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Beleaguered Russian firm Yukos releases earlier letter of exoneration

Moscow, 15 July: The lawyers of the Russian oil company Yukos have made Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov's letter public. In April 2003, Ustinov wrote that there are no legal reasons for initiating an investigation into the fertilizer company Apatit. The Prosecutor General's Office later said, however, that the situation changed.

Apatit stocks gave rise to a criminal case against Menatep head Platon Lebedev, who was arrested last week on charges of embezzling a 20-per-cent stake in Apatit in 1994. The stake was equivalent to 283.142m dollars.

Ustinov's letter to President Vladimir Putin, made available to Interfax by Yukos lawyers, says that "a probe initiated by the Prosecutor General's Office and the ministries and organizations concerned revealed that the Novgorod regional governor's arguments to the effect that Apatit violated the anti-trust and tax laws were unfounded." "Therefore, there is no reason for further actions by the Prosecutor General's Office," Ustinov wrote.

"Governor of the Novgorod region Mikhail Prusak argued that the amicable

agreement between the Russian Federal Property Fund and the company Volna [which purchased a 20-per-cent stake in Apatit] on the payment of damages caused by the non-return of the Apatit shares, was an infringement on state interests, as the size of compensation payments was seriously understated," Ustinov wrote.

He also wrote that "the Russian Federal Property Fund, the Finance Ministry, the Ministry for Natural Resources, the Ministry of Science and the Tax Ministry signed a letter insisting that the state interests be guaranteed in this agreement."

Meanwhile, Officials with the Prosecutor General's Office told Interfax that the situation has changed radically since April, when Ustinov sent his letter to Putin.

Natalya Vishnyakova, spokesperson for the Prosecutor General's Office, said that the letter dated 28 April was based on the results of a check into Prusak's arguments.

"At that moment, no investigation had been launched due to a lack of reasons for doing so, of which the president was informed."

"However, checks into reports about Apatit's 20-per-cent stake continued," she said.

"Moreover, the Prosecutor General's Office took note of the inquiry by State Duma Deputy Vladimir Yudin, who argued that the 20-per-cent stake in Apatit was embezzled through fraud, and qualified this act as a manifestation of 'economic terrorism.'"

The decision to start a criminal investigation and establish who exactly

embezzled the 20 per cent stake in Apatit was based on the results of additional checks, Vishnyakova said.

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