Russia's anti-corruption drive reaches Rosneft

By bne IntelliNews January 25, 2012

bne -

Another manager implicated in corruption at a Russian state-owned company has been sacked, and this time its Rosneft in the spotlight. The news casts some doubt on the standing of Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and Gennady Timchenko, but the real test for the anti-corruption drive remains how far up the ladder it reaches.

According to two unnamed sources of Vedomosti, Rosneft vice president with oversight of procurement, Pavel Zablotskii, has been fired. The move is the first against Rosneft, which had appeared exempt from the recent push against corruption at state companies until now, and likely represents a blow to Sechin. It may also have implications for Timchenko, a close friend of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who runs the privately owned Swiss oil trader Gunvor - Rosneft's favoured middleman.

The sacking of Zablotskii follows the recent exits of Aleksandr Ananenkov and two other top managers from Gazprom in December. Zablotskii and Ananenkov oversaw procurement at their respective companies, and thus were in positions with huge scope for kickbacks and embezzlement.

Putin in December called for checks on links between managers at state-owned energy companies and counter-agents, which are often based in offshore jurisdictions. Now it seems the government is shocked at what it has found, although there is no whiff of prosecution or lawsuits as things stand.

Putin's press secretary Dmitry Peskov apparently confirmed that the sackings were a result of the new requirements for top state managers to disclose income and ties to counter-agents. According to a Rosneft representative, the process of obtaining the disclosure data in the company is already complete.

With its focus on the energy sector, the recent anti-corruption campaign would appear to question the standing of energy tsar Sechin, although until now, Rosneft - over which Sechin has direct control and on whose supervisory board he was chairman until last year - has seemed to have remained exempt. It was notably excluded from the list of companies required to disclose management incomes and counter-agents' beneficiaries. However, the company later said it was fulfilling the requirements voluntarily.

According to Vedomosti, before becoming vice president at Rosneft in 2007, Zablotskii headed a St Petersburg-based supplier to the company called Pikon Ltd., the owner of which is a certain Vladimir Pinchuk. A source suggests to the newspaper that Pinchuk is an associate of Timchenko.

The role of Gunvor is one of the focal points in the protest mood against Putin's intention to become president again, Timchenko being regarded as one of a number of Putin's associates who have become fabulously rich on the back of state-owned businesses. Thus the litmus test for the new anti-corruption initiative (is it a genuine bid to tackle the issue or a shallow reaction meant to quell the protests?) will be whether or not it sheds light on the relationship between top officials and managers, including the meteoric rise of Gunvor.

Apart from the mangers at Rosneft, Gazprom and Transneft, a number of those in the ranks at power sector companies, including individuals specifically named by Putin in his December speech, resigned immediately afterwards from posts at FSK, MRSK, Tyumenenergo, MES Ural and System Operator.

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