Russian government classifies data on its property abroad

By bne IntelliNews November 10, 2015

bne IntelliNews -

Russia has classified details of its assets held abroad to prevent their seizure under the disputed $50bn Yukos compensation case, citing the "unfriendly" policies of unnamed foreign countries.

"In the interest of national security, including in connection with the unfriendly policies of some countries, information about federal property located overseas is not published online on the website of [the federal agency for state property management] Rosimushchestvo," RBC newspaper cited Alexei Chubar, the agency's deputy head, as saying on November 9.

By classifying the information in breach of requirements that it is kept in the public domain, Russia is trying to shield its property from former shareholders in the Yukos oil company. These were awarded $50bn in compensation in July 2014 by a Hague arbitration court, which ruled that Russia used excessive tax claims to force billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky's company into bankruptcy and appropriate its assets.

In June this year, authorities in France and Belgium seized Russian state assets including real estate and bank accounts in connection with the case. Moscow condemned the actions as illegal and "openly hostile", and threatened reciprocal measures.

On October 29, the Russian state media holding VGTRK said its 7.5% stake in the French company Euronews S.A., the operator of the international news channel Euronews, was also seized under lawsuits filed by former Yukos shareholders.

The Kremlin responded by saying legal efforts to protect Russian state property were being taken. A day earlier, Russia's upper chamber of parliament, the Federation Council, approved a bill allowing retaliatory measure in case of seizure of Russian property abroad.

Russian law requires that information about state property is public, except for data that concerns military bases and certain space exploration facilities. Commenting on the legal reasons for not publishing the information, Chubar said it was "outside Rosimushchestvo's authority".

Meanwhile, Russia's FSB security service has proposed new legislation that would restrict access to information about property ownership, following a series of revelations by bloggers about mansions belonging to Russian officials.

Ghost of Yukos

Yukos was once Russia's largest oil company but was dismantled after Kremlin-critic Khodorkovsky was found guilty of tax evasion, embezzlement, and theft and jailed in 2005. The case was widely condemned as political in nature and designed to neutralise a potential challenger to President Vladimir Putin.

Many of Yukos' assets were incorporated into Russian state companies including Rosneft, an oil firm headed by a close Putin ally, Igor Sechin. Putin pardoned Khodorkovsky in December 2013.

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