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Rosneft Shareholder as an Anti-Corruption Force

navalny012410.jpgToday Carl Schreck of the National has a great interview with Alexei Navalny, a minority shareholder in Rosneft who regularly risks his life and safety to confront the corruption and opaque practices of the company (and its chairman and arch-silovik Igor Sechin) under every right afforded to him under the corporate charter.  There are few other countries in the world in which the role of shareholder is more important than that of a politician, but to read Navalny’s story, one can see the incredible overlap between the public and private spheres.  Let’s hope he does not meet the same fate as Bill Browder, the other famous shareholder activist for corporate governance.

Seeking capital injections and international legitimacy, dozens of Russian companies, including state-owned giants, have gone public in recent years. Among these were so-called “People’s IPOs” – promoted by officials as safe bets for small investors – of Rosneft and banks Sberbank and VTB.

Mr Navalny is among those small investors, with stakes – each worth around 50,000 roubles (Dh6,000) at the time of purchase – in almost every major state-owned company that is publicly listed.

Leveraginghis status as part-owner, he has launched broadsides against themanagement of these companies, filing lawsuits over lack oftransparency and complaining to prosecutors about alleged embezzlementby management. “While professional investors try to solve theirproblems quietly, this everyman without status or power is trying tofight the system,” the respected Russian business daily Vedomosti wroteof Mr Navalny last month after naming him “Private Individual of theYear” for 2009.

His attacks are ostensibly in the name of a better bottom line.Theft and mismanagement are hurting the performance of the companies inwhich he holds stock, he claims.

But Mr Navalny said it would be “stupid” to deny the political implications of his anti-corruption drives.

“Myactivities are directly aimed at changing the political situation inthe country. I don’t participate anymore in politics. I don’t vote. Butmy battle for the oil export market to belong to our Russian companies- and not to a Swiss offshore company – is essentially politics.”