Regarding the editorial on Russia in the Wall Street Journal by Anne Jolis (“Khodorkovsky heads back to Siberia” June 15th), I could not help but notice the significance of the date. Exactly 13 years ago today, on June 15th, 1998, the mayor of the Siberian oil city of Nefteyugansk sent a letter to Boris Yeltsin and nine of the top officials in the Russian government. The mayor, Vladimir Petukhov, used the letter to assail the “murderous policies” carried out by Khodorkovsky’s YUKOS group in his city, and demanded a tax and criminal investigation into that group and various related (and named) shell companies. In his closing, instead of using the typical “with respect”, he uses the less typical phrase “with hope!” Eleven days later, on Khodorkovsky’s 35th birthday, Petukhov was shot to death on the street outside his office. Alexei Pichugin, the head of security for YUKOS, reporting to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was found guilty in 2007 of organizing the murder.
I thought that since today is June 15th, you might like to see the letter—it is translated into English below. Does the letter constitute legal “evidence” against Khodorkovsky? No. Is it possible that Petukhov had lots of enemies? Yes. Is the letter even real? I cannot be sure; all I can say is that a copy of the “original” in Russian was faxed to me in late June 1998 by . . . a reporter at the Moscow bureau of the Wall Street Journal. I would be happy to fax it back if you would like to see it. I’m sure that if you asked Petukhov’s widow she could confirm or deny its legitimacy. Certainly, no one at the time considered it to be the sharp end of a conspiracy against Khodorkovsky that would bear fruit 7 years later. In general, people took away a different message from the episode.
I mention Al Capone in the subject heading above, because at one point this was an explanation used by the Russian government in reference to the Khodorkovsky case. After howls of derision from the western press, they abandoned this line and adopted the more typical response of Russian bureaucracy: silence. Not great PR, but I think their comparison has some merit. Why did Al Capone spend 10 years on Alcatraz? Because he cheated on his taxes? Did any other tax cheats (who offered to repay their back taxes, as Capone did) receive such a sentence in the 1930’s? Al Capone went to jail on tax charges because no one was willing to testify against him for murder. Any potential witnesses were either dead or afraid, and he was smart enough not to leave enough evidence sitting around to convict him. The Russian legal system is not perfect, and in many ways is more imperfect than that of the US. However, it seems to me that the approach of the Wall Street Journal (and New York Times) op-ed page has become myopic and hysterical on the topic of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
President of the Russian Federation (RF), Yeltsin, B.N.
Prime Minister RF, Kiriyenko S.V.
Chairman of Federation Council RF, Stroyev Ye.S.
Chairman of State Duma RF, Selyeznyev G.A.
General Prosecutor RF, Skuratov Yu.I.
Head of the Federal Tax Inspectorate (GNI) RF, Fedorov B.P.
Chariman of the Federal Security Service (FSB) RF, Kovalyev N.
Governor of Tyumen Region, Roketski Yu.Yu.
Governor of Khantii Mansiisk Autonomous Region, Filipenko A.V.
Chairman of Khantii Mansiisk Duma, Sobyanin S.S.
I, the head of the city of Nefteyugansk Petukhov V.A., protest against the cynical actions and murderous policies carried out by the oligarchs from OAO ‘RospromYUKOS’ and bank ‘Menatep’ in the Nefteyugansk region.
In protest against the inaction of the government of the RF and the policies of suffocation of opposition to the team of Khodorkovsky M.B., which in my opinion leave no other path, I announce an indefinite hunger strike and make the following demands:
1. To initiate a criminal case based on the fact of large-scale under-payment of taxes by Rosprom-YUKOS in the years 1996 – 1998;
2. To remove from his post the head of the GNI [State Tax Inspectorate] in the city of Nefteyugansk Naumov L.E., and the head of the GNI of the Khantii-Mansiisk Autonomous Region Efimov A.V., and to unite the tax organs of the city of Nefteyugansk and the Nefteyugansk region;
3. To activate an investigation of criminal activity surrounding the fact of the swindling of the sum of 450 billion roubles in old prices by the firms ‘Rondo-S’ and ANK ‘YUKOS’, and also the swindling by use of false promissory notes of the firm ‘Eltem’ in the sum of 100 billion roubles which were issued by Rosprom-YUKOS;
4. To pay off the accumulated tax arrears, interest, and penalties of Rosprom-YUKOS in the amount of 1.2 trillion un-denominated roubles to the city of Nefteyugansk, using financial resources, crude oil, and oil products;
5. To put an end to the interference by the oligarchs from Rosprom YUKOS Menatep in the activities of the organs of local self-governance;
6. To conduct the process by which will be annulled the unlawful auction in the purchase of ANK ‘YUKOS’ by Rosprom-YUKOS, and the transfer of the government’s share holding in OAO ‘Yuganskneftegaz’ in exchange for debts to the city of Nefteyugansk, the city of Pyt’-Ykhu, the Nefteyugasnk region, and the Khantii-Mansiisk Autonomous Region;
7. To restore the economic independence of OAO – production association ‘Yuganskneftegaz’.
Head of the city of Nefteyugansk,
Kandidat Texnicheskii Nauk [PhD]
V.A. Petukhov 15.06.98