Former owners of Yukos are unhappy with Belgium government

There is little doubt that every “privatization” accomplished in Russia during the 1990-2000 is more or less unlawful. But one case is very special – the Yukos case. Participation of international buyers and investors from the US is what makes it very special mix of genuine corruption, oligarchy games and Russian state power-play.

The former owners of the oil giant Yukos have accused the Belgian government of caving in to “bullying” by the Kremlin after it attempted to block court moves to seize Russian state assets.

In filings to a Brussels court, Belgian officials warned that seizing Russian bank accounts and properties owned by the state news agencies would cause a “major and especially serious diplomatic incident with the Russian state”.

The intervention has sparked controversy over state involvement in the courts and the influence of the Putin administration.

The Belgian bank accounts and buildings were drawn into the Yukos affair after GML, the company controlled by a group of exiled Russian billionaires led by Leonid Nevzlin, won a record $50bn damages award in 2014. An international arbitration court in the Netherlands found that Yukos has been illegally expropriated by the Russian state in a campaign beginning in 2003.

To recover the money, GML launched assets seizure claims around the world, including in Belgium, France and the UK. Earlier this year, however, another Dutch court overturned the damages award after Russia argued it was not bound by the treaty under which it was made, throwing the asset seizures into doubt.

The Belgian government has gone completely over the top. They have come down on the side of the Russians. When we attached the assets to the case the Belgian ambassador in Moscow was called in and told that if they allowed their courts to do this then Belgian assets would be seized in Russia, whether they were state-owned or not. It is pure bullying.Tim Osborne, GML’s London-based lawyer

The Belgian government’s submissions to the court argue that the bank accounts and buildings have diplomatic immunity or are not technically owned by the state.

In arguments that echo Russia’s claims that Yukos was illegally funnelling profits offshore, the Belgian government also said: “The challenged seizures appear to result from oligarchs having committed tax fraud on the territory of the [Russian] state.”

Andrey Kondakov, head of the International Centre for Legal Protection, an agency established by Russia to fight the Yukos case, dismissed claims of diplomatic bullying.

The Yukos oligarchs are clutching at straws. They are trying to seize Russian assets in Belgium on the back of an arbitration award that no longer exist.

The assets are either part of the Russian Embassy, or separate from the Russian state. The principle of diplomatic immunity has been with us for hundreds of years and therefore the Belgium foreign ministry has quite rightly intervened.

GML’s attempt in the British courts to seize payables due to the Russian space agency for launching satellites is on hold while the dispute over the Dutch arbitration decision goes through the appeal courts.

The author: Michel DEURINCK

Michel Deurinck, born in Brussels in 1950, started his career in the Belgian civil service, dedicating over 30 years to public service. Upon retirement, he pursued his passion for journalism. Transitioning into this new field, he quickly gained recognition for his insightful reporting on politics and culture. Deurinck's balanced and thoughtful approach to journalism has made him a respected figure in Belgian media.

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