Tuesday, July 27, 2004

And you think Enron was bad? A look at Yukos

Sure US investors have seen their share of fraud cases (Adelphia, Enron, Worldcom etc.) However, with the seemingly imminent collapse of Russian Oil giant Yukos, it is worthwhile to remember that the US and Europe do not have a monopoly on fraud and corruption--in fact, it may be worse elsewhere!

Background:  As you proabbly know the Russian Oil giant Yukos owes an estimated $7 billion in back taxes  but does not have the cash to pay this sum off.  In order to claim those funds the Russian government is threatening to liquidate the firm. Today Yokos officials have admited they "may have to declare itself bankrupt if the Russian government carries out a forced sale of its production unit. "

The case, which has the makings of a cinema blockbuster, began in June 2003, but hit full stride in October when Mikhail Khodorkovsky (who is arguably Russia's wealthiest citizen" was arrested by "masked and armed members of the security police force FSB stormed his private jet at an airport in Siberia."

Prior to this Khodorkovsky was seen by many as "untouchable." Why? He was one of the often cited "Oligarchs" who rose in dominance after the collapse of communism through entrepreneurship, risk taking, and more than occasionally fraud. As the BBC points out in a great article, in this he was by no means alone. Operating in a quickly changing world where the business laws were unclear, transparency almost non existent, and in a society that had grown accustomed to the corruption and favoritism of former communist party officials, many of these first generation business people believed they were above the law and acted accordingly.

This feeling of invincibility may have come to an end when in June 2003, the Russian government demanded that Yukos (the oil firm run by Khodorkovsky) pay its back taxes, distrust of the government and wealthy business leaders has not. Now some in Russia are claiming that the real reason behind the government pushing for payment of the back taxes is that Khodorkovsky is politically opposed to Putin and many at the Kremlin. Moreover, even the BBC is reporting it is interesting that the "most controversial episode of all, the 1995 auction of Yukos, has been left off the charge sheet. To include it would be seen as an attack on all the oligarchs who won the auctions for Russia's mineral wealth.
Nor has there been any mention of Menatep's offshore network which might have concealed many ill-gotten gains of its clients.
The events which have been left off the charge sheet speak volumes about the current situation Russia.


http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3927523.stm--HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!

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