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$1 million reward offered in kidnap of Sergei Kukura

LUKoil offered a $1 million reward Friday for information that could help secure the release of its chief financial officer, abducted in broad daylight by masked gunmen.

The kidnapping of Sergei Kukura on Thursday drew a cry of indignation from the business community and calls for the authorities to take swift action to free him.

"Along with all staff at LUKoil, I am outraged by the cynical abduction of the first deputy president of our company," LUKoil president Vagit Alekperov told reporters. "We have no doubts that Sergei Petrovich will be found safe and sound and the abductors captured. They should know that we will spare neither time nor effort in order that they face just and severe punishment."

Alekperov then offered a 30 million ruble ($950,000) reward for information leading to Kukura's return. Contract killings and kidnappings are common in Russia, but the gangland settling of accounts has never before touched such a high-ranking executive.

As the top financier at LUKoil, Russia's biggest oil producer, Kukura managed billions of dollars.

Masked gunmen posing as policemen stopped his Mercedes outside Moscow on Thursday and handcuffed and drugged his driver and bodyguard before driving Kukura away.

Police refused to speculate about possible motives for the kidnapping, and media differed widely on who might have been behind it, with suggestions ranging from infighting within LUKoil to abduction for ransom.

LUKoil shares initially dipped on the news, but market players said Friday they believed the kidnapping was an isolated incident rather than a return to the lawless days of the early 1990s. "Of course it is not good for perceptions of the business climate, but we should be very careful not to jump to conclusions," said Matthew Thomas, head of emerging markets oil and gas research at Citigroup in London. "It might just be a rule of law breakdown, a crime and not a business crime, like any society has."

Steven Dashevsky, oil and gas analyst at Aton, said it was pointless to try and link Kukura's abduction to any business deal. "He is the CFO of Russia's largest oil company," he said. "It has a very complicated business structure and is involved in a number of deals -- you could create almost any theory and make it sound credible."

(The Moscow Times 16.ix.02)

 
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