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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fyodorov Lampoons Gazprom's Managers

NEW YORK — Outspoken Gazprom board member and United Financial Group founder Boris Fyodorov blasted the gas giant's management Wednesday, accusing it of being behind a recent court decision that may block two minority investors from voting at an AGM next month.

Fyodorov said that a move by the Moscow arbitration court in early May to freeze 2.3 percent of Gazprom shares held by UFG-controlled investment vehicles Arial and Onix-Invest — pending a court case amid allegations that are foreign-owned — is an assault on minority shareholders rights.

"The freezing [of the shares] is a full blown attack by Gazprom management via its intermediaries," Fyodorov told a group of U.S. businessmen. "The idea is to block shareholders voting rights at the up-coming annual general meeting. It is legal harassment."

The June 29 shareholders meeting is considered pivotal for the 38 percent state-owned gas giant, Russia's largest tax payer, as a new management board will be elected and the current chairman likely replaced at a time when President Vladimir Putin has ordered an overhaul of the company's controversial two-tiered share scheme.

Gazprom management, which has been accused of asset stripping, denied allegations it was behind the court's decision in a statement Thursday.

Gazprom said that it was closely following the case — whose plaintiff is backed by a group called the Association for Minority Shareholders' Rights Protection — but denied any connection to it.

"What is this organization?" asked Fyodorov. "No one has heard of it before. It was founded only three months ago, it has three members and probably only has three Gazprom shares. But somehow it has access to boxes and boxes of detailed information about the shareholder structure of Gazprom."

The court also ordered Gazprom to exclude board candidates nominated by Arial and Onix-Invest, including Fyodorov, a former finance and deputy prime minister.

"Gazprom 's management categorically denies all from the lips of UFG representatives and its honorable representative, Mr. Boris Fyodorov, alluding to 'orders from the management of Gazprom,' about the 'hostile activities' against UFG incited by people connected with Gazprom's management," said the statement.

"The management of Gazprom considers such statements to be slanderous and provocation," it said.

Foreigners can buy Gazprom only through American Depositary Shares, which trade at a great premium to locally quoted stock, but some foreigners have circumvented the restriction by setting up Russian companies to hold shares for them.

Fyodorov defended the scheme: "If you look at the law, signed by President Boris Yeltsin, it is very specific. The law says that no company with more than 50 percent of foreign ownership can own Gazprom shares."

Foreigners that want to own Gazprom local shares have only to buy into companies that hold such shares. As long as the total foreign ownership remains below 50 percent they meet the letter of the law.

None of the UFG subsidiaries holding Gazprom shares are majority owned by foreigners, Fyodorov said.

Reuters quoted UFG on Thursday as saying that a court decision confirming that Onix-Invest and Arial are more than 50 percent Russian owned might not come in time for them to vote in the AGM.