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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russia Update: April 25, 2016

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russian Prosecutor Claims Interpol to Review Khodorkovsky Case for 'Wanted' List; Interpol Denies
The Russian Prosecutor General's Office claimed that businessman and former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky was going to be put on Interpol's international "wanted" list, Interfax reported. But as with past reports, the claim turned out to be false.


Aleksandr Kurennoy, a representative of the Prosecutor General's Office, told Interfax (translation by The Interpreter):

"Representatives of the Interpol headquarters expressed readiness to return to the review of this issue in the event that Moscow would prepare a package of additional materials on this case (regarding the murder of the mayor of Nefteyugansk)."

He said the statement was made during a meeting of a working group at Interpol in which a delegation Russian Prosecutor General's Office took part.

A source told Interfax that the decision to put Khodorkovsky on the list may be reviewed.

But when the independent news site RBC contacted Interpol directly and asked for a clarification, an Interpol representative said Interpol's position was "unchanged," i.e. Khodorkovsky is not on the wanted list.

A representative at the Interpol headquarters in Lyons told RBC:

"No changes have occurred in the status of the case since the time the request was made to declare Khodorkovsky wanted, which was issued by Russian, was declared inconsistent with the rules of the organization."

The representative also added that contrary to recent press claims, Interpol's General Secretariat did not request any additional information from the Russian government on Khodorkovsky's case.

The Interior Ministry, which is the agency that houses the Russian national bureau of Interpol, had no comment, said RBC.

Khodorkovsky's press secretary Kulle Pispanen told RBC that the Interfax claim was "the latest canard and plant by the Investigative Committee" in the media.

The false claim was picked up even by independent media and other credible sources and disseminated in English before news of Interpol's rebuttal got out:




Earlier this year, the Russian Investigative Committee opened a case against Khodorkovsky, claiming he was involved in the murder of Petukhov, but Interpol has not followed suit.

 

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Rumors Swirl of Possible Sale of Independent News Site RBC by Prokhorov Due to Putin's Anger

Early today the Russian media began reporting that there were rumors of the sale of RBC, one of the few remaining independent wire services in Russia, RFE/RL's Radio Svoboda reported

Oneksim, the company led by oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov that owns RBC denied the rumors, RBC reported.

Gazeta.ru published claims based on multiple government sources that the sale was induced on orders from President Vladimir Putin, who was personally unhappy with the negative coverage of the Panama Papers implicating himself, his family members and close associates in corruption.

Last week we reported about signs of pressure placed on RBC -- Oneksim's office was searched and authorities spoke vaguely of possible tax violations; the editor-in-chief went on a planned sabbatical to take a university course in the fall four months early; and a pro-Kremlin site claimed to expose RBC's anti-Putin bias in covering the story of stalled state privatization.
Yesterday, Aleksei Venediktov, editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy, often described as the "last independent radio station" said Aleksander Mamut, sole owner of the media company SUP which owns Gazeta.ru, was buying RBC.

 Translation: Mamut is buying RBC.

But Gazeta reported this morning that Prokhorov was in talks with other prospective buyers to sell Kvadra, his energy company and RBC.

"The order to sell RBC was handed down from the highest level," a source told Gazeta -- meaning from President Vladimir Putin himself.

While "a major Russian businessman" told Gazeta that "Prokhorov's got everything for sale now," a source within Oneksim told Gazeta that Prokhorov "is ridding himself of excess assets" but would not sell everything.

Prokhorov, whose net worth is estimated at $7.7 bilion, occupies the no.14 spot on Forbes' list of the richest Russians. Among his properties are Uralkaliy, a potassium plant (20%) and Rusal (17%); the energy companies Intergeo and Kvadra; the publications Soglasiye, Snob, RBC and the financial companies International Finance Club, Renaissance Credit, Renaissance Capital and others. Says Gazeta:

The chief shareholder of the media holding company RBC is a Cypriot offshore company called Pragla, Ltd., and Kvadra is owned by Cypriot companies Rinsoco Trading and Ragato Management from the British Virgin Islands, also under Prokhorov's control. His largest deal was the sale of shares in Norilsk Nickel to Oleg Deripaska's Rusal. According to various estimates, Prokhorov received $6 billion and shares in Rusal for selling his blocking portfolio.

