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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Time to Say Farewell to Vyakhirev

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Gazprom's board of directors will vote soon on whether to offer Rem Vyakhirev another term as the company's CEO. Vyakhirev has directed Gazprom since its creation in 1992, but his tenure has been dogged by credible and unanswered accusations of mismanagement and asset-stripping. Board member Boris Fyodorov has said that he believes "$2 billion to $3 billion disappears from Gazprom each year through corruption, nepotism and simple theft." Each year.

On Monday The Moscow Times published the results of a five-week investigation into asset-stripping at Gazprom that uncovered considerable evidence that assets have been systematically handed over to relatives of company managers — including Vyakhirev, his deputy Vyacheslav Sheremet and former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin — throughout Vyakhirev's tenure.

This sordid story is too complex even to be summarized here. Suffice it to say that the daughters of Vyakhirev and Sheremet, as well as Chernomyrdin's son and other insiders, were able to "buy" major stakes in companies controlling former Gazprom assets literally for pennies.

Monday's story also told how major assets that once belonged to Gazprom had been systematically transferred to a network of nebulous offshore holding companies. Figuring out who now owns Gazprom's former assets may now be all but impossible. But we know that it happened on Vyakhirev's watch.

All of this comes on top of years of scandal surrounding Itera, a mysterious company that has become the world's seventh-largest gas company in just nine years on the strength of numerous questionable concessions from Gazprom. Gazprom shareholders naturally are curious why Itera's output has increased in recent years just as Gazprom's own output has declined.

Even in its present, asset-stripped condition, Gazprom accounts for about 8 percent of Russia's economy and holds roughly one-quarter of the planet's natural gas reserves. Obviously, the questions of who manages the company and how are extremely important — not least to the Russian state, which owns 38 percent of Gazprom.

How the state's representatives on Gazprom's board — including the deputy head of the presidential administration — react to the latest reports and how they vote on Vyakhirev will tell us much about the new administration's commitment to fighting corruption. Not only should they send Vyakhirev packing as soon as possible, they should be demanding a complete independent audit.

There is no question that Vyakhirev should be dismissed. The real question is whether he should be in prison.