Author: Kim Iskyan
GOVERNMENT SOFTENS STANCE ON LEBEDEV PRISON TERM


By Kim Iskyan

A local court reduced the prison term of Platon Lebedev, the business partner of jailed former oil oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in what some analysts interpreted as a slight moderation of the Russian government's stance on an issue that has long been a flashpoint for foreign investors in Russia—false charges being laid against executives that are, at their root, solely political maneuvering.

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Lebedev (right) and Khodorkovsky: the subjects of politically-motivated criminal charges

Photo Credits: KOJOKU / Shutterstock.com

Platon Lebedev and Khodorkovsky were convicted of fraud and tax evasion in 2005, and of theft and money laundering during a second trial in 2010. The cases were widely viewed as being politically motivated. Meanwhile, prosecutors indicted anticorruption blogger and lawyer Alexei Navalny on what appears to be trumped-up charges of embezzling funds from a state company.

Russia's largest oil producer, Rosneft, has reported its first-ever quarterly loss in its second-quarter results. The immediate cause of the weak results was a higher-than-expected foreign exchange loss, but analysts cautioned that operating costs were spiraling out of control. New CEO Igor Sechin, who was previously the Kremlin's point person for the Russian energy industry, called for measures to improve the efficiency of the oil producer, including reductions in head count and improved communication between headquarters and operating units.

Citing the vulnerability of the Russian economy to the eurozone's fiscal and banking crisis and its possible impact on commodities prices, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in late July cut its GDP forecast for 2012 to 3.1%, from 4.2%. The IMF subsequently warned that Russia faces significant risks stemming from the spillover of global economic contagion, in large part owing to likely lower oil prices in the event of a global downturn. Official data showed that economic growth decelerated in June to 3.8% year-on-year, compared with 4.2% the previous month, owing to a slowdown in capital investment and net exports.