The search of Oneksim was made seemingly demonstratively during Putin's annual marathon talk-show last week. The searches hastened the sales of the companies, say sources.

"Kvadra is a difficult asset, and with a 'big social burden'. The inspections could facilitate the lowering of the value of the shares in order to make a deal, say sources.

Aside from the warning signs we reported of a cloud over RBC, and Moscow Time's mention of a barbed reference to Prokhorov by lead Kremlin propagandist Dmitry Kiselyev on his weekly TV program Vesti, Gazeta's sources flag other "negative signals": on April 11, the pro-Kremlin REN-TV aired a program accusing Kvadra, and Prokhorov personally, of responsibility for a sharp hike in prices for utilities, notably in Kursk, Voronezh, Smolensk and other cities feeling the impact of the economic crisis; he was also accused of withdrawing capital to offshores. REN said RBC was "silent" on these problems which illustrated its "bias." 

Gazeta also reports that, according to two "highly-placed officials and a source close to the Kremlin," top officials are very unhappy with RBC's editorial line. Articles on Putin's family were particularly annoying, including a story on Katerina Tikhonova, called by Reuters "Putin's daughter" (a claim denied by Peskov) and her husband, businessman Kirill Shamalov. The photo of Putin published with a story on the Panama offshore companies also provoked an "extremely negative" reaction from Putin personally, said a source.

The source in the government said Prokhorov and his people are "really scared, because they have a clear understanding that they have angered the first person of the country."

Russians refer to their leaders as "the first person," and Putin's only book has that title.

Yegor Timofeyev, a representative of RBC, reacted on his Facebook page on Saturday to the claims of bias by RuPosters, saying that "there were several editorial questions on the draft article [...] but Ruposters decided to focus precisely on the expert's commentary" on privatization. Timofeyev said he could not see why some "agenda" was being sought behind what was "ordinary economic material."

Prokhorov acquired RBC in 2010 for $80 million and holds 51.1% of its shares. It has lost value since then due to the ruble's plunge; there is also a claim that it has debt of $220 million, according to a source "close to RBC and Oneksim." Supposedly Oneksim was on the verge of converting the debt to shares in the company. Kommersant reported in 2014 that a sale of RBC for $250 million was being contemplated to cover a debt of $227 million.

Another source said Prokhorov would not mind selling RBC, but was asking "too high" a price.

Ultimately Gazeta did not mention Mamut as a buyer but Yuri Kovalchuk, whose media group owns REN-TV -- the station that did the hit job earlier this month on Oneksim.

Osetinskaya declined to answer queries about her early leave or a possible sale of RBC. Analysts believe the sale is inevitable now that it is known of Putin's personal ire.

Neither Prokhorov or any other Oneksim representatives had any official comment for Gazeta.

Presidential administration spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the Kremlin was placing any pressure on RBC.

Among those who also might buy RBC are Russian billionaire Leonid Mikhelson, who is rumored to be doing "due diligence" on the companies now; an unnamed Central Asian company and a Russian investor, says Gazeta. Mikhelson is now first place on the Forbes list and is owner of 24.8% of the Novatek gas company and 43.2% of the gas and oil refinery Sibur, along with Gennady Timchenko, who owns 23.5% of Novatek and 14.5% of Sibur) as well as Kirill Shamalov (21.2%), Putin's son-in-law. Timchenko, said to be close to Putin, sold his stake in the oil trading company Gunvor shortly before his inclusion on the US Treasury list of sanctions related to the occupation of Crimea.

Venediktov ran a straw poll on Twitter:

Translation: If RBC will be sold to Kovalchuk, Mamut, Chemezov, Usmanov or the Urals Media Group, you will be:

The results as of this hour with 2,059 responding were: 

22% Indifferent

7%  Not indifferent 

61% Sad

10% Not following

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

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