Arbat Prestige Sees Proof of Asset Grab

MTShoppers browsing in an Arbat Prestige store on Prospekt Mira. Its owner has been jailed on tax-evasion charges.
An obscure figure has surfaced to claim that he is the true owner of troubled cosmetic chain Arbat Prestige, providing further evidence that the company is the target of an illegal asset grab, its lawyer Alexander Dobrovinsky said Monday.

The hitherto unknown man, Stanislav Skorodumov, sent an official statement to the Prosecutor General's Office on Jan. 28 saying that he, and not Arbat Prestige founder Vladimir Nekrasov, was the company's real owner, Interfax reported Monday.

Skorodumov asked investigators in the statement to meet with him to discuss the issue.

Nekrasov was arrested on Jan. 23, along with Semyon Mogilevich, a suspected organized crime boss wanted by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Nekrasov is accused of failing to pay taxes totaling 50 million rubles ($2.1 million) from 2005 to 2006, while Mogilevich, also known as Semyon Shnaider, is suspected of masterminding the alleged tax-evasion scheme.

Although Skorodumov's statement was filed five days after Nekrasov's arrest, it was only made public on Monday, during a Moscow City Court hearing to consider Nekrasov's request to be released while awaiting trial.

"This is not a coincidence," Dobrovinsky said.

"This is another demonstration that the problems surrounding Arbat Prestige represent a raiders' attack," he added, referring to cases where legal or regulatory pressure is applied illegally to force owners to part with businesses or assets. "We don't know who this man is, but we understand that investigators are backing him."

Both the Prosecutor General's Office and the Interior Ministry's Investigative Committee refused to comment Monday. A source within the Investigative Committee said the Prosecutor General's Office forwarded the statement to the Interior Ministry's Investigative Committee, which is investigating the issue, Interfax reported.

The court turned down Nekrasov's request to be released, despite an offer to post 50 million rubles in bail and ordered that he remain behind bars until at least Sept. 23.

A few weeks after Nekrasov's arrest, Dobrovinsky said, he was approached by a man who said all accusations against Nekrasov would be dropped and the businessman would be freed the next day if he agreed to sell Arbat Prestige for $3 million -- a tiny fraction of the company's market value.

Analysts say thousands of businesses are taken over using such illegal means every year, with the "raiders" often including former intelligence officials, police officers, lawyers and people with ties to well-placed officials. On their payroll are judges, prosecutors and bureaucrats at all levels.

Skorodumov said he was not ready to comment on his actions, Interfax reported Monday.