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Gunmen Target Former Avtobank Executive

Controversial entrepreneur Andrei Andreyev narrowly survived an attack late Thursday that is believed to be linked to his continuing efforts to get back a business empire he claims was snatched from him illegally two years ago. Andreyev's controlling stakes in Avtobank, the Ingosstrakh insurance company and the Nosta metals company were bought by Oleg Deripaska's Base Element, the Nafta-Moskva oil company and Millhouse Capital in September 2001. Soon after the sale, Andreyev went to the police claiming that he and other nominal owners of the shares had been threatened with death if they did not sign over the business. The ensuing legal battle, which has seen shares repeatedly seized and released, is still ongoing.

Gunmen opened fire on Andreyev's Mercedes-600 at a poorly lit intersection on Moldavskaya Ulitsa in western Moscow as he was returning home at about 9 p.m. Thursday.

Political observers said such attacks are not uncommon among medium-sized businesses, which are less likely to be benefiting from Russia's touted new stability. Disputes over property rights and the gangland violence they breed may be intensifying, due to political uncertainty and Kremlin infighting ahead of the elections, the observers said.

Saturday's Kommersant carried a front-page photograph of a ghost-like Andreyev pointing out the bullet holes in the window of his car. He said it was a miracle he survived. The newspaper said the car had been hit three times. The first two shots, intended for the driver, punctured the car's hood, while the third passed through Andreyev's headrest, missing him by a matter of centimeters.

Andreyev, a former policeman, said in an interview with Vedomosti in February 2002 that he had been forced to sign over his stakes to his former Avtobank partners Natalya Rayevskaya and Rodion Gamzayev, who then sold them to a consortium. Gamzayev is widely reported to have ties to the Krasnoyarsk mafia.

People familiar with the case said Andreyev's problems began when a group of corporate raiders initiated bankruptcy procedures at Nosta that saw him replaced as manager and effectively lose control of the company's cash flows. As his business took a turn for the worse, Andreyev's shadowy business partners called in their debts.

In April of last year, police froze the disputed assets and raided Deripaska's offices at Base Element and Russian Aluminum. The freeze was lifted in June 2002, reinstated in September and lifted again in October. Most recently, in the thick of the Yukos scandal, the Prosecutor General's Office announced in July that it would be taking another look at the police investigation, though according to Base Element spokesman Alexei Drobaschenko, no further searches have come as a result.

(The Moscow Times 13.x.03)

 
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