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Putin vows action over Yukos ruling

Published 20/06/2015

Vladimir Putin insisted that Russia was not subject to the court's rulings (AP)
Vladimir Putin insisted that Russia was not subject to the court's rulings (AP)

Russia will take legal action to protect its assets against a court ruling ordering compensation for shareholders in the defunct oil and gas firm Yukos, president Vladimir Putin has said.

Moscow has protested to Belgium over its seizure of state assets in response to the ruling, which it described as "an openly hostile act" that "crudely violates the recognised norms of international law".

France has seized Russian state accounts in around 40 banks, along with eight or nine buildings. Lawyers for Yukos shareholders have also filed applications seeking similar action in the UK and United States.

An international arbitration court in The Hague last year ordered Russia to pay the shareholders some £32 billion in compensation, after ruling that officials had manipulated the legal system to bankrupt Yukos and jail its oligarch boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

But Mr Putin insisted that Russia was not subject to the court's rulings and would fight to ensure the return of its assets. Russia has launched an appeal against the judgment, which was the largest arbitration ruling in history.

Speaking to international news agencies, including the Press Association, in St Petersburg, the Russian president said: " Definitely there must be a reaction on our side.

"We believe that in cases like that, the arbitration court is only competent in relation to those countries that have signed and ratified the European energy charter. Russia has not ratified the charter, so we don't recognise the jurisdiction of that court. We are going to prove it through judicial proceedings."

He added: "The fact that Yukos stakeholders are trying to get extra money from Russia is not surprising. There is nothing new about it, we have seen it before.

"We will be dealing with it based on the international legal process. We are going to protect our interests."

Lawyer Tim Osborne, who represents the Yukos shareholders, told the BBC: "The Russian state has made no effort to pay or engage with us - all of its statements and actions suggest it has no regard for international law or the rule of law."

Seizures so far had involved bank accounts and real estate, but could later be applied to state companies, he suggested.

And he said any seizures in the UK and US were likely to take longer than in France and Belgium, because of differences in the legal systems.

"I think it'll take years to seize assets here because Russia will use tactics to delay," said Mr Osborne.

Yukos was acquired by a bank controlled by Mr Khodorkovsky during the controversial sell-off of state assets under Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. It grew into one of the biggest and most successful companies in Russia and Mr Khodorkovsky became the country's richest man and an advocate of democratisation and reform.

In 2003, he was arrested and jailed over allegations of unpaid taxes and over the following years the firm was broken up and its assets transferred to a number of state-owned companies.

Mr Khodorkovsky, who was pardoned and released from detention in 2013 and now lives abroad, said in a statement on Facebook: "I am not a beneficiary in this process as the partners redeemed my share back in 2004. But this does not prevent me from sincerely rejoicing, as a Russian citizen, at what is happening now.

"This is a symbolic moment for our country, a signal that theft will not escape punishment, no matter how all-powerful the thief was."

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