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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Officials Served With Yukos Court Papers

APIgor Sechin
Kremlin deputy chief of staff Igor Sechin, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller and other leading Gazprom board officials have been served with an expropriation lawsuit filed by U.S.-based Yukos shareholders, according to court filings in Washington.

The senior officials were served by mail after Irish private investigators were unable to hand the papers over by hand during a tense game of cat-and-mouse across Moscow. The hired agents, who have previously served members of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's entourage and the Irish Republican Army with lawsuits, were followed by state security agents across town and could not reach their targets, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia was told in papers filed late Thursday.

After months of watching the officials' movements, the documents were eventually sent by special post, sufficient under U.S. law for the officials to become defendants in the case. "These individuals have been served. The case will go forward," said Marney Cheek, special counsel at Covington and Burling, which is representing 12 Yukos American Depository Receipt holders, including former U.S. National Security Adviser Richard Allen.

The shareholders, claiming losses of $3.4 million, claim that Sechin, as Rosneft board chairman, together with Rosneft CEO Sergei Bogdanchikov and other senior officials in government and at Gazprom conspired to smash Yukos with a slew of back tax claims and plotted its takeover by the state.

The filings come as state-owned Rosneft, which took over Yukos' main production unit, Yuganskneftegaz, in a forced government auction in December 2004, announced it was going ahead with an initial public offering of its shares July 7, a move seen as an attempt to legitimize the Yugansk takeover. The lead attorney for the Yukos shareholders, Tom Johnson, has claimed the suit could set a precedent for an "avalanche" of claims against Rosneft.

Bogdanchikov was served with court papers in London earlier this year, minutes before he was due to give a speech on Rosneft's performance. Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin were served their papers during official visits to Washington.

Attempting to serve Sechin, Miller and Medvedev proved much more difficult, Cheek and a special investigator who was hired to serve the papers told the court.

After several abortive attempts to serve the papers while the officials were on trips in Europe, the decision was made to try to seek out the officials in Moscow.

An Irish private investigation firm, Priority Investigations Limited, led by an agent who had successfully served members of Milosevic's entourage during the Balkan wars and members of the IRA, was hired to try to hand over the papers, the filings said.

"The assignment was refused by a dozen Western security firms, who described the mission as 'excessively risky,'" Cara LaForge, a licensed server hired by Covington to organize the servings, said in the filings.

The agents from Priority ran the risk of being seen as potential terrorist attackers, she said. As such, they could have been sprayed with gunfire or detained if caught trying to approach or follow the officials, "who are guarded around the clock by security details" and "travel in convoys with armed bodyguards in unmarked cars with tinted glass," she said.

When the two Irish agents landed at Sheremetyevo Airport at the end of April, bags containing the court papers went missing on a flight from Milan to Moscow and were retrieved only three days later, one of the agents, George Richter, told the court. After being photographed by Russian security agents at the airport, Richter told the court they were followed back to their hotel in Moscow.

An attempt by the Irish agents to find their targets at elite housing compounds on the Rublyovo-Uspenskoye Shosse was aborted after police stopped them on the highway, Richter said. They had previously given a car tailing them across Moscow the slip, Richter said.

A trip to Gazprom's headquarters in downtown Moscow also ended in failure, Richter said. The Irish agents had attempted to enter the building with a group of journalists there for a Gazprom board meeting. Security guards stopped them, however, and the board meeting was moved to the West Siberian city of Tomsk, a three-hour flight away from Moscow

A separate attempt to hand over the papers at Gazprom's headquarters ended with the agents handing to security staff at the gates papers addressed to Miller, Medvedev, who is also Gazprom board chairman, and board members Igor Yusufov and Farit Gazizullin.

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupryianov declined to comment on the lawsuit Friday. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov could not be reached for comment.