Russia says examining Brussels' legal move to seize state assets

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 18, 2015 7:54 AM

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin said on Thursday it was carefully examining a reported Belgian move to seize Russian state property in Belgium to cover a court settlement compensating shareholders in the now defunct oil company Yukos.

Russia's Interfax news agency said a Belgian arbitration court had ruled in favor of a group of former shareholders about seizing Russian state property worth 1.65 billion euros ($1.9 billion) in Belgium. Belgian bailiffs Sacre and De Smet declined to comment.

An international arbitration court ruled last July that Russia must pay $50 billion for expropriating the assets of Yukos, which was once Russia's biggest oil producer and was run by Mikhail Khodorkovsky who fell out with the Kremlin.

Several dozen companies in Belgium had been told to provide information on whether they own any Russian state assets, Interfax and other local media said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the government and its lawyers would look into the matter.

"We are now in the most careful manner examining all circumstances of the claim," he said.

A Kremlin aide, Andrei Belousov, said the court's decision contained a number of violations.

"We are concerned. We expect a number of countries to take similar measures," he told reporters at an economic forum in St. Petersburg.

Alexei Ulyukayev, Russia's economy minister, said he considered the move to be unlawful.

The head of a subsidiary of Russian bank VTB, Mikhail Zadornov, told Rossiya-24 television that the accounts of Russian companies and its diplomatic mission had been frozen at the bank's French subsidiary on Wednesday. He added that the diplomatic accounts were unblocked.

Reuters is checking the reports.

Yukos' former shareholders had celebrated the award made by the court in The Hague last year, which ruled that the Russian authorities had subjected Yukos to politically motivated attacks when it was broken up and nationalized, with most assets handed to Russian oil producer Rosneft.

Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, was arrested at gunpoint in 2003 and convicted of theft and tax evasion in 2005, seen by many critics as punishment for opposing Putin.

Independent lawyers said it would be difficult to enforce the award to shareholders in the GML group who had claimed $114 billion to recover money they lost.

GML was not immediately available for comment.

($1 = 0.8776 euros)

(Reporting by Denis Dyomkin, Darya Korsunskaya, Gabriela Baczynska, Katya Golubkova in St Petersburg and Moscow, and Alexander Saeedy in Brussels, writing by Elizabeth Piper, editing by Angus MacSwan)