On January 11, the consideration of the case on the privatization of Kuchuksulfat on the merits was to begin in the Altai Arbitration Court. The application stage was underway. The Prosecutor General’s Office, which is the plaintiff in the case, presented several documents, including a certificate from the Bank of Russia on the composition of the company’s shareholders. One of the defendants, the Yakutsk Stock Center, which is the registrar of the company’s shares, submitted an up-to-date extract from the register of shareholders.
And then, like a bolt from the blue, another defendant announced that a counterclaim was being filed against the Russian Federation represented by the Prosecutor General’s Office. The requirement is to recognize the ownership of the company by the current owners of Kuchuksulfat.
As explained after the meeting to reporters Ekaterina Slivko, a lawyer at the Egorov, Puginsky, Afanasiev and Partners law firm, representing the interests of a part of the defendants in the Kuchuksulfat case, a counterclaim is another tool to protect the property rights of the current owners of Kuchuksulfat.
– Its essence is as follows. We believe that the privatization was legal, and we are the owners of the shares, we have no grounds for reclaiming the shares. Nevertheless, and in addition, we believe that there are additional grounds for the emergence of property rights – this is a prescription possession (acquisitive prescription, art. 234 of the Civil Code of the Russian Federation – ed.). The law establishes a five-year period, after which, if the owner is not interested in his property, then the person who openly and in good faith owns it, without hiding it, acquires the right of ownership to this property. In this case, this minimum period is exceeded by almost six times, since it is considered from the moment of the initial disposal from the previous owner (almost 30 years have passed since the privatization of the Kuchuk sulfate plant until the filing of a lawsuit by the Prosecutor General’s Office against the current owners of the enterprise, – ed.). In this connection, in order to use all possible ways to protect the right, we filed such a claim for joint consideration. Its satisfaction will exclude the satisfaction of the claim of the Prosecutor General’s Office.
The Prosecutor General’s Office objected to the court’s acceptance of the counterclaim. One of the arguments is the missed deadline. Say, the case has already held two meetings, and the defendants had enough time for the specified procedure. Another argument – the most frequently used by the plaintiffs in this case – is that the representatives of the defendants once again want to drag out the process.
The lawyer for the shareholders of Kuchuksulfat immediately reminded the prosecutors that it took their department 30 years to formulate its position on privatization (“Kuchuksulfata“, – ed..). “We have been working for two months so far. And we have already done a lot to substantiate the legality of privatization and our ownership of the shares to the court,” – declared the defender of the interests of the current owners of the company.
The defense also found out that in the early 90s of the last century, during the primary privatization in Russia, the State Property Committee sent out approved lists of enterprises for corporatization to the regions. So far, the defendants’ lawyers have not been able to obtain such a list for the Altai Territory on their own: neither in local archives, nor in federal ones. They appealed to the court with a request to recover the document.
– There is one colossal problem in the Kuchuksulfat case – the evidence base is being objectively destroyed. It is very difficult to collect papers in 30 years,” explains Ekaterina Slivko. – The required document would simplify the situation, because it is a list where enterprises are named by name, depending on the order of privatization. Although our position, of course, is very harmoniously justified even without this document.
Finally, the lawyers for the Kuchuksulfat shareholders asked the court to call two witnesses. Sergei Potapov, who was in the early 90s the chairman of the regional Property Fund. AND Yuri Paraskun, who worked in 1991-2004 as the regional prosecutor.
“The head of the Property Fund would be a valuable enough witness to substantiate our position,” Ekaterina Slivko explained Potapov’s summons to the arbitration court. — The fact is that our legal legal reality now is very different from the legal legal reality at the time of privatization. Then there were state tasks that were hard pedaled from the central apparatus of the State Property Committee for privatization: to privatize everyone as soon as possible. And just this person could explain everything: that there were lists, that they did not make any decisions on determining who privatizes whom, there were always clear instructions from the federal authorities on privatization.
Yuri Paraskun, who served as the prosecutor of the Altai Territory at that time – at the time of privatization – conducted a huge number of inspections. Including all stages of privatization and all actions of state authorities. He could confirm the knowledge of the prosecutor’s office (O processis an privatization of the Kuchuk sulfate plant, – ed..) and disclose the content of the inspections being carried out.
The representative of the Prosecutor General’s Office objected to both petitions. Regarding the list of enterprises, the plaintiffs once again stated that the subject of the suit is not the privatization of the enterprise, but the alienation of the state’s share in it! Although, logically, the first is inextricably linked with the second. The defendants noted that without such evidence, the very position of the Prosecutor General’s Office looks untenable, and it was the applicants who should have submitted this document. Regarding the call of witnesses, the prosecutors doubted that they would reveal something serious – they say, the information they confirm is already in the case file. The position of the prosecutor’s office on calling witnesses confused the defenders in the process.
“We were embarrassed by them (representatives of the Prosecutor General’s Office, ed..) objection to being called as a witness (former) Prosecutor of the Altai Territory. We believe this is at least strange: after all, the Prosecutor General’s Office is a single body, ”the lawyer for the company’s shareholders admitted to reporters.
The position of the Prosecutor General’s Office seemed strange to the first shareholders of Kuchuksulfat. Recall that the first owners of the enterprise filed a petition to participate in the case as third parties. Prosecutors objected to this. Altai Arbitration supported the objection, but allowed the former owners of the company’s shares to attend the meetings as silent listeners. They express their fears and fears of the labor collective of the city-forming enterprise to journalists.
— The people who work at the enterprise are all worried. Each inhabitant of the village of Stepnoye Ozero has one of his relatives working at a factory. Or they raise and educate children (and Kuchuksulfat seriously supports the social environment in the single-industry town). Now all people are worried about what will happen next? What will this whole process lead to? We know examples of other privatizations in the region. In the same Yarovoye there was a large chemical plant, even larger in scale than Kuchuksulfat. They don’t work now and the team is no more,” says Maria Morina, a participant in the primary privatization of the Kuchuk sulfate plant, now an employee of the Kuchuksulfat enterprise. And asks the question:
– Why does the prosecutor’s office not deal with such examples of privatization, but deal with us? Maybe because those enterprises lie on their side, and we are a tasty morsel? We have an annual revenue of about 6.5 billion rubles and substantial tax deductions. I looked, for the period from 2005 to September 2021, the enterprise transferred more than 15.5 billion rubles to various levels of budgets and extra-budgetary funds (is this not an indicator of open share ownership!). In whose interests the Prosecutor General’s Office acts, in the interests of the state, people or society? Or does it work in the interests of some private individuals, maybe some criminal structures? Maybe the same “Alfa Group” or A-1, which, according to conversations with many people, as I know, addressed people with questions and threatened – surrender your shares!
Recall that the lawsuit of the Prosecutor General’s Office against the owners of Kuchuksulfat was the last in a series of pressure on the enterprise. Since 2017, the company has received more than 300 requests and conducted more than 90 inspections of various departments: from natural supervision to tax authorities. At the same time, none of the inspections at the plant revealed any serious violations.
During the session held in Barnaul on the Kuchuksulfat case, the Arbitration Court rejected the petitions to demand a list of the region’s enterprises for privatization and refused to call witnesses. But he accepted for consideration the counterclaim of a part of the shareholders against the Russian Federation on the recognition of the results of privatization and the ownership right of the owners of the enterprise to their asset.
The next hearing in the Kuchuksulfat privatization case is scheduled for January 25. The Free Press continues to follow developments.