MOSCOW, Sept. 17 (UPI) -- Russian billionaire Vladimir Yevtushenkov was placed under house arrest in Moscow Wednesday on suspicion of money laundering.
The country's Federal Investigative Committee said he was involved in money laundering through the illegal acquisition of oil assets of the company BashNeft, which his company, Sistema, bought and then transferred to another company owned by Sistema, Bashneft.
Shares in Sistema, a giant in the Russian oil and telecommunications sectors, fell 38 percent on Moscow's MICEX stock exchange after news of the arrest, adding anxiety to an economy already near recession because of Western sanctions.
A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin denied any involvement in Yevtushenkov's arrest, although it was compared to the 2003 detention of another Russian oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former owner of oil and gas Yukos. Khodorkovsky was jailed for 10 years before he was pardoned.
"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, head of Russia's Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
It was reported that Rosneft, the state-owned energy company, was eager to buy BashNeft, and Rosneft's chief executive, Igor Sechin, is a close ally of Putin's as well as a person on the United States' sanctions list.
Yevtushekov faces a 10-year prison sentence if convicted. He has no involvement in Russian politics, and according to some observers, has faithfully followed an unwritten rule of Putin's: oligarchs can keep their fortunes if they stay out of politics. Yevtushenkov's arrest is worrying other Russian businessmen, the British newspaper The Guardian noted Wednesday.
Anatoly Chubais, formerly a major political figure in Russia and now head of the state-owned nanotechnology company Rusnano, said he could not comprehend the reason for the arrest, telling the Interfax news agency, "What I can understand is that these actions will cause a very serious blow to the Russian business climate, at a time when the Russian economy is balancing on the edge of recession and stagnation."