Russian prosecutors have launched criminal proceedings against an English solicitor, accusing him of involvement in asset-stripping and embezzlement.
Tim Osborne, senior partner of Cheltenham and London firm Wiggin Osborne Fullerlove, has been accused along with three former bosses of oil business Yukos in relation to alleged transfers of some of the group?s foreign assets in 2005. All four deny any wrongdoing.
Mr Osborne?s involvement with Yukos stems from his role at GML, where he has been a director since March 2004.
Previously known as Grupo Menatep, GML was established in 1997, when its assets included a majority holding in Yukos, which was run by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once the richest of Russia?s oligarchs.
The Russian authorities charged Khodorkovsky in 2003 of involvement in a transfer-pricing fraud where Yukos shares were sold at lower than market value to GML. This, they argued, reduced the amount of tax payable in Russia and realised a huge profit on the open market.
Khodorkovsky was convicted and sentenced in 2005 to eight years in a Siberian prison for fraud and tax evasion. He is appealing to the European Court of Human Rights.
Mr Osborne said: ?Wiggin Osborne Fullerlove is an international practice and over the years I?ve been a director of various investment companies on behalf of clients. I accepted a directorship of GML because, as a client of mine, I knew it was a legitimate concern trading legitimately. I also knew and trusted the other expatriate directors of GML.?
He claimed that the prosecution of Khodorkovsky was politically motivated and that no crimes had been committed. Mr Osborne said: ?Mr Khodorkovsky became too politicised. He wanted corporate governance to be more westernised and transparent, and drew attention to the corruption at the heart of state-owned companies which showed minimal profits compared with Yukos.?
The authorities retaliated, according to Mr Osborne, by prosecuting Khodorkovsky and by bankrupting Yukos Oil with huge and unjustified tax demands.
Concerns about Khodorkovsky?s prosecution have been raised in the media on a number of occasions.
Mr Osborne is accused under articles 160 and 174 of the Russian Criminal Code. He is awaiting clarification of the accusations before appointing a lawyer to represent him. He said: ?In the meantime, I?m an international solicitor who has been advised not to travel internationally in case I?m arrested at a border and extradited to Russia. I?m being prevented from serving GML and my other clients ? and from earning a living.?
The Russian embassy declined to comment on the case.