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Law as a Tool of Corruption

Jason Bush at BusinessWeek has a very interesting piece today:

Mysterious lawsuits targeting prominent financial institutions could become the latest worry for foreign investors in Russia. Earlier this year, Hermitage Capital Management, an investment fund managed by British bank HSBC (HBC), claimed that three of its subsidiaries had been besieged by Russian fraud artists. Hermitage alleged in public statements that a series of bogus suits, based on fake contracts to sell shares, had been filed against the units as part of a scheme to seize ownership of the subsidiaries and reclaim $230 million in taxes previously paid by Hermitage to the Russian government. Russian authorities are investigating these allegations.

Now, an apparently similar round of suits has come to light. These concern two units created by another financial giant: Renaissance Capital, the largest Russian investment bank and one of the most active sellers of Russian securities to Western investors.The units in question, Financial Investments and Selen Securities, were formerly subsidiaries of Rengaz Holdings, a fund created by Renaissance Capital in 2004 to enable foreign investors to buy shares in Gazprom, the country’s largest company. At the time, Russia prevented foreign investors from directly purchasing Gazprom shares traded in Russia. But funds such as Rengaz enabled investors to own shares in the energy company indirectly. Rengaz, via holding companies, owned Financial Investments and Selen Securities, which traded Gazprom shares.