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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

State Stands Aloof as MMM's Sales Revive

Despite the collapse of the MMM pyramid scheme and a clear government statement that investors who lost in the scandal will not be reimbursed, thousands of people lined up Monday to buy devalued shares in the firm belief that the MMM miracle would be repeated.


About 2,000 investors formed a line to buy shares at the company's headquarters in south Moscow, where MMM's buying price had already risen to 1,130 rubles, a three-day jump of nearly 19 percent.


"Our main concern is that the government leave MMM alone," said Valery, a middle-aged shareholder who declined to give his last name. "This is between us and MMM."


The government seemed to be engaged in a balancing act over the weekend, attempting to appear in control while at the same time distancing itself from the scandal.


Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said Sunday that the government would not reimburse at least 5 million investors in the MMM investment company, which on Friday slashed the price at which it repurchases its own shares to 950 rubles from a previously promised 127,000 rubles.


"MMM shareholders could only be helped at the expense of those who did not buy MMM shares," Reuters quoted Chernomyrdin as saying while visiting the northwestern republic of Karelia. He recommended that investors blame themselves for the country's biggest financial scandal, since many knew they were playing a high risk game.


The government announced Monday that it had asked MMM president Sergei Mavrodi to meet with officials from the Finance Ministry, the Anti-Trust Committee and the tax police, while proposing that the company's books should be independently audited, Itar-Tass reported.


But the government line appears to be that it will take no decisive action to close MMM down.


"We have no problems with MMM," said Leonid Bochin, chairman of the Anti-Trust Committee, said over the weekend. "The government is not going to close MMM down."


The prime minister admitted Sunday that the government had been partly to blame for the crisis, since it had failed to stop illegal issues of MMM shares or to explain to investors what was behind the company's advertising campaign.


"We cannot stop people buying shares but we were obliged to explain to them what was behind this," he said, according to Reuters.


The company's aggressive advertising campaign, along with its policy of redeeming its own shares at prices quoted in advance, attracted at least 5 million shareholders before the scheme collapsed Friday.


But many investors, while acknowledging they were taking part in a pyramid scheme, continued gambling on MMM's devalued shares Monday, hoping that the rates eventually would reach previous levels.


Company officials at MMM said 53 offices in the capital had opened for business Monday and that trade in the newly devalued shares was brisk.


The collapse of MMM share prices Friday led several Russian media outlets to pull the company's advertisements, which had continued to run nonstop even as MMM went through its death throes last week.


Mikhail Shmushkevich, financial director at NTV television, said the company pulled all MMM commercials Friday. But he said television stations could legally resume running some MMM commercials.


"There is nothing wrong with Lyonya on the beach or Lyonya somewhere else," Shmushkevich said, referring to Lyonya Golubkov, the Russian Everyman who grows rich in MMM commercials.


An official with Russian Television, who asked not to be named, said the company pulled some MMM commercials Saturday but was scheduled to resume running them Monday night. Officials with Moscow Television and Ostankino Television could not be reached.


MMM spokesman Sergei Taranov said a number of Moscow newspapers also had refused to run the company's advertisements Monday on reports that the ads had been banned by Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Officials at the mayor's office, however, said that no such order had been issued.


Taranov denied weekend reports that president Sergei Mavrodi had closed the company down pending a shareholders' meeting.


"We are buying and selling shares today, and the trade is going well," he said, though he declined to say how many shares the company had managed to sell since Friday.


MMM is not likely to have many real shareholders, since all shares remain the property of MMM unless an investor records a transfer of ownership in the company's register, which company officials claim to have lost.


MMM has been licensed to issue a total of 991,000 shares with a face value of 1,000 rubles each, meaning that the company cannot in any case have more than 991,000 genuine shareholders, rather than the 10 million it claims.


Mikhail Shmushkevich, financial director at NTV television, said the company pulled all MMM commercials on Friday. But he said television stations could legally resume running some MMM commercials.


"There is nothing wrong with Lyonya on the beach or Lyonya somewhere else," Shmushkevich said, referring to Lyonya Golubkov, the Russian Everyman who grows rich in MMM commercials.


An official with Russian Television, who asked not to be named, said the company pulled some MMM commercials Saturday but was scheduled to resume running them Monday night. Officials with Moscow Television and Ostankino Television could not be reached.


MMM spokesman Sergei Taranov said a number of Moscow newspapers also had refused to run the company's advertisements Monday on reports that the ads had been banned by Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Officials at the mayor's office, however, said that no such order had been issued.


Taranov denied weekend reports that president Sergei Mavrodi had closed the company down pending a shareholders' meeting.


"We are buying and selling shares today, and the trade is going well," he said, though he declined to say how many shares the company had managed to sell since Friday.


MMM is not likely to have many real shareholders, since all shares remain the property of MMM unless an investor records a transfer of ownership in the company's register, which company officials claim to have lost.


First Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Kazmin told Ostankino Television on Saturday that MMM shares and "tickets" -- special securities denominated in hundredths of a share -- are no more than "advertising materials" that have gained a market value.


MMM has been licensed to issue a total of 991,000 shares with a face value of 1,000 rubles each, meaning that the company cannot in any case have more than 991,000 genuine shareholders, rather than the 10 million it claims.