UKRAINE CONFLICT

Russian prosecutors up oversight of foreign firms leaving country

Any suspension of activity 'will be given legal assessment' for signs of deliberate bankrupcy

Moscow

RUSSIAN prosecutors said on Friday (Mar 11) they were ramping up control of foreign companies that decided to leave the country after Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine.

"Prosecutors have established strict control over compliance with labour law, including the terms of employment contracts, the procedure for paying salaries and determining their size," Russia's Prosecutor General said in a statement.

It said the measure was taken "to ensure the interests of conscientious entrepreneurs and employees" of companies that said they were leaving the country.

Every instance of suspension of activity in Russia "will be given legal assessment" for signs of fictitious or deliberate bankruptcy, the prosecutors said, adding that the offence is punishable by criminal law. It also pointed to the "inadmissability" of one-sided refusals of obligations by companies that are planning to leave.

Faced with a flurry of sanctions which have sent the rouble tumbling and accelerated already high inflation, Russia has taken measures to stem the flight of foreign currency and capital as much as possible.

Without saying the word "nationalisation", Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that foreign companies leaving Russia should be given to "those who want to make them work".

Vladimir Potanin, one of Russia's richest oligarchs and a Kremlin confidant, has criticised the plans to confiscate assets of foreign enterprises leaving the country, likening them to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.

"I would call for a very cautious approach to the issue of confiscations from the enterprises that have announced they are leaving Russia," Potanin said in a statement published by his Nornickel mining company on Telegram.

"This would take us a hundred years back, to the year 1917, and the consequences of such a step would be the global distrust of Russia from investors, it would be felt for many decades."

A flurry of Western companies - from H&M, to McDonald's and Ikea - have suspended their work in Russia since Moscow launched its Ukraine incursion.

Potanin predicted that Western firms would come back, saying they decided to leave during "unprecedented pressure on them because of public opinion abroad".

"Personally, I would keep this opportunity for them," he added.

Putin's ruling United Russia party told the Kremlin chief that it had prepared a draft bill that would be "the first step towards the nationalisation of assets of foreign companies leaving the Russian market". It said the bill aims to "save jobs". Potanin, 61, regularly features at the top of Forbes list of Russia's richest people. He is close to Putin, with whom he has been seen playing hockey.

Other Russian oligarchs have criticised Russia's economic policies since Putin sent in troops to Ukraine - stopping short at criticising the president himself. AFP

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