What does the closing of a large Moscow flea market have in common with a fake tax evasion case-slash-state takeover scheme of an oil company? Moscow’s Mayor Yuri Luzhkov is at the center of both them, revealing, what some sources in my rumor mill are telling me from Russia, a determined campaign against his business interests and political influence by powerful opponents within the state.
The closing of Cherkizovsky market has about as many characters as it does motives, but the Azeri owner of the property, Telman Ismailov, is perhaps too close of a friend with Luzhkov. The Mayor was the guest of honor at the ribbon cutting ceremony for Ismailov’s absurdly lavish hotel opening on the Turkish coast – not long after the Azeri businessman personally infuriated Vladimir Putin by throwing an ostentatious bash.
The state’s predatory attack on Sibir Energy, once a darling stock on the London exchanges, bears a slightly more tangential relationship to Luzkhov. As was revealed in a July 12th article by Catherine Belton in the Financial Times, during the court proceedings against Sibir the defense lawyers revealed a “secret stake” (50%) in the company is held by Elena Baturina, Luzhkov’s wife and Russia’s richest woman, according to Forbes. Shalva Chigirinsky, the Sibir CEO, is currently in London, where he may stay to seek asylum to potentially avoid a fate similar to Mikhail Khodorkovsky (Gazprom Neft began swallowing up Sibir shares at the beginning of the spring). Chigirinsky’s lawyers claim Baturina is making a move through third parties to take over his stake, while others say that there is a push to take the company away from both of them. Every day there are more and more attacks around Luzhkov, hitting small and large businesses, properties, and offices (MORE UPDATES COMING SOON).
We will continue to track the story, and see if any indication reveals who among the siloviki has decided to push Luzhkov out. The noose appears to be closing, however, is it is possible that a direct case may suddenly appear against him. Anything is possible in these courts.