"Russian Trial Opens Messy Chapter: Yukos Case Could Influence Course of Commercial Law And Business Under Putin," by Guy Chazan, Wall Street Journal, 16 June, p. A12.
"Investors Worry About China: D'Long's Plight Suggests Problems With Nation's Stock Markets," by Kathy Chen, WSJ, 16 June, p. C14.
"China's Growing Clout Alarms Smaller Neighbors," by Michael Vatikiotis, WSJ, 16 June, p. A12.
"Foreign Buying of Securities Is Strong," by Dow Jones Newswires, WSJ, 16 June, p. B9.
I wrote in the book that Mikhail Khodorkovsky's trial (fmr CEO Yukos) would end up being a defining moment for Vladimir Putin's rule, and it's finally starting today in a Moscow courtroom (you gotta remember I was writing last fall).
Here's the opening paras from the great WSJ article:
"The trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, due to start today, is one of the most ambitious prosecutions ever launched by Russia's post-Soviet authorities and reopens the murkiest chapter of the country's recent pastóthe messy privatization of the 1990s.No doubt the prosecutors have made mistakes, since doing something of this stature and breadth is relatively new to them. Hell, just reading about other cases "falling apart" under scrutiny in Russian courts is G.D. amazing to this former Soviet expert! After all, Russia is the original land of political show trials. So don't be surprised that some of the defense charges stick.
Seen in capitals and boardrooms east and west as a crucial signal of the way Russia is heading politically under President Vladimir Putin, the Khodorkovsky case also could have profound ramifications for the way business is done and commercial law is interpreted in Mr. Putin's Russia. Already, the case has raised questions about the former KGB agent's commitment to the rule of law and other basic democratic institutions.
Defenders of Mr. Khordovsky, the founder of the Russian oil giant OAO Yukos, denounce the charges as retribution for the billionaire's funding of opposition parties that challenged the Kremlin. His lawyers have categorized a litany of violations of due process they allege have taken place since the case began last July with the arrest of co-defendant and close Khordovsky associate Platon Lebedev on charges of fraud and tax evasion.
Mr. Putin insists that the case is a criminal matter for the courts to decide.
In contrast to other indictments of high-profile financial crimes in Russia, which have sometimes fallen apart in court, the charges prosecutors have made public against Messrs. Khordovsky and Lebedev appear to stand up to scrutiny. Western experts say they describe fairly straightforward acts of criminal fraud, embezzlement and tax evasion, and are generally well-written and well-pled."
But also don't be surprised that Khordovsky goes down hard. Many a Russian will tell you that the theft and fraud of the early 1990s' privatization process was unbelievable. I had one Russian give me his privatization voucher as a souvenir (worth 10,000 rubles at the timeóbefore the hyper-inflation kicked in) even before the process beganóso convinced was he that it was a complete sham (I still have itósee!).
The check was the government's way of giving average Russians a chance to buy into the newly-minted companies being created by privatization, but my friend was so convinced that a few insiders would acquire these huge government assets for a song, that he didn't even bother to cash his. If I asked him today about Khordovsky's trial, I'm sure he'd say this guy was getting his just rewards. As one Russian friend recently told me, imagine Bill Gates "buying" the Microsoft of 1993 from the U.S. Government lock, stock and barrel for $500 million and then becoming America's richest man as a result. If he went down in a trial, would you cry for him?
Well, Bill had his trial over monopoly charges not too longer after Russia's slimy privatization process, but his court case was about ten steps past this trial in what it said abut the state of American business rule sets today compared to those of Russia today. You have to remember, Russia blew right out of its lengthy period of state-owned monopolies and into a sped-up, robber-baron capitalism phase, and now it's storming into Teddy Roosevelt-like attempts to tame andóin some instancesóbust up such huge conglomerates using showy corruption trials.
My point is this: don't get all afraid for democracy and free markets on the basis of this trial. This is a Russian rule-set reset and it's a totally expected and necessary step in Russia's continued evolution toward firm, private-sector-oriented, business rule-set development.
China's seems farther along that path, and in many ways it is, but that doesn't mean rule-set resets aren't always lurking around each possible corner. There will be many scandals exposed within companies across China as more and more of them come under investor scrutiny thanks to their public listings on stock exchanges. The more money China accepts from foreign investors, the more transparency they will demand.
But the more transparency that foreign investors demand, the more at ease the world will inevitably become regarding China's rising economic poweróif those demands for transparency are met.
Right now China is concluding bilateral trade agreements with individual Asian states, and it can seem like they're strong-arming each and every one for the best possible deals thanks to their new-found power as not just producer of damn near everything, butófar more importantlyóthe voracious consumer of damn near everything.
Rather than fretting over these bilats, the US and Japan should be helping small Asian states maneuver China toward a serious Pacific Rim free trade agreement, or a multilat that would bond the U.S. and China together with Japan, South Korea, and others regarding East Asia's economic future. Even just working hard in that direction would be worthwhile, because of the discussions of merging rule sets that would necessarily occur as part of the process of dialogue.
Plus, such merging of economic rule sets could only encourage the development of similar bonds in the security realm.
Why push for such things? Need I remind you again about China and Japan being so nice about buying all that sovereign debt we continue to floatóthat public deficit-driven debt that allows us to wage a Global War on Terrorism?
Yet another example of the military-market nexus we all need to pay far more attention toóon Wall Street, on Main Street, and inside both the Pentagon and Beijing's Forbidden City.