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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Abramovich Questioned In Sibneft Fraud Case

An investigation into oil major Sibneft went straight to the top Tuesday when the Prosecutor General’s Office summoned Roman Abramovich to answer questions regarding large-scale fraud and theft at the company.

The questioning of Abramovich, who controls Sibneft through subsidiary companies, surprised many Kremlin watchers who say the tycoon is closely connected to presidential Chief of Staff Alexander Voloshin and therefore "untouchable."

"If they are going after Abramovich, then this is big news; he was the one oligarch, with the possible exception of Alexander Mamut, who was left untouched by the anti-oligarch actions last year," wrote Troika Dialog in a comment Wednesday.

NIKoil brokerage’s political analyst, Alexei Kazakov, said that the questioning of Abramovich might be part of a Kremlin plan to keep the country’s business barons in check.

At some point, it looked like the new administration was mounting a campaign only against the two most rebellious oligarchs, the political chess masters Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky, Kazakov said.

But later all other members of the business elite close to former President Boris Yeltsin have had to face a showdown with either the Prosecutor General’s Office or President Vladimir Putin.

"It may be that scandals will continue until all the oligarchs take their turn with the prosecutors," he said. "There are signs of a systematic approach [to dealing with the oligarchs] — it was Abramovich’s turn," he said.

Other market players said the whole affair would likely disappear soon.

"Such accusations never led to anything in the past, so Sibneft’s story did not get much attention this time," said Steven Dashevsky, oil and gas analyst with the brokerage Aton.

"I do not think that there is a hidden agenda here," said Michael Khlebnikov, managing director of Hypo- und Vereinsbank Capital, said in a telephone interview from New York.

Whatever the outcome, the news of Abramovich’s trip to the prosecutor startled investors and caused Sibneft’s stock price to bungee jump. After falling 5.3 percent after the news broke Tuesday, Sibneft shares rebounded 5.6 percent to close at 37.5 percent Wednesday.

Sibneft, like the market, shrugged off the incident.

"Both cases have no legal ground," Sibneft spokesman Alexei Firsov said Wednesday, referring to a previous investigation by the Tax Police that was resolved in Sibneft’s favor.

Prosecutors are investigating Sibneft’s export deals with Kyrgyzstan and several other deals that went through the Black Sea port of Tuapse.

"We did not have export contracts handled by the Tuapse port at all," said Firsov. "As for deliveries to Central Asia, this case has already been examined by the Tax Police and was closed due to lack of substance."

Prosecutors are reportedly accusing Sibneft of not paying 12 million rubles to 14 million rubles ($350,000) in taxes on its export scheme to Kyrgyzstan, but the Prosecutor General’s Office declined to comment Wednesday.