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RA Interview in the Calgary Herald

calgaryherald012908.jpgRobert Amsterdam is interviewed by the Calgary Herald today:

Be realistic about Russia: litigator Khodorkovsky’s lawyer warns businesses of risks Gina Teel, Calgary Herald; with files from Canwest News Service Canadian corporate leaders need to take off the rose-coloured glasses when it comes to discussing business opportunities in Russia, international litigator Robert Amsterdam said Monday. What’s often missing from polite conversation are the difficulties of doing business in Russia, and strategies on how to mitigate risk as more Russian businesses come knocking on the door here.

“When you discuss Russia, there needs to be a realism to the discussion,” said Amsterdam. “I’m a Canadian lawyer representing someone in the gulag today.”Amsterdam is the lawyer for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former chief executive of Yukos Oil Co., who was convicted of fraud and tax evasion and in 2005 and sentenced to eight years in a Siberian prison.In a nutshell, the government seized Yukos’ largest production unit, Yuganskneftegaz, and in 2004 sold it to state-owned OAO Rosneft to pay back-taxes.The government has since dismantled Yukos — once the country’s most valuable oil company — through several auctions after claiming more than $30 billion in back taxes from the company.Amsterdam called the move a velvet re-privatization, and warned it’s a methodology still in play in some sectors, such as oil, today.In spite of this, risk is underestimated in Russia, he said.As such, businesses need to take a strategic approach to doing business there.Amsterdam, who will address the Economic Club of Calgary today, cautioned businesses to be realistic about opportunities, noting Russia is an important market and also an important competitor in terms of Arctic resources.”I’m not saying close the doors to Russia. What I’m saying is be realistic about Russia, be realistic when it comes to the Arctic, be realistic when it comes to energy,” he said.Amsterdam urged Canadian business to engage with Russia on a political level, a civil society level and a business level to improve the situation.However, the business climate in Russia is just fine for Richard Ball, the president and chief executive of Calgary-based FSI International Services Ltd.Ball said his company — custom equipment experts for the global oil, chemical and petrochemical protection industries in Russia — has been working in Russia since 1993 and hasn’t had any problems with any clients there.”We have had no negative experiences with any of our Russian clients to date, and that goes back 16 years, and our business is expanding,” he said.Ball, who has made 96 trips to Russia and leaves Wednesday for Moscow, said there’s protocol to follow there, but it’s not onerous.Any country has its own protocol system to adhere to, even Canada, he said. “I don’t see that being an issue,” Ball said.