Russian court orders seizure of oligarch’s oil stakeAFP 12 hours agoVladimir Yevtushenkov (C), president of Sistema, receives a welcome plaque at the London Stock Exchange on February 14, 2005Vladimir Yevtushenkov (C), president of Sistema, receives a welcome plaque at the London Stock Exchange on February 14, 2005 (AFP Photo/Odd Andersen) Moscow (AFP) – A Moscow court on Thursday ordered the nationalisation of a stake in an oil firm held by a detained oligarch, raising concern about signs of a state-orchestrated asset grab.A judge at Moscow’s Arbitration Court ordered the return to the state of the stake held by billionaire Vladimir Yevtushenkov’s holding firm Sistema in oil company Bashneft.The court order followed claims by prosecutors that the stake was illegally privatised, Russian agencies reported.Sistema responded by saying in a statement that it „does not agree with the court decision and is considering filing an appeal.”Sistema has one month to appeal against the verdict.It warned that the court case „could have a significant negative influence on Sistema’s investment strategy, its financial state and debt obligations, especially if today’s court decision… enters force.”Yevtushenkov is currently being held under house arrest after being dramatically arrested last month on money laundering charges connected to the Bashneft sale, in a move that drew comparisons with the prosecution of former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.Russia’s 15th-wealthiest man with a fortune of $9 billion (7 billion euros) according to Forbes, Yevtushenkov has now been reduced to wearing an electronic bracelet.The probe against him centres on how his holding company Sistema acquired Bashneft and comes after speculation that Russia’s biggest oil producer Rosneft — run by Putin’s loyal lieutenant Igor Sechin — was keen to get its hands on the oil firm.Sistema is a vast holding which has major interests in the country’s biggest mobile telephone company MTS and a range of other assets.The company said Thursday that its subsidiaries „are working normally and most are profitable and do not require financing from Sistema.”Yevtushenkov is the most high-profile business figure to fall foul of the authorities since Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man and head of the now-defunct Yukos oil firm, who spent a decade in jail in what his supporters say was revenge for challenging the Kremlin.

The State Department is too top-heavy with Obama political picks, says foreign service group It matters because ‘The world is a mess,’ the association saysOlivier Knox Yahoo NewsU.S. President Barack Obama (L) shakes hands with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns at the Diplomatic Corps holiday reception at the State Department in Washington December 19, 2012. (Yuri Gripas/REUTERS)U.S. President Barack Obama (L) shakes hands with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns at the Diplomatic Corps …President Barack Obama’s fondness for rewarding big donors with plum diplomatic postsoverseas made international headlines earlier this year when a few of them embarrassed themselves in confirmation hearings.Now, the association that represents career U.S. diplomats is sounding the alarm about leadership at the very top of the State Department, warning that foreign service professionals are losing ground to “political” picks.“The world is a mess,” American Foreign Service Association President Bob Silverman told Yahoo News in a telephone interview. “We need our most experienced people – people who have actually managed embassies, who have actually managed international programs – in the mix at the top of the leadership.”With the retirement of Bill Burns, the highly regarded foreign service officer who served as the State Department’s No. 2, just one of the top nine jobs in American diplomacy is held by a career diplomat: Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. (The number rises to 2 out of 10 if State Department Counselor Tom Shannon is included).It’s not clear whether Obama will pick a career foreign service officer to replace Burns. Deputy National Security Adviser Antony Blinken is widely seen as a top contender and would be a political appointment. Reached by email, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan declined to comment on prospects for Burns’s successor.“It should be a career person. At least one of the top three at State should be a career person,” said Silverman. “That has been the tradition over many, many decades.”Unlike the “ambassadonors,” though, it’s not primarily a question of shoehorning people who have shown they are supremely good at raising money into diplomatic posts for which they are questionably competent. The undersecretary of political affairs, Wendy Sherman, is a “political,”for instance, but has an impressive resume. She is the No. 3 at the State Department.But Silverman said career diplomats understand the “machine” in Foggy Bottom and see how the parts fit together to make policy. He also noted that bringing in too much outside help damages morale among the career officials.Obama has overseen an expansion of political appointments at the State Department. He haschosen fewer career diplomats for ambassadorial postings than his recent predecessors. And his administration has tripled the number of noncareer appointments under so-called “Schedule B authority,” which have soared from 26 to 89 employees between 2008 and 2012 at the senior levels.“We’re not opposed to politicals. We welcome outsiders, talented outsiders. It’s just a matter of balance, and it’s out of balance right now. There are too many politicals right now,” said Silverman.The AFSA president emphasized that he wants to be, well, diplomatic about pressuring the administration.“We’re not rabble-rousers. We’re not going to be burning down the building,” he said. “I don’t want to say ‘angry.’ But we are concerned about the growing politicization throughout the State Department.”Still, Silverman says, it’s time for “a mid-course correction,” with two years left in the Obama administration.“I think this can be rebalanced. We have good partners in the administration, particularly among Secretary (of State John) Kerry’s top staff,” he said. “The system is not broken, it’s just a bit out of balance.”Come Tuesday, AFSA could have an unlikely ally: Senate Republicans. A top GOP aide, asked what would happen to the stalled “ambassadonor” nominations, signaled that those would-be diplomats shouldn’t pack their bags.When it comes to confirmations of Obama nominees in a Republican Senate, the aide said dryly, “partisan picks and Obama bundlers won’t be at the top of the list.”