Russian government property in the United States could be seized after former shareholders of the Yukos oil company sought recognition of a multibillion dollar compensation award in U.S. courts, London's Daily Telegraph reported on July 3.
Former shareholders in Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s defunct oil company are seeking recognition in the United States of a $50 billion award of damages from the Russian government, issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague last year.
If successful, the case could oblige U.S. authorities to freeze Russian government-owned assets, including bank accounts and real estate.
Court papers were handed over by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on June 22, Russia’s RBK newspaper reported. Russia is believed to have 60 days, or until August 20, to submit a response.
Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, declined to comment on the case, saying it was “a matter for lawyers.”
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow confirmed that the State Department acts as a go-between when U.S. courts issue papers to foreign states, but declined to comment on the particular case.
Yukos was once Russia’s largest oil company but was dismantled after Khodorkovsky was jailed on charges of tax evasion, embezzlement, and theft in 2005.
Many of its assets were later acquired by Russian state-owned companies including Rosneft, an oil firm headed by Igor Sechin, who is a close ally of Putin.
In a case which Kremlin critics said offered a stark example of Putin's increasingly autocratic rule, Khodorkovsky's arrest was justified by the Russian leader who claimed: "A thief must be in jail."
Putin pardoned Khodorkovsky in December 2013 after he had spent 10 years in prison. Khodorkovsky is no longer a shareholder in Yukos.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in July last year that Russia had deliberately forced the company into bankruptcy with excessive tax claims in order to appropriate its assets. The court awarded the plaintiffs -- who do not include Khodorkovsky -- $50 billion in compensation.
Last month, authorities in France and Belgium seized several Russian state-owned assets, including real estate and bank accounts, in connection with the case.
The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the Belgian ambassador over the incident, which it described as "an openly hostile act," and threatened to take “reciprocal measures targeting Belgian assets in Russia.”
The Belgian Foreign Ministry said at the time that the seizures had been served by bailiffs without the involvement of the Belgian government.
Austrian authorities also announced an asset freeze, but did not provide details.
Russia has previously said it does not recognize The Hague court ruling and has no intention of paying the compensation.