Russian economist Sergei Guriev: I just want to avoid risking loss of freedom

In his recent interview to radio-station Echo Moskvy, renowned Russian economist Sergei Guriev, known as the Rector of the Moscow’s New Economic School (www.nes.ru), explained his reasons for leaving the country after the Russian Investigative Committee launched an investigation that might lead to a third indictment of a Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Guriev was a member of an independent expert group tasked by the former President Dmitry Medvedev to examine the last case against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was convicted for embezzlement and money laundering that took place while he served as the CEO of a Russian oil giant Yukos. Since the independent group of experts found in 2011 that the indictment and the sentence in the second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky were groundless, Russian authorities searched the premises of three out of six Russian members of the group (Guriev became the fourth one). After the Russian Investigative Committee questioned Guriev in February and April, the court issued a search warrant and seized his personal e-mail correspondence on suspicion that the members of the expert group received financing from Yukos’ ex-officials and were thus motivated to issue an opinion supporting Khodorkovsky’s innocence.

In his interview with Echo Moskvy, Guriev simply stated that he wants to avoid any risk of losing freedom and being separated from the family (his family lives in France). He added that he has no issues with the current Russian President Vladimir Putin or the former President and current Prime Minister Medvedev, but that he prefers to live in a country where his personal safety is not threatened. While he is bound by the order of non-disclosure, Guriev explained that he felt disturbed by the attitude of the Russian Investigative Committee, which seemed to indicate that Gurivev might become a suspect. Guriev said that one of the investigators mockingly remarked that he fared much better than Andrei Sakharov – the “father” of the Russian hydrogen bomb and a Nobel peace prize laureate who was exiled from Moscow in 1980 for his dissident views and advocacy for human rights. In addition, during his last departure from Russia, Guriev realized that his movements were under special scrutiny. As the investigators increased the pressure, Guriev decided it would be safer for him to stay out of the country. Asked about his plans to eventually return to Russia, Guriev stated that he doesn’t see how his personal freedom could be guaranteed under current conditions. He finds it difficult to believe that the case against Khodorkovsky will be dismissed (Guriev didn’t specify whether he was referring to the possibility of reversal and remand of the second indictment or the discontinuation of current investigation, apparently undertaken in preparation for a third case against Khodorkovsky) and that he would be released, which would eliminate the risk of possible charges against Guriev. Although Guriev asked not to be included in the list of candidates for the Supervisory Board of Sberbank, where he served since 2009, he was re-elected to the position immediately after his departure from the country, having gathered the largest number of votes among all other candidates; interestingly enough, the Russian Central Bank, Sberbank’s largest shareholder, voted for Guriev to be included in Sberbank’s Supervisory Board.

While some other members of the expert committee that issued a dissenting opinion regarding the Yukos case were exposed to more pressure than Guriev, he sees no reason for panic, as this is a peculiar case and other economists usually don’t experience such inconveniences. One of the reasons he quit his position at the New Economic School is that he doesn’t want to expose the school or his former colleagues to any risks stemming from the investigation.