Russia Places Billionaire Evtushenkov Under House Arrest

Billionaire Vladimir Evtushenkov was placed under house arrest yesterday on suspicion of money laundering, making him the richest Russian to face criminal charges since Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The accusations stem from a probe into the alleged theft of shares in oil assets in Russia’s Bashkortostan region in which Evtushenkov’s AFK Sistema gained control in 2009, according to the Investigative Committee. Sistema called the accusations groundless and said it would to use all possible legal means to make their case.

“This is the new Yukos, it looks like a raid in favor of a state oil company,” Vadim Bit-Avragim, who helps oversee about $4.1 billion at Kapital Asset Management LLC in Moscow, said by e-mail. “There’s nothing new here, if they could do it once with Yukos, they can continue behaving like this.”

Khodorkovsky, released in December after a decade in prison, said on his website that OAO Rosneft Chief Executive Officer Igor Sechin, a long-time ally of President Vladimir Putin, may have engineered the arrest to pressure Evtushenkov, 65, into selling his oil company, OAO Bashneft.

Shrinking Fortune

Rosneft isn’t interested in Bashneft, and Khodorkovsky’s comments aren’t true, Mikhail Leontyev, a spokesman for the state-run company, said by phone today.

Khodorkovsky, Russia’s richest man at the time of his arrest in 2003, has accused Sechin of orchestrating the dismantling of his Yukos Oil Co. to benefit Rosneft, a claim the company has denied.

Evtushenkov’s fortune slumped to an estimated $4.3 billion at the close of trading in Moscow. That compares with $7 billion at the yesterday’s close in New York, which placed him at 19th richest Russian on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Sistema, in which he owns 64 percent, plunged a record 37 percent to 23.005 rubles, the lowest level since November 2012. Its market value is less than half that of its stakes in its two biggest holdings, Bashneft and mobile operator OAO Mobile TeleSystems. Kapital sold Mobile TeleSystems, Bashneft and Sistema shares this morning, Bit-Avragim said.

Bashneft shares dropped 21 percent to 1,469.1 rubles, the most since its November 2011 listing on the benchmark Micex index. Mobile TeleSystems fell 7.4 percent.

Not Politicized

The Kremlin is “categorically against any comparisons” with the Yukos affair, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said by phone yesterday. “Any attempt to politicize the situation is not justified and not acceptable.”

In April, Russian investigators opened a case linked to deals with Bashneft shares in 2002 to 2009, Sergey Makarenko, a lawyer for former Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, said last month. Sistema’s shares in Bashneft, which produces about 350,000 barrels of oil a day, were frozen in July.

Bashkortostan is seeking 209 billion rubles ($5.4 billion) in damages from the privatization of the energy assets in relation to an investigation linked to Rakhimov’s son, Itar-Tass reported last month.

Rosneft, the world’s biggest publicly traded oil company by output, needs Bashneft to prop up crude production, Khodorkovsky said on his website in comments published late yesterday in Vedomosti. Vedomosti reported in June last year that Rosneft was looking at Bashneft, citing unidentified people familiar with Sistema.

Rosneft’s Russian oil output has declined to the lowest level since its acquisition of TNK-BP from BP Plc and a group of billionaires in March 2013, according to the Russian Energy Ministry’s data.

Rosneft Sanctions

The slump is set to deepen. The U.S. and the European Union have restricted Rosneft from borrowing and banned exports of equipment and technology for deepwater, Arctic offshore and shale oil deposits, accusing Putin of supporting an insurgency in Ukraine.

“The economy is doing poorly, sanctions have been imposed, and all there’s left to do is to seize tidbits that are left in the country,” Kapital Asset Management’s Bit-Avragim said. “Output is falling, new technologies have been banned, and here there’s a well-managed company.”

Bashneft’s operations haven’t been affected by the situation, spokesman Alexander Shadrin said by phone.

Prior to its legal troubles, Bashneft was planning to raise at least $1 billion in a share sale in London or Moscow this year to raise the stock’s liquidity, CEO Alexander Korsik said in June.

House Arrest

Sistema said it believes its acquisition of Bashneft was “legal and transparent” and plans to “defend its position,” while cooperating with the investigation.

Evtushenkov has three days to appeal his house arrest, Anna Fadeyeva, a spokeswoman for the Basmanny Court. He’s been placed under house arrest until Nov. 16. His legal team is appealing the measure, RIA Novosti reported.

Born in Smolensk in western Russia, Evtushenkov received a doctorate in economics from Moscow State University. He worked in the capital city’s government from 1987 until 1993, the year he founded Sistema Joint-Stock Financial Corp. with a group of partners, and remained close to Yury Luzhkov, who was Moscow’s mayor from 1992 until his dismissal in 2010.

Evtushenkov’s business strategy appeared to be based on working within the system and remaining loyal to the Kremlin, which adds intrigue to the criminal case, according to Bit-Avragim.

Previous Owner

Evtushenkov’s arrest came as a surprise because the case appears to be targeting the previous owners, according to Mattias Westman, CEO of Prosperity Capital Management, which he said is the biggest minority shareholder in the oil company.

“This will be taken negatively by the market until there is further clarity,” Westman said by phone from London. “The situation is different from the arrest of Khodorkovsky. He was the target then, while this issue seems to be with the previous owner.”

A case was initially opened in relation to Ural Rakhimov, the son of the former Bashkortostan president, and businessman Levon Ayrapetyan, according to Moscow’s Basmanny District Court and Makarenko. An international warrant is out on Rakhimov, Interfax said yesterday, citing an unidentified person familiar with the case.

Investigators said in August that some of Sistema’s managers may be linked to money laundering surrounding the theft of shares in Bashkir energy companies that were merged with Bashneft. Sistema, which agreed to acquire the assets for $2.5 billion, made an initial payment of $2 billion, according to its financial statements. It hasn’t paid the remainder, Vedomosti reported last month.

The uncertainty surrounding Evtushenkov’s arrest could have a long-term impact on share prices at all of the companies he controls, Sergey Libin, an analyst at ZAO Raiffeisenbank in Moscow, said by phone.

“Investors may see parallels to the Yukos case, and this isn’t creating more trust in Russian corporate governance,” Libin said. “The more stories like these we have in Russia, the worse foreign perception on our market will be.”

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