Imprisoned Russian Tycoon's New Year First Of 14

This week, a Moscow judge imposed a new, 14-year prison sentence on a former Russian oil tycoon, charged with embezzlement and money laundering. The United States and other Western countries criticized the decision as politically motivated. For more, guest host Jennifer Ludden talks with New York Times business columnist Joe Nocera, who also offers his 2011 resolutions for the business world.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jennifer Ludden.

This week, a Moscow judge imposed a new 14-year prison sentence on a former Russian oil tycoon charged with embezzlement and money-laundering. The United States and other Western countries denounced the decision as politically motivated. The case is considered one of the most important trials in Russia's post-Soviet era.

For more, we're joined by Joe Nocera, business columnist for The New York Times. He's at our New York bureau.

Welcome.

Mr. JOE NOCERA (Business Columnist, The New York Times): Thanks for having me, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: Joe, you wrote that it took the judge is this right - more than three days to read his decision against Mikhail Khodorkovsky?

Mr. NOCERA: Yes. It was an 800-page decision. Although people who were in the courtroom tell me that basically he was just reading by and large from the prosecutor's initial indictment.

LUDDEN: Okay. So explain this case briefly to us.

Mr. NOCERA: Well, the political aspect of it is, you know, he is Vladimir Putin's number one enemy, and Putin has had him in jail for six or seven years on trumped up tax charges. They appropriated the company Yukos that he ran, which was, by the way, the best run company in Russia. They gave it to another state-run oil company. And now with his parole approaching, they don't want him out of jail. So they've made even more absurd charges this time around. And, you know, he was found, of course, guilty as charged.

LUDDEN: So six more years in jail. From a business perspective, how do you think this will impact Russia's economy?

Mr. NOCERA: It's a terrible signal to send to the business community. Obviously this has human rights and political implications. But the business implication is not insignificant.

Russia is a country in desperate need of foreign capital. It's about to try and do a two-year privatization program where it's going to sell off minority shares of state-run companies. And one of the companies where it's going to sell these minority shares is Rosneft. Rosneft is the company that wound up with all the Yukos assets. So basically, having stolen investors' assets six years ago, they now want to resell them...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NOCERA: ...these stolen assets, to a new round of investments. It's part of the reason why Russia has had such a terrible time sort of climbing out of economic difficulty, because foreign investors don't want to do business there.

LUDDEN: Now what about specifically, you know, economic relations between Russia and the U.S.?

Mr. NOCERA: Well, they won't change that much. I mean the Obama administration has for the first time made some, you know, moderately strong statements about this case. But the truth of the matter is that the U.S. and Russia have, you know, nuclear treaties and so many things that they have to deal with that it's a little unlikely, and a little unfortunate, I would add, that the administration is not going to put this case at the top of their grievances, but they probably won't.

LUDDEN: Okay. Well, Joe, before we let you go, it's the start of a new year and we're putting a twist here on some traditional resolutions, something we're calling New Year's resolutions for other people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LUDDEN: So here's your chance. What resolutions would you like to offer for the movers and shakers in the economy?

Mr. NOCERA: All right. So resolution number one, the House Republicans and the Financial Services Committee have vowed to reform Fannie and Freddie and try and get the government out of the housing market. Given the fact that the government now guarantees 95 percent of all mortgages and without which there would be no housing market, I wish them well in this resolution but I think it's going to go the way of most New Year's resolutions.

LUDDEN: Along with the diet.

Mr. NOCERA: That's number one.

LUDDEN: Okay.

Mr. NOCERA: Resolution number two - Bank of America, their resolution is to modify every loan that is in default. They have basically been knee-deep in every mortgage problem or scandal that has come along this year, you know, taking over people's houses that were not in default, the robo-signing scandal that came along a few months ago, time after time. Unfortunately for them, they own Countrywide, and Countrywide was the worst mortgage maker in the country at the end of the subprime bubble, and so there is another resolution that's probably going to go by the books.

Resolution number three for me is Ben Bernanke resolves that the next time he comes up with a stimulus plan, it won't sound like a cruise ship.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LUDDEN: Do you have acronym ready?

Mr. NOCERA: Yeah, I haven't figured that out yet. That's my resolution. But, you know, this one was called QE2, for quantitative easing number two.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NOCERA: It was hugely controversial, although so far the world has not come to an end because of it.

My final resolution is for President Obama. His resolution is going to somehow figure out how to make Elizabeth Warren the official Senate-appointed head of the new Consumer Protection Bureau, which I might add starts up officially in July.

LUDDEN: And she's in there temporarily now, right?

Mr. NOCERA: That's right, and she's done it without Senate appointment, but she's quote-unquote an adviser to the president, and she has not officially got this job. But, you know, I do think she would be the best person for the job. She cares about these issues passionately. She understands them. It's good that she's in there helping to set up this agency. So I'm hoping that this is one resolution that the president, who has proved to be remarkably effective since the November election, is one that he can pull off.

LUDDEN: All right. Well, we'll stay in touch with you to see how that goes.

Joe Nocera is a business columnist for The New York Times. His new book is "All the Devils are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis." He joined us from our New York bureau.

Joe, thank you.

Mr. NOCERA: Thanks so much for having me. And Happy New Year.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.