Billionaire’s Arrest Feels Like Déjà Vu

Andre Poyser

The arrest of Russian billionaire Vladimir Yevtushenkov feels like déjà vu.

Remember the arrest of another Russian billionaire, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, back in 2003? Well, come 11 years forward and similar circumstances and sentiments surround the arrest of Vladimir Yevtushenkov, chairman of Sistema, a telecoms and oil conglomerate. The Investigative Committee on Tuesday placed Yevtushenkov under house arrest pending the results of investigations of charges of money laundering leveled against him. According to RT.com, the billionaire is accused of acquiring shares in oil company Bashneft by criminal means.

Since the billionaire’s arrest, The Guardian has reported that the business environment in Russia has been tense as fears of state intervention in private businesses have begun to surface. The fears have already become manifest in the stock market as shares on the Moscow Exchange have fallen. Most noticeably, Yevtushenkov’s company, Sistema, has lost a third of its value on news of the arrest according to the BBC.

According to Al Jazeera, some businessmen and commentators cited a case of déjà vu, having drawn a parallel with a politically motivated attack against oil tycoon and billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the subsequent acquisition of his company by the state run oil company Rosneft.

The feelings of déjà vu seem to have been confirmed, as revelations from Vedomosti, a Russian business daily, indicate that Rosneft is interested in getting its hands on Bashneft in light of the onslaught of western sanctions it faces in relation to Russia’s involvement in Ukraine.

Alexander Shokhin, head of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, an influential big business lobby group in Russia to which Yevtushenkov also belongs, drew a direct line between the billionaire’s arrest and the attack against Khodorkovsky. For him, the arrest of the Russian billionaire, is a real déjà vu experience.

He has been reported as saying, “It is certainly very similar to a ‘Yukos Number 2’.”

Al Jazeera gives an account of the Yukos case which really does have an air of similarity to the circumstances surrounding the billionaire’s arrest.

“Yukos was once Russia’s biggest oil company but was broken up after Khodorkovsky’s arrest in 2003, shortly after Putin warned Russia’s growing class of oligarchs against meddling in politics. After being pushed into bankruptcy, Yukos was carved up and sold off in opaque auctions to state companies. Rosneft, which was then a small player, bought Yukos’s best units in 2004, launching itself on the path to becoming the world’s top listed oil firm by production.”

As Yevtushenkov awaits his date in court, he will no doubt share the feelings of déjà vu being experienced by his colleagues.

[Image Credit: Al Jazeera]