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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Shady Property Battle in Leafy Peredelkino

Until last weekend, Villa Peredelkino was an oasis of calm in a wooded area outside Moscow where guests could enjoy a quiet meal or a pleasant weekend stay. Then the police moved in. They took up positions at the gates of the small Italian-run hotel and restaurant and refused to let guests pass.


What had previously been a country retreat had become a small part of a much bigger battle now being waged across Russia: the struggle for control of the innumerable and expensive assets of the Communist Party -- holiday resorts, hard-currency bank accounts and all the best that the former Soviet Union produced.


The police were sent in by Igor Yudin, in 1988 a financial director at the Komsomol, the Communist Party's youth branch, but today general director and a major shareholder of Yuneks, a multimillion dollar private Russian company.


Interviewed Wednesday in the Yuneks office complex near Leninsky Prospekt, Yudin claimed that he owns the villa. He said that he brought in the police to force the Italian-Russian joint venture that has managed the hotel since 1990 to pay rent.


According to Yudin, his company owns the Wla Peredelkino hotel and restaurant by virtue of a deal reached with the Komsomol in September 1991, just weeks before President Boris Yeltsin banned the Communist Party in the wake of the failed August coup.


But Laura Calderer, Villa Peredelkino's general director, said in an interview that she has refused to pay rent because Yuneks and Yudin have no right to the property.


To some, Yudin will be a symbol of the new breed of Russian entrepreneur. He has amassed property in the midst of chaos and has started building a business empire.


To Calderer, he is an example of what Russians call "nomenklatura privatization", the process whereby former Communist Party insiders have turned their old political influence into new wealth.


In its worst form, this has allowed top party leaders, who saw the writing on the wall in 1991, to divert state property into various private commercial structures, registered in their own names.


Yudin admits that his Komsomol connections helped him get control of the Villa Peredelkino hotel but denies he is doing anything improper. "We were all Communists once and I was one too. That does not mean I do not have a right to do honest business now", he said.


The hotel, with its restaurant, is an example of the sort of property that high-placed party officials would want to keep for themselves.


The holiday lodge was one of those things that could make communism pleasant, at least for the party elite. The villa is located in the leafy western suburb of Peredelkino, where the Soviet cultural elite had their dachas. Built in 1980, it was a place where top leaders from the Komsomol could relax in the shade of exotic cypress trees and enjoy camaraderie in marble reception rooms.


Yudin had come to the Komsomol two years before as an expert in "self-financing organizations" -- communist jargon for profit-making bodies. After a year in the apparatus, he was named deputy of the Yuneks Foreign Trade Group, which had a range of commercial activities including the villa at Peredelkino.


In 1989 the comrades decided it was time to go commercial. Yuneks signed a deal with Calderer's Italian company, Multiservice-Omnia. A joint venture was set up under which the Italians would run the hotel and restaurant and keep the profits, but would pay rent of about $700, 000 to Yuneks. The comrades and the foreigners were happy.


Then came the events of August 1991: the coup and the banning of the Communist Party. By the end of September, the Komsomol had ceased to exist and its property was transferred to the state.


Yudin says that in early September and October that year he reached a deal with the almost defunct Komsomol over Villa Peredelkino and Yuneks.


The Komsomol sold Villa Peredelkino to its self-funding subsidiary, the Yuneks foreign trade group, and then all of its assets were transformed into a new organization, the Yuneks joint-stock company owned by Yudin and several other private shareholders.


Yudin is not shy about justifying the deal, which gave him control of the property.


"It was a sale, not a transfer", he said Wednesday, although he declined to name the sale price. "While we got some property from the Komsomol, we also acquired a lot of debts. We have honored those debts. We got the good and the bad".


Amid all the confusion over who owned Villa Peredelkino, no one had actually asked the joint venture to pay any rent. Since mid-1990, therefore, the Italian-run property had enjoyed a rent holiday.


Calderer says she first stopped paying rent by mutual agreement with the Komosomol, who allowed her to save the money to pay for refurbishing the hotel. She says she is ready to pay rent but she refuses to pay it to Yudin on the grounds that he has no legal right to it.


The deputy prime minister in charge of privatization, Anatoly Chubais, wrote a letter to Russia's public prosecutor in June 1992 asking him to investigate Yuneks.


But Yudin said that the prosecutor did not find any grounds for complaint against him, and Chubais himself admits that he has no power to rescind deals struck by the Komsomol in 1991.


Yudin says Calderer is just trying to avoid paying rent. The business enjoys sales of $1. 5 million a year and has paid a total of $70, 000 in rent over the last three years.


The Moscow Arbitration Court, apparently agreeing with Yudin, handed down a decision in December giving Yudin the right to tear up the joint-venture agreement with the Italian managers and ordering Calderer to pay almost $2 million in back rent.


Yudin sent in the police on April 30 and they are still there. He has set up a commission to take inventory, and that is where the matter stands.