Europe

Belgium unblocks seized Russian accounts

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, file pic Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his partners sued the Russian state after Yukos was broken up

Russian state accounts frozen by Belgium in a move condemned by Moscow have been unblocked, Belgium's foreign minister says.

The assets were seized in a move triggered by a court ruling over the now-defunct Yukos oil firm.

In July 2014, an international arbitration court said Russian officials had manipulated the legal system to bankrupt Yukos.

Yukos was then taken over by a Russian state firm.

Its former boss, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was also jailed.

Last year a court told Russia to pay Yukos shareholders $50bn (£32bn) in compensation, after Yukos's break-up.

But Russia does not acknowledge the court's findings, leading former Yukos shareholders to get Russian state assets frozen.

Responding to the asset seizure, Russia's President Vladimir Putin said he would "defend our interests by the route of justice".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Yukos was taken over by the Russian state

Belgium's ambassador to Moscow was summoned to the Kremlin, and told the asset seizure was "an openly hostile act" that "crudely violates the recognised norms of international law".

While visiting China, Belgium's Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said: "A solution has been found to unblock as a priority accounts for the running of the embassies, and the rest will follow."

France also seized Russian state accounts in about 40 banks, along with several buildings.

It is not known if those assets will also be unblocked.

On Friday, Mr Khodorkovsky - who was freed in 2013 - said the seizure of Russian assets was "a signal that theft will not escape punishment, no matter how all-powerful the thief was".

He has not responded to Belgium's decision to unfreeze the assets.

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