bne IntelliNews -
Vladimir Evtushenkov, founder and chairman of Russian conglomerate AFK Sistema, has been freed from house arrest, newswires reported, referring to his lawyer. Sistema itself has not commented. Shares in Sistema on Russia's Micex exchange rose from RUB6.00 to RUB6.85 on the news.
Evtushenkov was placed under house arrest in mid-September on charges of theft and laundering of state shares in regional oil company Bashneft, valued at around $7bn at the time. In the course of a parallel commercial lawsuit, a Moscow court ordered Sistema to return the shares to the state in October, and Sistema refrained from appealing against the ruling. The transaction was completed on December 9.
Evtushenkov's apparent subsequent release, immediately following the return of Sistema's stake in Bashneft to the state, will reinforce suspicions that the main goal of his arrest was to enable the Russian state to expropriate the oil producer.
The case bore parallels to the Yukos case of 2003-2004, when criminal charges were brought against the owners of Russia's then largest oil producer Yukos, resulting in the company's renationalization. Another arrest of a leading businessman - Evtushenkov founded and controls via Sistema Russia's leading mobile telecom operator MTS - was seen as further damage to Russia's investment climate.
Pundits pointed to Igor Sechin, head of state oil company Rosneft, as the driving force behind the Bashneft case. Sechin was also widely seen as spearheading the Yukos case in his then role as deputy head of the presidential administration.
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