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A court of first instance in Brussels has ruled that Russian assets in Belgium—frozen at the request of former Yukos shareholders as part of their legal battle against Russia—be unfrozen, the General Director of the International Legal Protection Center, Andrey Kondakov, told Russian news agency TASS on Friday.
The Brussels court also removed the block on accounts of the news agencies TASS and RIA Novosti, Kondakov said.
“An hour ago, I got a call from lawyers representing the Russian side in court and they said that a first instance court in Brussels has lifted all attachments from Russia’s assets in Belgium and also assets of Russian federal state unitary enterprises - ITAR-TASS and RIA Novosti,” Kondakov told TASS, adding that the Russian assets were seized in June and July 2015.
Early this year, former shareholders of the now-defunct oil giant Yukos and Russian government lawyers began procedures for an appeal over US$50 billion that Moscow and ex-Yukos shareholders have been dragging through the courts since 2005.
Former Yukos owner and critic of the Kremlin, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was arrested in 2003 and convicted of theft and tax evasion two years later. Yukos was broken up and sold off to state companies, including Rosneft. Khodorkovsky was released from jail in 2013 after Vladimir Putin pardoned him.
In the meantime, former Yukos shareholders sued for compensation for the assets they lost, which they claim were expropriated by the Russian government. In 2014, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that Russia must pay US$50 billion to the ex-Yukos shareholders.
Russia has refused to pay up, and two years later, in April 2016, The Hague District Court reversed the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the grounds that it lacked jurisdiction to arbitrate in the case.
“With the arbitration awards quashed, the Russian Federation is no longer liable for paying compensation to these parties,” The Hague District Court said back then.
Last month, the Amsterdam Court of Appeal ruled that Russia unlawfully bankrupted Yukos. The court said that the Russian authorities “not only violated the Russian [tax] rules, but also that this was done with the apparent intent to make Yukos insolvent and ultimately bankrupt Yukos,” Yukos Foundation, which protects Yukos assets outside Russia, said in a statement on May 9.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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Tsvetana is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews.