LUKoil Financial Officer Abducted

For MTLUKoil chief financial officer Sergei Kukura
Masked gunmen kidnapped LUKoil's chief financial officer as he was being driven to work Thursday, the oil giant said.

The abduction recalled the chaotic Russia of the early 1990s when prominent business figures were often targets of attacks. These days, attacks on high-ranking executives in the country's biggest companies are rarely attempted.

LUKoil, Russia's largest oil company, said CFO Sergei Kukura, 48, was en route from his dacha when five or six masked men dressed in camouflage and armed with Kalashnikov rifles forced the company Mercedes to stop. The men said they were checking documents.

"Kukura is a leading expert in the oil industry and has access to confidential information, some of which can be classified as state secrets," LUKoil said.

Moscow regional prosecutors said the attackers pulled up in two cars, a Zhiguli and a Volga. They searched the Mercedes, then handcuffed Kukura's driver and bodyguard and put bags over their heads.

LUKoil said the driver and bodyguard were possibly given a "sleep-inducing injection."

Kukura was whisked away by four men in the Volga, which had blue Interior Ministry license plates. Police have the Volga's plate numbers and were trying to trace it late Thursday.

The kidnapping took place at 12:45 p.m. at a railroad crossing in the town of Vnukovo, located in the southwestern part of the Moscow region, LUKoil said. The driver and the bodyguard regained consciousness several hours later in the Mercedes, which was parked in a forest. They immediately called LUKoil's security service, which in turn contacted law enforcement agencies at 2:30 p.m.

Moscow regional prosecutors said, however, that the kidnapping occurred at 7:40 a.m.

An investigation has been opened by the Interior Ministry's organized crime department, federal prosecutors, the Moscow regional police and the Federal Security Service. Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasilyev is overseeing the probe. "Not much time has passed -- we're creating a emergency center and a full-scale search has begun," Vasilyev told reporters. "We are combing through all possible motives, checking information. In the interest of the investigation, I can't tell you what information."

Police were looking for possible motives. "Theories aren't born in the first hours after a kidnapping," said Alexander Ovchinnikov, head of the Interior Ministry's organized crime department. "The first thing we have to do is find the tracks left by the criminals."

State Duma deputies who knew Kukura said his kidnapping opened a new chapter in the turbulent history of Russia's corporate world. "This is something new in Russia's modern big business landscape," said Oleg Morozov, leader of the Russia's Regions party. "This kind of thing has never happened before, a top-ranking executive at a company of this scale in this situation."

Morozov said he believed Kukura's kidnapping was related to his work, which involves the oversight and management of billions of dollars.

"Most likely it's directed more at the company than at Kukura himself," he said.

Gennady Raikov, head of the People's Party, said the kidnapping showed that "criminals have gotten completely out of hand."

"I would like to point out that in the United States a kidnapping can carry the death penalty in 38 states," he said.

In Russia, kidnapping carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

The attackers' Volga was found later Thursday in the Odintsovo district of the Moscow region, said Alexander Mitusov, the interim prosecutor general for the Moscow region.

The kidnappers had not contacted LUKoil by late Thursday, a company spokesman said.

LUKoil shares fell 3 percent on news of the kidnapping. LUKoil was trading at $16.40 on the Russian Trading System at midday and fell to $15.90 after the kidnapping was announced. The stock closed at $16, down 2.4 percent for the day.

Kukura, a native of Brest, Belarus, is a veteran oilman who built his career while remaining out of the public spotlight. He got his first job in the Tyumen region after graduating from college in 1979. He worked his way up through Bashneft and Kogalymneftegaz, which was later merged into LUKoil when CEO Vagit Alekperov began building his oil empire. Kukura was a LUKoil vice president from 1993-96. In 1996, he was promoted to chief financial officer. He also sits on LUKoil's board.

He is married and has two children: a teenage daughter, and a son in his 20s.