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Toni Schönfelder
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Toni Schönfelder
A lifetime of innovation

Groups Urge Putin on Privatization Issue Leading Russian business associations and human rights activists urged President Vladimir Putin to offer guarantees to the business community unsettled by an official probe widely seen as politically driven against the nation´s largest oil producer. Without naming the oil company Yukos, leaders of three top business associations and several prominent rights activists said in a letter published Tuesday that ``arbitrariness and intimidation´´ by the authorities threaten the nation´s stability. Russian prosecutors jailed a major Yukos shareholder earlier this month on charges of fraud in a 1994 privatization, and launched a 16-hour search of the company´s offices. The probe has stoked fears that the government could revise results of the controversial privatization of state assets in the 1990s and has sent Russian stock prices downward. ``These events ... may destroy the fragile foundation for achieving stable economic growth, social peace and well-being,´´ said the letter, published in the business daily Kommersant. Its authors proposed that the government sign a pact with the business community that would guarantee the irreversibility of privatization results. Businesses, in turn, would pledge to help combat corruption and do more to solve social problems. Opinion polls showed most Russians to be highly critical of the privatization campaign, in which well connected tycoons, dubbed ``oligarchs,´´ snapped up prized state assets at giveaway prices through their close connections to former President Boris Yeltsin´s government. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov sought to assuage the business community last week by saying that privatization results wouldn´t be revised. Putin has issued conflicting signals, saying that economic crimes must be fought but not by means of ``arm-twisting and jail cells.´´ He has not mentioned Yukos directly. Yukos chief executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a 40-year old billionaire who has supported opposition parties and criticized the Kremlin on some top policy issues, has dismissed the charges against his company and called the probe part of a power struggle inside the Kremlin. ``The prosecutor´s office is lying to the president on our case,Khodorkovsky said, according to the weekly Moscow News. He said that if prosecutors succeed in their actions against Yukos, it would set a precedent for arbitrary prosecution for the rest of the country.

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