* Nevzlin was partner with Khodorkovsky in Yukos
* Has said he will fight if Russia resists paying $50 bln claim
By Megan Davies and Tova Cohen
MOSCOW/TEL AVIV, July 29 (Reuters) - Former Yukos executive and top shareholder Leonid Nevzlin will face an uphill struggle getting any of the money he lost when the Russian oil giant was seized and nationalised after falling foul of the Kremlin.
But based on past performance during the around 10 years the case has played out, the 54-year-old will not give up.
Nevzlin, who lives in Israel, holds media assets and is involved in Jewish foundations, stands to benefit the most from Monday’s international arbitration court ruling that Russia must pay $50 billion to the GML group of shareholders for expropriating Yukos assets.
The court based in The Hague ruled that Yukos, a company once worth $40 billion that pumped two percent of the world’s oil, had been subject to politically-motivated attacks by the Russian authorities.
Russia has signalled it will not meet the sum any time soon, shrugging off the decision of the Dutch-based panel as a “politically biased decision” and saying it will appeal.
But as recently as 2011, Russian-born Nevzlin showed little sign of forgiveness for the Kremlin, which seized the company and went on to imprison its majority shareholder and Nevzlin’s partner, former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the imprisoning of Khodorkovsky, who opposition supporters say had prompted the Kremlin leader’s ire by challenging him politically, was a matter of law: “A thief must be in jail.”
“We need some money, we need compensation. Not because we don’t have money, fortunately we saved some money, but because they stole a lot of money - our part of Yukos oil company,” Nevzlin told a documentary in 2011.
“So, why we should forgive them for this? They should pay.”
After being arrested in 2003 and jailed for fraud and tax evasion, Khodorkovsky ceded his controlling interest in Group Menatep, which owned 60 to 70 percent of Yukos, to Nevzlin. Group Menatep now exists as the holding company GML.
This made Nevzlin the main beneficiary in the case of monies being recovered as he owns about 70 percent of GML.
On Monday, Nevzlin told Russia’s TV Dozhd, or Rain, that he and the GML team were ready to find and hold Russian assets around the world if Moscow refused to pay voluntarily.
“Fifty billion dollars - this is not so much money that Russia could not pay,” he told Dozhd, adding he was completely satisfied with the verdict.
“Unfortunately, Russia has to pay from its budget and not from those who were the beneficiaries of the expropriation of Yukos,” he said in the interview.
Russia, whose economy is on the brink of recession, said it would appeal the ruling by the Dutch-based panel, also saying it was based on “current events” - an apparent reference to Moscow’s dispute with the West over Ukraine.
Nevzlin fell foul of the Kremlin by criticising Putin for Yukos’s destruction, and calling it politically motivated. He left Russia for Israel in 2003 at the time Yukos was being investigated, although he was not wanted on any charges then.
But in 2005 Russia asked Washington to extradite Nevzlin, accusing him of crimes, including organizing contract killings.
In 2006, Russian prosecutors suggested Nevzlin could have been linked to the murder of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko, who died in London from radioactive poisoning, although Nevzlin was not charged.
Nevzlin’s spokesman dismissed the allegations at the time as “ridiculous” and said they did not warrant a response.
Nevzlin’s New York-based representative said on Tuesday: “We believe all the charges are to crush him as a political opponent to Putin and the other purpose was just to charge him with various crimes so it would be easier to steal Yukos.”
Nevzlin has filed complaints against all the cases against him in Russia with the European Court of Human Rights.
Nevzlin said shortly after arriving in Israel in 2003 that he had no plans to return to Russia. He was concerned he would be taken into custody, he said in a Reuters interview then. He also had to surrender his position as rector of the Russian State University for Humanities.
“I think I’ll be arrested and I judge that by the situation with the university,” he said in 2003. “Today, I had to leave my position as rector just because I am a Yukos shareholder.”
Today, Nevzlin holds 20 percent of Israel’s left wing newspaper “Haaretz”. He established “Liberal” magazine and the Nadav Foundation which aims to advance an understanding of Jewish people. He is also an investor in a global investing company in New York and London and also invests in Israel.
He said in a January interview that Khodorkovsky “showed no interest” in Yukos when they were reunited in Israel in the New Year. “It just wasn’t possible to discuss business with him,” Nevzlin told Dozhd on Jan. 10.
Nevzlin will split any winnings from the Yukos case with the beneficial owners who own an equal stake: Platon Lebedev, Mikhail Brudno, Vladimir Dubov and Vasilly Shaknovski.
Platon Lebedev, Khodorkovsky’s business partner, was arrested in 2003 and charged with theft of state property.
Lebedev had been Khodorkovsky’s co-defendant in two trials that President Vladimir Putin’s critics called part of a politically charged campaign of revenge. He was freed in January.
Brudno and Dubov moved to Israel from Russia around the time of Khodorkovsky’s arrest. They are partners with Nevzlin in the Nadav foundation and Dubov owns a winery called Amphorae Wines according to the vineyard’s website. (Reporting by Megan Davies and Tova Cohen, editing by Elizabeth Piper and David Clarke)