- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 21, 2004

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian authorities have searched the homes of dozens of managers working for the embattled Yukos oil company in what one board member described as a massive campaign reminiscent of the Stalinist purges, a news agency reported yesterday.

The Interfax news agency quoted an unidentified Yukos board member as saying that dozens of Yukos managers in Moscow and across Russia have been targeted in a far-ranging official investigation, and many of them have had their homes searched at night.

The board member compared the searches to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s Great Terror of 1937.

“People are afraid to stay home at night; they fear for their relatives,” Interfax quoted the official as saying.

Officials at Yukos and Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office were unavailable for comment yesterday.

Yukos and its subsidiaries face tax claims totaling more than $23 billion for 2000-03, and the Russian government announced Friday it would sell a majority stake in the company’s core production unit Yuganskneftegaz to cover the back-tax bill.

Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been in jail for more than a year on separate charges including fraud and tax evasion.

The Yukos case widely has been seen as a Kremlin-inspired effort to punish Khodorkovsky for funding opposition parties and put Yukos assets into Kremlin-friendly hands, tightening the state’s control over the oil industry.

President Vladimir Putin has denied that the Yukos probe was politically motivated, casting it as part of struggle against tax evasion and shady bookkeeping.

He reaffirmed these arguments in an interview with Brazilian press. The interview was published yesterday on the Kremlin Web site.

“It’s wrong to substitute the criminal aspect of this problem with politics,” Mr. Putin said.

“Every person, irrespective of his post, material well-being and a degree of his influence on state bodies, must respect the law. All people are equal before the law, they must respect it, pay the due taxes, and, correspondingly, bear responsibility if they break it,” the Russian president said.

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