Yuri Golubev

Co-founder of Yukos

Friday 12 January 2007 01:00
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Yuri Alexandrovich Golubev, businessman: born 14 November 1942; married (two daughters); died London c7 January 2007.

Yuri Golubev played a pivotal role in building up what was to become briefly Russia's largest post-Soviet oil company, Yukos. In doing so, he became a trusted adviser to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, then Russia's richest man, and now its most famous prison inmate.

Golubev's contact with Khodorkovsky meant that he unwittingly became embroiled in one of modern Russia's most famous standoffs, a confrontation that saw Yukos brought to its knees by the Kremlin and Khodorkovsky thrown into a remote Siberian jail for eight years.

Khodorkovsky was perceived to have angered President Vladimir Putin by moving into politics, publicly criticising the Russian leader, and funding anti-Putin parties. A Moscow court found him guilty of fraud and tax evasion offences in 2005, two years after he was arrested, and he is now doing time in a prison near China.

Though the extraordinary story of Khodorkovsky's arrest and the systematic destruction of Yukos made international headlines on and off for three years, Golubev chose to stay out of the limelight. He was a man who preferred to wield his influence quietly out of the public gaze and was one of the few senior figures associated with the "Yukos affair" not to be targeted by the Russian authorities.

When Khodorkovsky ran into trouble with the Kremlin, Golubev was one of the few senior lieutenants he turned to for help, asking him to help steer the sinking ship that was Yukos. It was a task that Golubev willingly accepted, doing everything in his power to fend off increasingly unmanageable Kremlin demands for back tax.

When Yukos was finally declared bankrupt last August, Golubev had good reason to mourn its demise more than most. He had been involved with the company right from the beginning and had watched it go from a rag-tag collection of Soviet-era oil assets to Russia's biggest producer and the third largest producer in the world.

The low-key manager was also involved in one of the murkiest chapters in post-Soviet horse-trading, an episode that many believe may have been the real trigger for Khodorkovsky's dramatic fall from grace. In 2003 Golubev was negotiating on behalf of Yukos (which had at that time agreed to merge with Roman Abramovich's Sibneft) with two US oil majors, ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco.

Though it has never been officially confirmed, Golubev was thought to be trying to sell the American companies a share of the newly merged YukosSibneft, perhaps as much as 10 per cent. In the Kremlin's eyes, such a sell- off was treason. "Selling off a part of Russia's strategic assets without consulting Putin was a big no no," says a Yukos source. "Nobody really knows but there are lots of people who believe that was the real reason the Kremlin went after Khodorkovsky."

Born in 1942, Golubev graduated from Moscow State University in 1966 and amassed valuable experience of Western business practices while working as a senior Soviet trade official in Canada in the 1970s and 1980s. He was therefore better prepared than most for the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and was quick to see the chance to be part of the country's sometimes anarchic transition to capitalism.

When the oil company Yukos was founded in 1993 on the bones of a collection of Soviet-era companies, he was in on the act, advising its first chief executive officer, Sergei Muravlenko, on how best to turn the company into a Western-style vertically integrated oil firm.

When Khodorkovsky completed his takeover of the firm in 1996, Golubev stayed on and became a key adviser to the ambitious oligarch. In his role first as head of strategic planning at Yukos Moscow, and later as a fully fledged board member, Golubev was implicitly trusted by Khodorkovsky.

In 2003 he was briefly handed the reins of Menatep, the holding company that controlled Yukos. The following year he was instrumental in drafting in Viktor Gerashchenko, a former head of the central bank, to head the Yukos board in a move he hoped would mollify the Kremlin. It didn't, and the remnants of Yukos are due to be disposed off in the next year while Khodorkovsky is not due to be released for a further 1,746 days (he has already served 1,174).

Since 2004, Golubev had divided his time between Moscow and London. Shortly before his death he flew to China for a knee operation but returned to London via Moscow earlier than planned, complaining that he felt unwell. He was found dead in an armchair in his flat. Early reports suggest he died peacefully, possibly in his sleep.

Andrew Osborn

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