Sistema shares plunged at the Moscow Exchange after Russian billionaire Vladimir Yevtushenkov has been placed under house arrest on suspicion of money-laundering.
The Moscow Exchange temporarily restricted trading in Vladimir Yevtushenkov’s Sistema group as shares in the oil and telecom group fell 37%.
The head of a top business group has questioned the reason behind the arrest of Vladimir Yevtushenkov, 65.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman denied any political motive.
Vladimir Yevtushenkov has an estimated fortune of $4.4 billion (3.4 billion euros), according to Forbes magazine.
His AFK Sistema group owns Russia’s biggest mobile operator MTS as well as oil company Bashneft.
Bashneft shares also fell by more than 20% on September and trading was temporarily restricted.
Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee said he had been accused of money laundering that involved the illegal acquisition of oil assets in the BashTek group in the Russian republic of Bashkortostan. In 2009, Sistema bought six BashTek companies, which were then taken over by Bashneft.
If found guilty Vladimir Yevtushenkov could face up to 10 years in jail, reports say. Sistema said in a statement that the acquisition of BashTek was “legal and transparent”.
The arrest was immediately compared by Alexander Shokhin, head of Russia’s Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, with the detention of another billionaire, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in 2003.
The former owner of oil giant Yukos spent 10 years in jail before being pardoned and leaving Russia last December.
“Without doubt this looks very like Yukos 2.0, because the charges apply to the head of a company that paid $2.5 billion for assets and is now accused of stealing shares and money-laundering,” Alexander Shokhin told Ria Novosti.
Yukos was at one point Russia’s biggest oil company but its assets were eventually broken up, many of them bought by Rosneft, now the world’s largest oil producer.
Rosneft was earlier this year reported to be keen to buy Bashneft.
The state-run oil and gas company is controlled by Igor Sechin, who for years has been a close ally of President Vladimir Putin.
Igor Sechin has been targeted by US sanctions in response to the crisis in Ukraine.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in an interview with Russian business daily Vedomosti, said the Sistema chairman’s arrest involved “purely commercial interests” rather than political motives. It also showed that President Vladimir Putin had lost control and was not aware of what was happening, he said.
Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov said it was “absolutely untrue and absurd to try to paint this story with any political colors”, RIA Novosti reported.
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