European seizures of Russian assets not timed to St Petersburg economic forum – Kremlin

Reuters / Sergei Karpukhin
The Russian government is dealing with the Belgian order to freeze Russia’s assets to cover a debt to oil giant Yukos beneficiaries, the Kremlin said.

“A corresponding section of the Russian government and first and foremost lawyers are handling the case now, so I would not comment on it,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said.

He added that the details of the situation are yet to be established.

READ MORE: Russian state assets in Belgium ‘to be seized as Yukos compensation’

Peskov was commenting on an order by Belgian law enforcement to freeze the state-owned Russian assets in the country to cover damages to beneficiaries of the now-defunct oil company Yukos. The payment was ordered last year by an arbitration court in The Hague but Russia challenged the ruling.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia would look closely into the seizure order and would take legal action if any irregularities are found.

Economy Minister Aleksey Ulyukayev said he “absolutely rejects” the scenario in which Russia would pay any money in response to the arbitration court order.

The development came as Russia hosts an international business forum in St. Petersburg focusing on Russia's investment climate. The freezing order in Belgium was not timed to coincide with the big event, Peskov said.

READ MORE: Russian companies' accounts in VTB French subsidiary frozen - CEO Kostin

“This has nothing to do with the investment climate in Russia. Business circles are interested in Russia, as evidenced by the guest list of the forum,” he said.

Yukos, once one of the largest oil companies in the world, went bankrupt after the Russian government demanded that it paid due taxes that it had been evading for years. The company’s assets were sold off to pay the taxes.

Owners of the fallen giant claimed that the bankruptcy and transfer of Yukos assets were fraudulent and politically motivated and demanded that damages were paid to them. Last year the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in their favor and ordered that Russia paid $50 billion to Yukos beneficiaries.

Russia is challenging the ruling, questioning the arbitration court’s jurisdiction over the case as well as the justification for its ruling.