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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Vanishing' Exec Gives Utility War New Twist

The boardroom scuffle at Mosenergo keeps getting weirder.

Officers from the Interior Ministry's economic crime department said Thursday that they had located the head of the utility's securities department, Natalya Khokholkova, who had been reported missing since Wednesday.

But Khokholvova had not, as Mosenergo CEO Alexander Remezov feared, been kidnapped by Mosenergo parent company Unified Energy Systems. Rather, she had taken sick leave and was resting comfortably at her relatives' apartment, according to Alexei Kutilin, a spokesman for the economic crime department.

Remezov, who has successfully foiled attempts by UES to replace him since mid-June, called the ministry Wednesday because, he said, he suspected that UES was limiting Khokholkova's movements and phone conversations and putting her under extreme pressure.

"UES [will], at any cost -- even up to physically isolating the counting board chief -- force Khokholkova to sign the minutes of the meeting in spite of all the bans from different courts," Remezov said Wednesday.

Khokholova, who is also head of Mosenergo's counting board, is a central figure in Remezov's battle to save his job. UES, which owns 51 percent of Mosenergo, called an extraordinary shareholders meeting last Friday to elect his successor. And although Remezov and several court decisions have said that that meeting was illegal, UES claims it was and intends to reveal the final results of the vote from that meeting on Monday.

But Khokholova, as head of the company's counting board, has to certify the vote tally.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Remezov said he was worried because "Khokholova had not come to work for two days."

Remezov himself took the precaution of going on sick leave ahead of last Friday's meeting. Russian labor laws protect employees from being dismissed while they are either on vacation or sick leave. On Monday, he all but admitted that he was never really ill.

Khokholova could not be reached for comment Thursday, but Mosenergo spokeswoman Vera Vinogradova said she would be on sick leave until Tuesday -- one day after the votes of last Friday's meeting are to be tallied and certified.

"[Khokholova] gets sick from time to time," Vinogradova said.

Analysts said that while UES chief Anatoly Chubais would probably prevail in his quest to remove Remezov eventually, the conflict has taken a toll on Mosenergo's share price.

Mosenergo's stock is off as much as 30 percent from what it was before Chubais called for Remezov's removal in June, said NIKoil analyst Ilya Marshak.

Before the conflict, Mosenergo shares cost 4.2 cents. The stock hit a low of 2.9 cents at the beginning of August, and closed Thursday at 3.4 cents, Marshak said.

"What is happening around Mosenergo is negatively influencing the company's market valuation -- Remezov's position is uncertain, but even more uncertain is who will replace him," said Dmitry Vinogradov, an analyst at Brunswick Warburg.

"What is really depressing is that neither Remezov nor UES, regardless of who is right, thinks about what's happening to the company's share price," he said.