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Rothschilds buy into russia

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Tuesday, Jul. 15, 2003. Page 1

One Empire Sticks Up For Another
By Catherine Belton

Staff Writer Oligarch-under-fire Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Monday got words of support from Lord Jacob Rothschild, a key member of the powerful family whose banking empire spans centuries and continents and who has joined up with the Russian oil baron for philanthropic projects that promote ties between Russia and the West.

"Khodorkovsky is a progressive businessman who is devoted to Russia," Rothschild's office said Monday, as Khodorkovsky himself courted members of the U.S. elite in Washington.

Rothschild's office, however, was unable to comment on a Kommersant report Monday that said Rothschild could take over the reins of Group Menatep, the holding company that manages the assets of core Yukos shareholders, if its leading shareholders were incapacitated in any way.

The man who is next in line to take over Khodorkovsky's business empire should anything occur, Platon Lebedev, is in jail on charges he stole a state-owned stake in fertilizer producer Apatit in 1994. The next in command after Lebedev is Yukos board member Yury Golubev, and should anything happen to him, the newspaper said, the chain stretches down into other hands, eventually ending with Rothschild.

The Rothschilds have been seen as the power behind the throne of many a government since the family first arrived in Britain in the late 1700s. From small beginnings lending to Europe's royal families, the empire has spread into new riches in the United States and is thought to have ties to the powerful American Rockefeller dynasty.

Khodorkovsky first became acquainted three years ago with Lord Rothschild, who then introduced him as a debutant into the world of leading financiers.

At that time, Khodorkovsky embarked on a big pro-Western PR drive aimed at showing he had turned his back on the howling corporate governance violations he had committed in the past. Yukos rapidly became the darling of Western investors as it cleaned up its financial accounting, hired top Western managers and said it was consolidating all profit centers onto the company's books. Shares in Yukos skyrocketed.

His partnership with Rothschild was sealed with the creation in December 2001 of the Open Russia Foundation in London. The foundation, which awards grants to academic institutions and other not-for-profit organizations while promoting Russian art in the West, quickly expanded to the U.S., where its glitzy launch in September last year was held in the heart of the U.S. establishment, the Library of Congress. The foundation's board of trustees includes Rothschild, U.S. foreign policy guru Henry Kissinger and former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Arthur Hartman.

Khodorkovsky's recent efforts to promote energy ties with the West and help boost U.S. energy security -- pushing for the construction of a pipeline to the Arctic port of Murmansk for crude shipments to the United States and sending a pioneering tanker of Yukos crude last year -- have earned him points with the White House.

As the politically charged case that some fear could prompt a new asset carve-up escalates against Yukos, a senior U.S. diplomat last week said he has asked Russian officials for clarification on what was happening. The diplomat said he was "concerned about what political agenda may be behind these steps" which, he said, could have a "certain dampening effect on the energy relationship" that the United States and Russia are building.

"Khodorkovsky was one of the initiators of the new very strong energy partnership between Russia and the U.S.," said Lilia Shevtsova, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "It is very important for the West what happens to him."

Yukos spokesman Hugo Erikssen said Khodorkovsky was meeting Monday with business leaders in Washington, after departing from a two-day conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, that was attended by bigwigs such as Warren Buffet, Microsoft Corp.'s Bill Gates and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Erikssen would not say who exactly Khodorkovsky was seeing.

A spokesman for Menatep, Yury Kotler, confirmed that the group has established an emergency chain of command that leads from Lebedev to Golubev, but he could not say whether it stretched down to Rothschild.

"Group Menatep has a lot of very powerful foreign partners. But as to whether they would take over the operative leadership of the company, I honestly don't know," he said.

He could not say whether the Rothschild family has any direct stake in Khodorkovsky's companies.

Rothschild's office, however, said, "Lord Rothschild has no business relationship with Menatep."

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