Sechin in Line for Best Chairman Award

When it comes to defending investors, Igor Sechin might just be the country's best chairman of the board — or so a group of private investors said on Monday.

Deputy Prime Minister Sechin was nominated for an award for best chairman from the Investor Protection Association for his work at state-controlled oil major Rosneft, the association said.

The group brings together 26 local and foreign asset management companies, including heavy hitters like Deutsche Bank and Troika Dialog.

Valery Graifer, an independent director on the board at LUKoil, also made it onto the shortlist of two nominees, the association said.

The vote for the ultimate winner has already been held, and the results will be announced at the group's annual conference on Dec. 10, said association spokeswoman Marina Pakhomova.

If the brief history of the honor is any indication, Sechin has the inside track.

President Dmitry Medvedev, then first deputy prime minister, took home the title the first time it was awarded, in 2006, for his work as chairman of the board at Gazprom.

Members couldn't agree on a winner last year, Pakhomova said.

Pakhomova and Alexander Branis, the chairman of the association's board and director of Prosperity Capital Management in Moscow, declined to comment on the criteria used by members to make their choice.

A request for comments e-mailed to the Cabinet press service went unanswered late Monday afternoon.

Sechin has been chairman of the board at Rosneft since 2004, when he was still serving as deputy chief of the Kremlin administration under then-President Vladimir Putin. In May, Sechin followed Putin to the Cabinet and was made responsible for overseeing the energy sector.

Media-shy during most of his Kremlin tenure, Sechin is seen as one of the figures behind the downfall of Yukos, once Russia's largest oil producer. Rosneft took over as industry leader after snapping up most of Yukos' assets at bankruptcy auctions last year.

When Sechin presided over Rosneft's annual shareholders meeting last year, it was one his first major activities in the public eye. In chairing the meeting, he patiently fielded questions from minority shareholders and instructed company executives to do the same.

Rosneft had sold shares to individuals in a "people's" initial public offering the year before, bringing in many low- and middle-income investors.

He handled this year's meeting in June in much the same manner.

But his performance left some minority shareholders unimpressed.

"At the latest meeting, every babushka was, indeed, able to go over and talk to Sechin. He listened attentively and nodded," said Alexei Navalny, a minority shareholder who has unsuccessfully sued the company, demanding greater disclosure of its corporate files. "I … can't say that he gave substantive answers to any of the requests [for information] that I have sent to them in the dozens."

Sechin's nomination might spring from the fact that his position as deputy prime minister responsible for the industry made him an effective lobbyist for the company, Navalny said.

"Perhaps he is very good from that point of view," he said.

Konstantin Simonov, director of the National Energy Security Foundation, laughed when told about the nomination before adding that Sechin had done a lot for the company.

The association would do better, however, to encourage independent directors, Simonov said.

The group nominated three candidates in a separate category for independent directors.

The nominees are Yevgeny Logovinsky, a senior executive at insurance company Sogaz, who sits on the board of Rostelecom; Seppo Remes, a consulting company director who sits on the boards of Severstal-Avto and Sibur; and Denis Kulikov, executive director of the Investor Protection Association, who sits on the board of electricity generator OGK-2.

Sechin was also recently elected to the board of Inter RAO, an international electricity generator and trader.