Russia's Transneft vows to fight whistleblower blogger

20th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

The head of Russia's oil pipeline monopoly said on Friday his company would fight a court order that it release documents linked to alleged multi-billion-dollar fraud to a whistleblowing blogger.

Transneft President Nikolai Tokarev told the Izvestia daily that records sought by one of its minority shareholders posed a state secret whose revelation could harm Russia's national interests.

"We do not disclose things to crooks, and we have no intention of doing so," Tokarev told the paper.

"Of course, we will abide by the court order. But we will try to avoid disclosing the documents, within the framework of the law," the Transneft chief added.

Transneft oversees Russia's vast oil pipeline network and is currently constructing a 5,000-kilometre (3,100-mile) pipeline linking Siberia's oil fields with the Pacific Ocean.

Anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny -- who buys shares in state firms he suspects of being involved in embezzlement -- said in November he had evidence showing that $4 billion allocated by the state for the pipeline had simply vanished.

Navalny also questioned what happened to about 15 billion rubles ($535 billion at today's exchange rate) the company had assigned to humanitarian work in 2008.

The charges prompted Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to ask prosecutors to look into the allegations in December.

Two Russian courts have since ordered Transneft to release the documents sought by Navalny.

But the company's chief said Transneft was willing to go as high as Russia's Constitutional Court to protect its records from the blogger.

"Any self-respecting company has commercial secrets," Tokarev said.

"The issues we work with often represent state secrets ... and the information sought by Navalny also poses a state secret," he said.

He added that the records about the pipeline could be used by China in its price negotiations with Russia.

The 34-year-old lawyer and blogger has gained a reputation as being one of Russia's most fearless anti-corruption crusaders whose list of current state enemies includes some of the country's largest energy giants and banks.

But he is also running a seemingly permanent battle with Russian security authorities.

Navalny claimed this week that the powerful Federal Security Service (FSB) had cut access to his blog and website in one Russian region.

And the central Investigative Committee launched its own financial fraud investigation against Navalny earlier this month.

Russia's top Internet portal Yandex meanwhile said it had been forced to divulge financial details about Navalny and his website's financial contributors to the FSB.

The General Prosecutor's office for its part is investigating whether Navalny's main website had desecrated Russia's coat of arms by using a satirical version of the two-headed eagle as its logo.

© 2011 AFP

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