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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Coal Blooded Crime or Calumny?

Oleg Misevra, president of Siberian Coal Energy Company Baikal-Ugol, or SUEK, the nation's top coal producer, has released details of his negotations with rival Russky Ugol. Misevra alleged that Vadim Varshavsky, head of Russky Ugol, had threatened to have him jailed for murder if he did not hand over a 30 percent stake in Dalvostugol, a major coal producer in the Amur region.

Varshavsky has categorically denied the accusation and pledges to sue Misevra for slander.

A number of circumstances give Misevra's accusation the look of truth, however.

SUEK is a subsidiary of financial-industrial giant MDM Group, whose MDM Bank is considered the bank of choice of the notorious Yeltsin-era "family." SUEK owns about one-third of Russia's coal, and the companies it manages are expected to produce some 70 million tons of coal this year.

Russky Ugol claims to produce 30 million tons annually. Independent experts put its output at a rather more modest 2 million tons. The company's founders include Mezhprombank, considered the bank of choice of the St. Petersburg chekists.

MDM Group's strategy is to achieve a total monopoly on coal production east of the Urals. The strategy of the Petersburgers is to make their presence felt in every sphere controlled by the oligarchs. The result is an unending series of skirmishes.

The skirmish that erupted over Dalvostugol followed the usual pattern -- a reshuffle of top management, canceled privatization auctions, police, swat teams, and finally a 3 billion ruble debt to the federal government that forced the company into bankruptcy. As a result the company is now run by an acting director hand-picked by Russky Ugol.

The acting director's term expires on Dec. 4, however. And on Dec. 3 a new law on bankruptcy comes into force, according to which the government's interests in bankruptcy cases will be respresented by the agency of its choice. At present the Tax Ministry handles all such cases involving debt owed to the federal government. In the case of Dalvostugol, the Kremlin sides with MDM Group, the Tax Ministry with Mezhprombank.

At this point, Misevra said that he began getting calls from Varshavsky demanding that he hand over the Dalvostugol stock, acquired by MDM Group this summer. In exchange, he said, Varshavsky promised to quash a criminal investigation into the murder of Ivan Kartashev.

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This was truly a case of murder most foul. Kartashev, deputy general director of SUEK's trading arm Rosuglesbyt, was murdered on Aug. 11. As late as July he was himself the general director, but then he was demoted for alleged theft. Smarting from this indignity, Kartashev told Miserva that he was moving to Russky Ugol. Misevra cut Kartashev off and nearly punched him in the face.

Kartashev's murder inspired a flurry of conspiracy theories. According to one, the corporate climate is such that leaving to go work for a competitor is equivalent to treason. The traitor was executed. Another theory holds that Russky Ugol needed an informer. Kartashev, whose own hands were far from clean, was the first name on Russky Ugol's list. He was recruited, pumped for information and killed. It's important to keep in mind that both of these theories, and hundreds of others that swirl around the murder, are the stuff of fiction.

It's not that hard to understand the Petersburgers' strategy. They don't have deep pockets or good managers, but they do have friends in the prosecutor's office. Companies used to be carved up with the help of hitmen; now cops are used instead. Take the case of Anatoly Bykov, who lost control of Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Plant after his arrest.

But Bykov's arrest was just one operation in an industrial war that also involved law suits, a raw materials blockade, etc. And Bykov was arrested on the basis of a taped conversation with a hitman.

In the Kartashev case there is no proof save a letter sent by an unknown Bashkir deputy to Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov. In the letter the deputy states that "Kartashev's murder was just one link in the criminal activities of people who will resort to anything to achieve their goals." In short, if Varshavsky really threatened Misevra, a good idea was fouled up by poor execution.

Yulia Latynina is host of "Yest Mneniye" on TVS.