Oil Wars: Russia arrests American BP staff accused of 'industrial espionage'
Published on 2008-03-20 00:00:00
Brothers Alexander and Ilya Zaslavsky are accused of collecting commercial secrets from a Russian oil company on behalf of foreign rivals in the energy market.
Alexander Zaslavsky is President of the British Alumni Club in Russia, a networking group under the patronage of the British Council that brings together thousands of Russians who have studied in Britain. The British Ambassador, Sir Anthony Brenton, is the club’s honorary president.
Ilya Zaslavsky, who graduated from Oxford University in 2004, is in charge of the club’s energy committee, made up of members involved in this field. He has also been employed at the Anglo-Russian oil giant TNK-BP since last September in the gas regulation department.
Members of the alumni club told The Times that Alexander described himself as an “energy consultant”, while Ilya had also been involved in gas consultancy before joining TNK-BP.
The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) said that the two men, who also have US citizenship, were arrested on March 12 while allegedly attempting to obtain classified information from a Russian “employed with a national hydrocarbon institution”.
“The brothers were illegally collecting classified commercial information for a number of foreign hydrocarbon companies, which wished to have advantages over their Russian rivals, including those in the CIS markets,” the FSB said.
They were charged with industrial espionage yesterday. The announcement came just a day after police seized documents during raids on the Moscow headquarters of TNK-BP and BP, which holds a 50 per cent stake in TNK-BP.
The FSB said that the search had produced “material evidence of industrial espionage . . . and business cards of representatives of foreign defence departments and the Central Intelligence Agency”.
The arrests are certain to reignite tensions between Britain and the Kremlin, which has repeatedly accused the British Council of being a front for espionage.
Alexander Zasvlavsky, who also graduated from Oxford, was elected president of the alumni club in December, only a month before the Russian Foreign Ministry began a campaign to close the British Council’s regional offices in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg
The British Council initially defied the demand, but was forced to close after the FSB summoned its Russian employees for interrogation while Russia’s tax police paid late-night visits to their homes.
More than 160 members of the British Alumni Club, which has branches in Moscow and five Russian regions, sent a letter of protest to President Putin against the forced closure of the Council’s offices.
Neither Ilya nor Alexander Zaslavsky were among the signatories. Organisers of the protest said at the time that many members had wanted to sign the letter but feared retribution from the authorities.