Russian Oligarch Yevtushenkov Arrested; Putin Weighs In


The Russian Investigative Committee has announced the arrest for suspected money laundering of one of that country's richest men, AFK Sistema head Vladimir Yevtushenkov.

Yevtushenkov is thought to be worth billions and has regularly appeared on lists of Russia's richest tycoons.

The news elicited a quick response from the Kremlin. 

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said late on September 16 that Putin "hopes investigators will get all a result of investigative activities in line with the law," in the words of news agency ITAR-TASS.

It also prompted condemnation from former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was among Russia's richest men before he spent 10 years in prison on charges that he and many rights groups regarded as politically motivated.

The daily "Vedomosti" quoted Khodorkovsky accusing the head of state oil giant Rosneft, Igor Sechin, of being behind the Yevtushenkov prosecution.

Khodorkovsky said he believes Sechin, a powerful Putin ally, wants to avert the threat of a decline in oil production by taking control of Bashneft, an oil and gas company whose shares are said to be at the center of the case.

Khodorkovsky said that "this is the very same Igor Ivanovich [Sechin], who has gotten no smarter in 11 years and may have gotten even greedier."

Yevtushenkov has reportedly been placed under house arrest.

"There are reasonable grounds to believe that the legalization [laundering] of property acquired by criminal means involved the chairman of the board of directors of AFK "Sistema" Vladimir Yevtushenkov," the Investigative Committee says in a statement. "Today, his is charged with the legalization [laundering] of money..."

The alleged crime carries a possible penalty of seven years in prison and a 1 million-ruble fine, ITAR-TASS reported.

AFK Sistema has issued a statement calling the indictment "completely baseless," Interfax reported.

Yevtushenkov is described by "Forbes" Russian edition as a "former plastics engineer" who "co-founded Sistema and took it public on the London Stock Exchange in 2005."

His worth was estimated at more than $7 billion in 2010.

The case quickly sparked comparisons on social media with the 2003 arrest of Yukos owner Khodorkovsky, who was estimated to be worth upwards of $15 billion before he signaled his intention to wade into politics.

Russian media reports said in June that Russia's largest oil company, state-controlled Rosneft, considered buying Bashneft.

In July, a Moscow court froze Bashneft's stock under a money-laundering probe.

Rosneft is run by Sechin, who has been placed on U.S. and EU sanctions lists over the Ukrainian crisis.

Aleksandr Shokhin, the head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, said that Yevtushenkov's arrest "undoubtedly looks like Yukos No. 2."

Peskov quickly dismissed the analogy as "improper and unfounded."

Khodorkovsky, deemed a "prisoner of conscience" by rights watchdog Amnesty International, eventually spent a decade in jail before he was pardoned in December 2013.

Khodorkovsky has accused Sechin of engineering his 2003 arrest and the downfall of his company, Yukos, whose main assets ended up in Rosneft's hands.

Khodorkovsky, who has lived in Switzerland since his pardon in December, said he does not believe Putin gave permission to target Yevtushenkov but that "he just doesn't see what is going on in front of his nose."

He said the case marked "the complete loss of control on the part of the president."

Yukos, once valued at some $40 billion, was broken up and nationalized, with most assets handed over to Rosneft.

Since AFK Sistema became the majority shareholder in 2009, Bashneft has achieved one of the highest production growth rates among Russian oil companies, thanks to advanced recovery techniques used at its deposits.

The holding company AFK Sistema also includes MTS, Russia's largest cellular company, among some 200 other assets.