Opposition Figure Irks Russian Oil Czar

Wall Street Journal

President Vladimir Putin’s close ally who runs Russia’s state oil company Rosneft Wednesday accused a popular leader of opposition protests of acting to the company’s detriment by criticizing Russian officials and demanding access to the company’s secrets.

Igor Sechin, Rosneft’s chief executive, said blogger Alexei Navalny works on behalf of the company’s competitors and an investment fund, who are trying to have a peek into Rosneft’s confidential documents.

Mr. Navalny holds a infinitesimal stake in the firm and, as a shareholder, demands that internal documents, including minutes to board meetings, be published. He has also accused the company of misconduct, corruption and infringement on shareholders’ interests. Rosneft has defended the confidentiality of its documents in courts.

Mr. Navalny, a darling of the anti-Kremlin rallies that have been erupting in Moscow over the past few months, has been repeatedly detained by authorities. His apartment and his office were recently searched by the police, and state-controlled media refer to him as a Western stooge.

“According to some information, Navalny is a lawyer employed by Hermitage Capital,” said Mr. Sechin, the Rosneft chief, when asked at the company’s annual shareholders meeting who he thought was right in the dispute between the company and the blogger.

Mr. Sechin’s suggestion of a connection with Hermitage, a U.K. fund investing in Russia, increased pressure on Mr. Navalny. Hermitage is in the middle of the so-called Magnitsky case, a thorny issue for the Kremlin. Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer for Hermitage, died in pre-trial detention November 2009 while suffering from untreated pancreatitis. Mr. Magnitsky had been imprisoned on charges of tax evasion in 2008 after accusing Interior Ministry officials of using false tax documents to siphon off $230 million from the state coffers.

Mr. Magnitsky’s death sparked an international outcry. The 37-year-old’s family and former colleagues called for a broad investigation. Hermitage started a massive public campaign to name those Russian officials who it thinks were connected to the case.

The U.S. has barred dozens of officials linked to the lawyer’s detention and death from entering the country. The U.S. Senate is working on a bill, named in Mr. Magnitsky’s honor, calling for visa bans and asset freezes for Russian officials accused of human-rights violations. Russia has warned the U.S. this could hurt ties between the countries.

Mr. Navalny responded in an email, saying Mr. Sechin should publish any incriminating documents if he has them. “He has just nothing to reply to my criticism” of the company, he wrote.
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