Russian arrests of foreign businessmen shocks Western investors

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Phillipe Delpal, an executive at Baring Vostok private equity groupl, who was detained on suspicion of embezzlement, attends a court hearing in Moscow on February 15, 2019. (REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva)
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Michael Calvey, founder of the Baring Vostok investment fund, sits behind a cage glass window as he waits for the session in a court room in Moscow on Feb. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Updated 19 February 2019

Russian arrests of foreign businessmen shocks Western investors

  • Baring Vostok's executives were arrested in a case brought with the help of the FSB security service
  • It is just the latest in a long line of cases in which top business people have been accused of crimes motivated by commercial or political interests

MOSCOW: The arrest in Russia of prominent US and French investors on suspicion of fraud has sent shockwaves through Western business circles and sparked fears of cutbacks in foreign investment sorely needed for economic growth.
The founder and employees of the Baring Vostok private equity firm were arrested on Friday in a case brought with the help of the FSB security service.
The arrest took place on the same day Russia hosted leading business people in the Black Sea resort of Sochi for a major economic forum which trumpeted the country’s openness to investment.
Michael Calvey, a US citizen and the founder and director of Baring Vostok, has been placed in pre-trial detention in a Moscow jail for the next two months for alleged fraud, along with five others — including Philippe Delpal, a French citizen.
They are accused of defrauding Vostochny Bank of at least 2.5 billion rubles ($37.7 million). All of them deny any wrongdoing and blame the case on a shareholder dispute.
In an opinion piece on Monday in the Vedomosti business daily, Maxim Bouev — vice-rector of Moscow’s New Economic School — wrote the case proves what investors have long known: “If you want to invest in Russia, you have to accept your risk of eventually being arrested and finding yourself in the dock.”
This is the latest in a long line of cases in which top business people have been accused of crimes motivated by commercial or political interests, but these have rarely involved foreigners.
Business figures and economists reacted strongly to investigators swooping on Baring Vostok, founded 25 years ago, which has brought in investments of more than $3 billion to Russia despite the geopolitical tensions and Western sanctions of recent years.
Arkady Volozh, the CEO of Russian Internet giant Yandex, defended Calvey in a statement, saying he “has always been a standard for the market of decency and law-abidingness.”
Other business leaders said they fear the case will deal a severe blow to an investment climate already marred by corruption and the lack of independent courts — especially given the strong-arm tactics employed.
“This gives Russia a hateful image abroad,” the president of the French-Russian chamber of commerce, Emmanuel Quidet, told AFP.
The chamber on Monday said it was “very concerned” about the arrests in a joint statement with the Association of European Businesses, a federation of multinational companies working in Russia.
The case could “severely damage the climate and attractiveness of Russia for direct investments from abroad,” it said.
The Kremlin sought to dispel those fears, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying Calvey’s arrest should “not affect the investment climate” in Russia.
He added he was aware of the contribution to the Russian economy made by Calvey, who has met President Vladimir Putin numerous times.
The government in early February unveiled a 340 billion euros ($385 billion) plan to achieve its economic goals and support growth that is forecast to slow this year. This will require major private investment.
“It’s an electric shock,” a source in the Association of European Businesses told AFP.
“You get the impression that business rivals are using the justice system and Russian (security) services to settle their scores. But the fact that the authorities are letting this happen sends out a very negative signal. You wonder who will be next.”
In the Novaya Gazeta independent newspaper, outspoken commentator Yulia Latynina claimed that in the context of current East-West tensions, “for security officials, business people are criminals and foreigners are spies.”
 


Oil prices surge after attacks hit Saudi output

Updated 16 September 2019

Oil prices surge after attacks hit Saudi output

  • The Houthi attacks hit two Aramco sites and effectively shut down six percent of the global oil supply
  • President Donald Trump said Sunday the US was ‘locked and loaded’ to respond to the attacks

HONG KONG: Oil prices saw a record surge Monday after attacks on two Saudi facilities slashed output in the world’s top producer by half, fueling fresh geopolitical fears as Donald Trump blamed Iran and raised the possibility of a military strike on the country.
Brent futures surged $12 in the first few minutes of business — the most in dollar terms since they were launched in 1988 and representing a jump of nearly 20 percent — while WTI jumped more than $8, or 15 percent.
Both contracts pared the gains but were both still more than 10 percent up.
The attack by Tehran-backed Houthi militia in neighboring Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is bogged down in a five-year war, hit two sites owned by state-run giant Aramco and effectively shut down six percent of the global oil supply.
Trump said Sunday the US was “locked and loaded” to respond to the attack, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “The United States will work with our partners and allies to ensure that energy markets remain well supplied and Iran is held accountable for its aggression.”
Tehran denies the accusations but the news revived fears of a conflict in the tinderbox Middle East after a series of attacks on oil tankers earlier this year that were also blamed on Iran.
“Tensions in the Middle East are rising quickly, meaning this story will continue to reverberate this week even after the knee-jerk panic in oil markets this morning,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA.
Trump authorized the release of US supplies from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve, while Aramco said more than half of the five million barrels of production lost will be restored by tomorrow.
But the strikes raise concerns about the security of supplies from the world’s biggest producer.
Oil prices had dropped last week after news that Trump had fired his anti-Iran hawkish national security adviser John Bolton, which was seen as paving the way for an easing of tensions in the region.
“One thing we can say with confidence is that if part of the reason for last week’s fall in oil and improvement in geopolitical risk sentiment was the news of John Bolton’s sacking ... and thoughts this was a precursor to some form of rapprochement between Trump and Iran, then it is no longer valid,” said Ray Attrill at National Australia Bank.