Johnson's Russia List
8 November 2003
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A CDI Project
Soros Foundation's offices shut down in Moscow after Yukos criticism
November 7, 2003
Men clad in camouflage shut down the Moscow offices of the Soros Foundation
early Friday just days after US billionaire financier George Soros publicly
criticized the jailing of Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
A Moscow firm that owns the building said it had to expel the foundation,
using private security guards, because of a long-standing dispute over rent.
But the head of Soros's Open Society Institute in Russia linked the move to
the conflict with oil giant Yukos, whose main shareholder and former chief
executive Khodorkovsky is in prison on charges including fraud and tax
"The rumours going around that Yukos is in our building are complete
nonsense. We have no joint projects with Mikhail Khodorkovsky," Yekaterina
Geniyeva, who is currently outside Russia, told the Moscow Echo radio by
"I can't say that what is happening with the Soros Foundation is part of
the Khodorkovsky affair but I can see a certain connection," she said.
President Vladimir Putin is facing one of the biggest political crises of
his four-year administration after police detained Khodorkovsky, Russia's
richest man, at gunpoint on October 25 in Siberia and flew him to Moscow to
The campaign against Khodorkovsky and Yukos, which has faced a series of
criminal probes since July, is widely seen as Kremlin revenge for the
billionaire tycoon's funding of opposition political parties and has
alarmed foreign investors.
Hungarian-born Soros, who has long had difficult relations with Moscow, in
a Russian newspaper interview early this week denounced the arrest of
Khodorkovsky as "persecution" that would force business to submit to the state.
"Persecution of Mr. Khodorkovsky ... sends an unmistakeable message that
nobody can be independent of the state," Soros told the Moskovskiye
Novosti, a weekly recently acquired by Khodorkovsky.
"I believe that he acted within the constraints of the law in supporting
political parties. I am doing the same in the United States," he said.
Around 40 men in camouflage launched a raid on the Moscow offices of
Soros's Open Society Institute late Thursday, forcing the staff to leave,
before taking away documents and other office equipment in trucks.
The owner's building, Sector-1, said the foundation had not paid the rent
since 2001. Sector-1 director Kantimir Karamzin said there had been no
political motive for the move.
Representatives of the Soros Foundation, however, denied that the rent had
not been paid, saying the expulsion was illegal.
"In 1999, we signed a 10-year lease and we have continued to pay the rent,"
a lawyer for the foundation, Dmitry Lovrev, said.
Soros in his interview said there had been no direct cooperation between
his Open Society Institute and Khodorkovsky's Open Russia foundation --
modelled after the US financier's charitable body.
But he said that both could jointly finance future projects in Russia.
In June, Soros announced that he was sharply curtailing his philanthropic
activities in Russia to some 10 million dollars a year after spending a
billion dollars over the past 15 years.
The Soros Foundation is heavily involved in promoting civil society and the
development of democratic ideas, chiefly in former communist east European