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Russian stake in Euronews frozen over Yukos claims

October 29, 2015

A stake in broadcaster Euronews held by Russian state media giant VGTRK has been frozen due to claims against Moscow from shareholders of defunct oil firm Yukos, the media holding said Thursday.

The 7.5 percent stake owned by Russia’s VGTRK holding in the international news channel was frozen following a court order, senior VGTRK executive Pyotr Fedorov told RIA Novosti news agency, without specifying which court.

The move means that VGTRK cannot sell its stake but “we weren’t planning to do that,” Fedorov said, adding there will not be any impact on the running of France-based Euronews.

VGTRK, whose news content strongly backs the Kremlin line, first acquired a stake in Euronews in 2001 and began airing a Russian-language version the same year.

It increased its stake to 16 percent in 2002 and to 16 percent in 2004, reported RBK news website.

Euronews was founded in 1993 as an alliance of some 20 public broadcasters. This year it sold a controlling stake to Egyptian telecoms and media magnate Naguib Sawiris.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies the Kremlin was aware of the court decision and would fight for Russia’s legal rights.

“The Kremlin knows about this. Legal efforts are being made to defend Russia’s legal interests and its property,” he said, quoted by RIA Novosti.

Russia’s official assets have been blocked in a number of Western European countries after an international court ordered that it pay compensation to ex-Yukos shareholders.

The main Yukos ex-shareholder, GML, confirmed to AFP through its lawyers that the majority shareholders have served court orders covering “assets belonging to the Russian Federation, on various entities in France, including Euronews.”

GML said the High Court of Paris (Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris) issued the order on Euronews.

Euronews declined to comment on the court decision to AFP.

An arbitration court in The Hague last year ordered Russia to pay some $50 billion (45 billion euros) in compensation to shareholders of ex-oil giant Yukos after Moscow seized and carved up the company following the dramatic arrest of its billionaire owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003.

The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that Moscow had forced Yukos into bankruptcy with excessive tax claims before selling its assets to state-owned firms.

Russia has refused to fulfil the Yukos judgement.

In a further judgement against Russia, the European Court of Human Rights last year ordered it to pay ex-shareholders almost 1.9 billion euros, in a decision also rejected by Moscow.

In June, Russian state assets — including embassy bank accounts — were frozen in France and Belgium over the dispute, sparking a diplomatic row with Moscow.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has said Russia is considering legislation that would allow it to freeze assets of foreign states in retaliation for the seizure of its property overseas.

Early this year, Russia created a command centre that works with international lawyers to coordinate its defence of state assets in response to claims from Yukos ex-shareholders in six countries including France, RBK reported Thursday.


Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.