methods used by Alpha bank and TNK executives. Earlier Alpha and BP had conflict caused by their clash of interests, and the British lost the case. They hardly avoided losing their assets in Russia, but were saved due to the appeal made by Prime Minister Tony Blair to President Vladimir Putin. This story had a happy end – the former rivals jointly established one of the biggest oil companies in the world. However, today there is a real possibility of the state questioning TNK privatization procedure, and the British would like to know what kind of losses they can encounter in Russia.
General statements by Mr. Stepashin could hardly soothe Mr. Dadly. Auditing Chamber has not completed checking the privatization deals which established TNK company. Moreover, neither Russian authorities no Attorney General Office have determined their position to TNK – Alpha Group yet.
According to President Putin, only those abiding the law can sleep well. Probably all the rest are supposed to suffer from severe insomnia followed by preventive arresting and night interrogating. It is hard to believe that one of the biggest Russian oil companies was established only with legal methods, and no law violation can be found. One can feel sorry for Robert Dadly. Did the BP shareholders lose their mind to decide having business in Russia? However, they could have estimated all possible risks in advance, including the losses from risky adventurous undertakings in Russia and the benefits from privatizing a personal gate in the “wall of authorities”.