Deripaska Barred From Davos

A prestigious financial round table kicked off in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday with one of the 2,000 or so invited business and political luminaries declared personal non grata.

Oleg Deripaska, the 32-year-old head of Siberian Aluminum, was told last month by the World Economic Forum that his invitation had been withdrawn and his membership in the exclusive club cancelled.

Deripaska received a letter dated Dec. 21 from Donna Redel, managing director of the Forum's Center for Global Industries, which said:

"We have learned today from the press that a lawsuit has been filed against you and your [parent company Russian Aluminum] in New York. Pursuant to WEF policy, we regret to inform you?" and so on.

A day prior to Redel's letter the Financial Times published an article on a $2.7 billion lawsuit filed in New York against Siberian Aluminum, Russian Aluminum, their owners and affiliated firms by three trading companies representing the interests of Mikhail Zhivilo.

Zhivilo is the former owner of the Novokuznetsk Aluminum plant and is currently wanted in an investigation into an attempt on Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev's life.

The plaintiffs accuse Deripaska and other defendants of offering bribes, racketeering and murder.

In his response to Redel's letter, Deripaska said that neither he nor Siberian Aluminum had officially received court documents about the suit and dismissd it as a propaganda ploy by Zhivilo, adding that "youthful Russian democracy has established the 'innocent until proven guilty' principle."

But the World Economic Forum remained deaf to the pleas of the aluminum magnate.

"We have strict regulations that oblige us to freeze membership when one of our members finds itself in such a situation. We are not, therefore, expressing any personal opinion either with respect to you or your company," Redel's deputy, Maggie Deleuval, wrote Deripaska.

"Forum employees that are responsible for the Russian program and follow the events in Russia believe that Oleg Deripaska is not the most suitable guest this year," said WEF public relations director Charles Maclean.

The snub is also embarassing for the forum, which just last year was so impressed with Deripaska that it ranked him as one of its "global leaders of tomorrow," the Financial Times reported.

Adding insult to injury, the forum followed up its retracted invitation with a $16,000 bill for Siberian Aluminum's 2001 membership, which the aluminum company says it has no intention of paying.

But while Deripaska won't be enjoying the scenic Davos conference this year, other prominent Russians will.

Russia sent its official delegation to the forum on Thursday, as the country basked in last year's glowing economic indicators but wrangled with what to do with its staggering Soviet-era debts.

The delegation, led by Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, was expected to hold talks at the forum with creditors including the International Monetary Fund, the Finance Ministry press service said.

Others in the delegation include Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko, Federal Securities Commission Chairman Igor Kostikov and President Vladimir Putin's outspoken economic adviser Andrei Illarionov.

Also expected at Davos is Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, who was due to arrive Thursday from Copenhagen, Denmark, where he participated in a conference organized by the Danish Institute of International Policy, Prime-Tass reported.

Yavlinksy is expected to join Russia's official delegation on Friday for a special seminar on the Russian economy, at which Finance Minister Kudrin is scheduled to be the keynote speaker.

"Russia wishes to tell the about its acheivements the world has looked forward to for the 10 years of Russian reform," Prime-Tass quoted Kudrin as saying before he left for Davos.

Most likely the attention of the press and other forum participants will be focused this year on the recently elected heads of state of Mexican and Yugoslavia.

A corporate governance initiative on Russia was also on the agenda.