Russian Court Issues Arrest Warrant for Oil Tycoon

By Anton Troianovski
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, August 28, 2007; 7:40 PM

MOSCOW, Aug. 28 -- A Moscow court said Tuesday that it has issued an arrest warrant for Mikhail Gutseriyev, owner of Russneft, a major Russian oil company. He appeared to have become the latest Russian tycoon to flee the country after running afoul of the authorities.

Gutseriyev is believed to be abroad and has been put on an international search list, according to an Interior Ministry spokeswoman who declined to give her name. Russian news agencies later quoted the ministry as saying that Gutseriyev's arrest had been ordered on grounds he broke court-imposed travel restrictions.

Late last month, Gutseriyev announced his intention to sell Russneft, releasing a letter claiming that "an unprecedented hunt" by Russian authorities had forced him out of the business. A few days later, Gutseriyev seemed to recant some of the letter's claims , denying that the government's investigation was politically motivated.

Gutseriyev, who has been charged with tax evasion and illegal business practices, reportedly angered authorities by trying independently to acquire assets of the defunct Yukos oil company. Yukos's former chief, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is now in prison, and the state run oil company Rosneft has acquired most of its assets.

Some analysts call the Russneft case a new chapter in the effective renationalization of key industries in Russia in recent years. Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire loyal to the Kremlin, has expressed an interest in buying Russneft, which pumps about 3 percent of Russia's oil production. Deripaska has said he would sell his vast aluminum holdings to the state if the Kremlin asked him to do so.

News of Gutseriyev's arrest warrant surprised some political analysts in Russia. His resignation as company president on July 30 left many expecting that authorities would leave Gutseriyev alone. But he and Russneft have continued to come under pressure. A court earlier this month ordered the freezing of all of the compan's shares.

A spokeswoman for the Moscow court, Anna Usacheva, said the warrant for Gutseriyev's arrest was issued on Friday.

After accepting Gutseriyev's resignation as Russneft president, the company's board released a statement saying Gutseriyev was pulling out of his business projects and intended to pursue scientific work inside Russia.

Gutseriyev's whereabouts have been the subject of speculation in the Russian press in recent days. News reports here said Gutseriyev was last seen in public at the funeral of his 21-year-old son last week. Spokespeople for Gutseriyev said his son died in a car accident in Moscow, while Russian news reports have said that police had no record of a crash involving him.

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