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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nevzlin Names Key Yukos Foes

Itar-TassYukos shareholder Leonid Nevzlin
Yukos shareholder Leonid Nevzlin has accused Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and Kremlin chief of staff Dmitry Medvedev of directly overseeing the state's assault on the oil company, according to comments published Monday.

Nevzlin, who lives in Israel and has denied prosecutors' charges that he ordered former Yukos security chief Alexei Pichugin to carry out a series of murders, also lashed out at Sibneft owner Roman Abramovich, accusing him of being one of a "group of plotters" who tried to wrest Mikhail Khodorkovsky's company away from him.

Kudrin, who in 2003 said Yukos was trying to undermine government efforts to increase taxes in the oil sector, guided Federal Tax Service officials in their campaign against Yukos, Nevzlin told Vedomosti. The tax service falls under the formal purview of the Finance Ministry.

Nevzlin also said he had proof that Medvedev was involved in the attack on Yukos, but he declined to elaborate.

In December, Nevzlin received a 60 percent stake in Group Menatep, which owns just over half of Yukos, from Khodorkovsky. The trial of Khodorkovsky and another Yukos shareholder, Platon Lebedev, on charges of tax evasion and fraud ended last week. Verdicts are expected April 27.

Nevzlin accused Abramovich of luring Khodorkovsky into takeover talks with Sibneft and said that Khodorkovsky was in simultaneous talks with both ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco about the sale of a blocking stake in the combined company.

Abramovich told Khodorkovsky that President Vladimir Putin had approved the sale of the stake to a foreign partner, even as he was telling Putin that Khodorkovsky was deceiving the president, Nevzlin said.

Abramovich halted the merger in November 2003 after Sibneft failed to secure management control over the combined company.

But associates of Abramovich have long insisted that he halted the merger a month after Khodorkovsky's arrest because of the political risks in being associated with Yukos.

Sibneft spokesman John Mann said Nevzlin's story sounded "like a far-fetched conspiracy theory."

Abramovich has previously been accused by people connected to Menatep of being in cahoots with the Kremlin in the fight against Yukos.

In an apparent reference to Abramovich's 2003 purchase of English soccer club Chelsea, Khodorkovsky told the court last week: "As opposed to those shy businessmen and businessmen-bureaucrats who stand behind the case against Yukos, I do not own yachts, palaces, racing cars or soccer clubs."

Nevzlin said he planned to sue Kudrin and Medvedev, and perhaps other government officials, for billions of dollars, probably in a British court this fall, Interfax reported.

But Nevzlin's accusations against Kudrin and Medvedev were met with some skepticism Monday.

A Kremlin spokesperson said the government would not comment until it received court papers and suggested that Nevzlin "might just be trying to make waves."

A lawyer at an international law firm, speaking on condition of anonymity through an intermediary, said, "From the legal point of view, Nevzlin's threat has no grounds at all."

By threatening to sue members of the government, Nevzlin was "clutching at straws," said Michael Heath, a political strategist at Aton Capital.

"What force would a foreign court decision have in Russia?" Heath said. "These guys at Menatep, at Yukos, sometimes you just think they get drunk on the idea of influencing things via Western PR agencies. At the end of the day, they cannot change a thing."

Singling out Kudrin, in particular, was "absurd," Heath said. "Kudrin is a bean counter. The order pushing the tax service to go after Yukos would come from higher up than the Finance Ministry."