“These were professional thugs that had been hired by the KGB, known as the FSB in Russia today, but they're still the KGB.” Even though he’d fled the country, Bruce Misamore couldn’t seem to escape Russia’s reach. Putin’s Oil Heist is an insider’s account of the Yukos Affair. In this episode, host Loren Steffy describes Misamore’s swift exit from Russia and its consequences, with first-person accounts from the former Yukos chief financial officer.
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Leaving Russia. Saddled with crippling and, according to Misamore, illegal tax liabilities, Yukos was drifting towards insolvency. During his stay in London for an industry conference in November 2004, Misamore got a call warning him not to go back to Moscow or he would be arrested and face prosecution. He heeded the warning, but his wife was still in Russia. And she seemed to be under surveillance.
Bankrupting Yukos. Convinced that the Russian government was orchestrating a scheme to either take over Yukos or seize all of the company’s oil and gas assets, Misamore began talking to lawyers about what legal recourse Yukos executives might have to stop the looting of the company. Attorney Mark Baker came up with the idea of intentionally bankrupting the company and getting it into a legitimate jurisdiction in the United States. U.S. bankruptcy laws essentially freeze time for companies while they figure out their next move. But there was a problem: a Russian company with no U.S. assets had no grounds for filing a proceeding in the United States.
Stopping the auction. While Misamore was in London, the Russian government announced an auction of Yukos' principal production subsidiary, Yuganskneftegaz, to settle some of the tax claims against Yukos. Misamore hadn’t planned or prepared to flee Russia, so he hadn’t taken any documents with him. However, he realized he had all he needed to move forward with a U.S. bankruptcy case: his company laptop. As an officer of Yukos living in Houston in possession of a company asset, he had grounds for a filing. A federal bankruptcy judge agreed, ruling the filing was legitimate and that she had jurisdiction because of Misamore and his laptop. The filing created a court-issued injunction to stop the sale of Yuganskneftegaz.
The plan’s contact with the enemy. Russia went ahead with the auction, but couldn’t get financing from international banks. The move caught the Kremlin off guard but it wasted no time in responding, assembling a legion of attorneys in the U.S. Ultimately, Misamore’s bankruptcy tactic failed because Russia refused to cooperate. Misamore attempted to run Yukos from London, where they had established the company’s new headquarters. Three months after Khodorkovsky’s conviction in 2006, Misamore and his wife came home after dinner in Houston to find their house had been burglarized. Among the things stolen were Misamore’s company laptop, and $30,000 worth of jewelry.
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