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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gunmen Target Former Avtobank Executive

Controversial entrepreneur Andrei Andreyev narrowly survived an attack late Thursday that is believed to be linked to his continuing efforts to get back a business empire he claims was snatched from him illegally two years ago.

Andreyev's controlling stakes in Avtobank, the Ingosstrakh insurance company and the Nosta metals company were bought by Oleg Deripaska's Base Element, the Nafta-Moskva oil company and Millhouse Capital in September 2001. Soon after the sale, Andreyev went to the police claiming that he and other nominal owners of the shares had been threatened with death if they did not sign over the business.

The ensuing legal battle, which has seen shares repeatedly seized and released, is still ongoing.

Gunmen opened fire on Andreyev's Mercedes-600 at a poorly lit intersection on Moldavskaya Ulitsa in western Moscow as he was returning home at about 9 p.m. Thursday.

"Unknown individuals fired from an unidentified weapon at the car, which was being driven by Andreyev's bodyguard," a spokeswoman for city police said. "There were no casualties, there are two bullet holes in the hood and rear door of the car."

Political observers said such attacks are not uncommon among medium-sized businesses, which are less likely to be benefiting from Russia's touted new stability.

Disputes over property rights and the gangland violence they breed may be intensifying, due to political uncertainty and Kremlin infighting ahead of the elections, the observers said.

Saturday's Kommersant carried a front-page photograph of a ghost-like Andreyev pointing out the bullet holes in the window of his car. He said it was a miracle he survived.

"I heard the car get hit three times, as though by a sledgehammer. At first I didn't understand what was going on. My driver Igor hit the gas and we were at my front door in seconds," Kommersant reported him as saying.

The newspaper said the car had been hit three times. The first two shots, intended for the driver, punctured the car's hood, while the third passed through Andreyev's headrest, missing him by a matter of centimeters.

"When I turned to the right I understood how close I was to death," Andreyev said.

Andreyev, a former policeman, said in an interview with Vedomosti in February 2002 that he had been forced to sign over his stakes to his former Avtobank partners Natalya Rayevskaya and Rodion Gamzayev, who then sold them to a consortium. Gamzayev is widely reported to have ties to the Krasnoyarsk mafia.

People familiar with the case said Andreyev's problems began when a group of corporate raiders initiated bankruptcy procedures at Nosta that saw him replaced as manager and effectively lose control of the company's cash flows. As his business took a turn for the worse, Andreyev's shadowy business partners called in their debts.

In April of last year, police froze the disputed assets and raided Deripaska's offices at Base Element and Russian Aluminum. The freeze was lifted in June 2002, reinstated in September and lifted again in October. Most recently, in the thick of the Yukos scandal, the Prosecutor General's Office announced in July that it would be taking another look at the police investigation, though according to Base Element spokesman Alexei Drobaschenko, no further searches have come as a result.

Asked who might be behind Thursday's attack, Andreyev was categorical in his response.

"There's no need to mix Oleg [Deripaska] in with this. It is not his style or scale. These are Krasnoyarsk bandits whose just punishment I have been trying to achieve for many years," Kommersant reported him as saying.

Yury Korgunyuk, an analyst with the Indem think tank, said Andreyev was a good representative of the middle-tier of Russian business. "If business is normalizing then it is only at the top level, at the level of the oligarchs," Korgunyuk said.

"But with the medium-sized businesses these attacks are extremely frequent. It is very hard to tell who is the bandit and who is the entrepreneur because the bandit often controls the businessman. He effectively becomes a substitute for the businessman or gets involved in the business and forces shares to be passed over to him."

Andrei Ryabov of the Carnegie Moscow Center said Andreyev had been trying to cash in on the raids on Yukos and on ownership investigations to reinvigorate his attempts to get his business back.

"This question of reinvestigating ownership creates a general sense of instability and unpredictability in business circles and in criminal circles," Ryabov said.

A lack of political clarity in the run-up to parliamentary elections plays a part in creating an atmosphere for gangland violence, Ryabov said.

"What balance, what configuration of power will there be when Putin goes into his second term? Will the old configuration remain with the old Kremlin clan and the St. Petersburgers? Or will the St. Pete crowd -- where the siloviki dominate -- be in control?

"This is not just a political question. It has a direct link to the question of property division. This also encourages a criminalized atmosphere."