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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ministry Fears Top Oil Secrets Leak

A private security firm seized control of a building Friday that houses a research center where the Natural Resources Ministry stores top-secret information about the nation's oil and gas reserves.

An obscure company called Elektroproyekt hired the security firm to assert ownership of the building, which houses the ministry's GEON research center, and evict its staff. The building is on a prime piece of real estate near Christ the Savior Cathedral.

Elektroproyekt's general director Alexander Kononykhin told reporters at the scene Friday that his company was trying to enforce its ownership rights to the property after winning a series of lawsuits against GEON, Kommersant reported Saturday.

A spokesman for the Natural Resources Ministry, Rinat Gizatulin, was the first to raise alarm over the raid, saying "unknown individuals" had stormed the building Friday and seized documents, Interfax reported.

GEON has been conducting secret research into the nation's reserves of oil, gas and rare metals, as well as into the results of nuclear testing on seismic activity, since its creation in Soviet times.

GEON representatives would not say what documents Elektroproyekt gained access to, Kommersant said.

Kononykhin claimed, meanwhile, that the Federal Security Service arrived at the scene and sealed off the GEON office where the top-secret material was held.

Despite the center's strategic importance, the Moscow city government handed the rights to the building to another obscure firm, called The Club of Young Artists, in 2000, Interfax cited an unnamed GEON employee as saying.

The GEON employee said the rights were eventually handed over to Elektroproyekt, which is affiliated with The Club of Young Artists. He said GEON was the property of the federal government and that municipal authorities had no right to transfer the rights to its building.

GEON general director Igor Kadurin said that even though Elektroproyekt had won a recent court case against GEON over rights to the building, the ruling did not give the company the right to evict his organization, Interfax reported.

Kommersant on Saturday cited an unnamed official at the Natural Resources Ministry as saying that the seizure of the building could be related to a rift between Mayor Yury Luzhkov and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref.

The newspaper said GEON had been in conflict with the mayor's office before, releasing a report earlier this year that said the major Moscow construction project Moskva-City and the elite Alye Parusa housing complex are being built in seismically dangerous zones.