Russian prosecutors have now issued a warrant for embattled ex-head of Russneft, Mikhail Gutseriev, after he has apparently fled the country following the funeral of his 21-year-old son last week. He was confined to house arrest since soon after stepping down as head of the oil company citing undue state pressure (a charge he later recanted). Gutseriev faces up to six years in prison for tax evasion charges.
Prosecutors are now undertaking an international search for Gutseriev, and speculation has emerged over where he might turn up. London, the traditional Russian businessman hotspot, may have become too ladened from continued fallout over the Litvinenko poisoning and soured British-Russian relations. Some have cited Gutseriev’s ties to the Swiss commodities firm Glencore, suggesting he may end up in Switzerland. Others have brought up his Muslim background, saying he could be welcomed in a Middle Eastern country, perhaps where he could put his oil savvy to use.
The warrant adds a further obstacle to the completion of a deal turning the company over to Oleg Deripaska’s “Basic Element” (Bazel). Presumably, Gutseriev’s presence would be needed to finalize the transfer of Russneft shares. Bazel’s application to the Federal Anti-Monoply Service has already run into problems, and was apparently improperly submitted. This has fueled speculation that the deal is being sidelined by Kremlin forces who wish to have Russneft acquired by someone else, namely the government-controlled Rosneft. However, it was already assumed that Deripaska could very well act as a simple stop-over in the fate of Russneft, until the state oil major was able to gather the necessary funds to buy it from him, given his status as a relatively Kremlin-friendly oligarch. Denying Deripaska Russneft would suggest something else in the works.
A further — tragic — wrinkle in the story is the death of Gutseriev’s young son, apparently as a result of a car crash. Gazeta.ru, however, reports that GIBDD (Russia’s State Inspectorate for Traffic Safety) has no record of the accident that killed him. If this was some sort of organized attack on Gutseriev’s family — and this is pure speculation, in the absence of access to any investigations or detailed circumstances — it suggests the involvement of a particularly nasty organized crime or terrorist element, as opposed to simple badgering through state resources and agencies by the Kremlin.
Boris Nemtsov, a member of the liberal Union of Right Forces party, suggests that the situation should not be seen as a parallel of the Yukos affair, but rather a result of tumultuous personal relationships, particularly stemming from Gutseriev’s involvement in the Caucasus region:
Это не новый ЮКОС, это государственный рэкет. Меня удивило, что он отдал бизнес. Должны были отстать от него, по идее, но, видимо, тут уже вмешиваются какие-то личные мотивы. Если они против кого-нибудь ополчатся, то мало не покажется. То, что это достаточно далеко от правосудия, у меня сомнений нет.
[This isn’t a new Yukos, this is a state racket. I am surprised that he gave up his business. They should have left him behind, was the idea, but apparently here already some sort of personal motives are interfering. If they are against someone being up in arms, then little is being shown. That this is far from justice, I have no doubt.]
In other words, something else is going on, besides the usual government methods of involvement.
Perhaps this ties in to some of the recent upswing in conflict from Chechnya and its neighbors, particularly Gutseriev’s native Ingushetia…