Russian oil tycoon charged with tax evasion in absentia

A Moscow court has issued an international arrest warrant for the former head of the Russneft oil company, Russian billionaire Mikhail Gurtseriyev, who is charged with illegal business activities and tax evasion.Since being charged he has broken a pledge

Russia's Kommersant newspaper says he could be in London. Vedomosti quotes two sources saying he is in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku. It also alleges that Gurtseriyev is holding $US 3 BLN from the ongoing sale of Russneft to fellow oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s Basic Element holding.

His charges are described as “of medium severity”: tax evasion and illegal entrepreneurship, but his absence from his home address and failure to respond to legal summons have worsened his cause.

“An investigator from the Russian Interior Ministry’s investigation committee has filed a request at the Tverskoy court of Moscow to change Gutseriev’s measure of restraint from a written pledge not to leave the city to being taken into custody. Having re-viewed all the material, the judge of the Moscow’s Tverskoy court has granted the request and issued an arrest warrant for Mikhail Gutseriev,” said Anna Usacheva, the press secretary of the city court.

Russneft, established in 2002 by Mikhail Gutseriev and his partners, is one of Russia's top ten oil and gas companies. L sted at 31 on Forbes magazine's  list of richest Russians, Gutseriev ran into trouble back in January.

The Interior Ministry investigation committee launched an inquiry into the company on tax evasion.

In July a Moscow court seized 100% of the company's shares after a request from the investigation committee.

In the same month a Moscow arbitration court approved the decision of the Federal Tax Service to claim unpaid tax from Russneft to the amount of $US 145 MLN, and Gutseriev left his position as head of the company.

Plans to sell the shares of the company were announced last month.

For experts its a familiar pattern.

“The destiny of the company will follow the court scenario: tax authorities will file a suit against Russneft which envisages seizure of the company's shares. Tax authorities will win the case and its shares will be confiscated. The company has no future,” commented Aleksey Makarkin from the Center for Political Technology.

Lawyers call it a classic case of tax evasion but believe the public scandal could have positive effects.

“These types of cases which are very high profile and show  the public that tax evasion will not be permitted are actually very good because they encourage higher rates of tax compliance and I believe that will be the effect of this situation in the future,” said lawyer Daniel Klein, Director, Hellevig, Klein & Usov.

Details of the status of Russneft’s shares are unclear. Deripaska’s Basic Element allegedly denies a deal has been completed.