________________________________________________________________________ Russian tycoon seeks to reassure U.S. investors Copyright ) 1998 Nando.net Copyright ) 1998 Reuters CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (January 10, 1998 11:31 p.m. EST http://www.nando.net) - Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky said on Saturday foreign investors were wrong to fear that his country could backslide in its transition from communism to a market economy. "I think that not only in America but in Europe and other countries ... there is no comprehension that the processes that took place in Russia are irreversible, and that is definitely a barrier to growth in Russia," Berezovsky said through a translator at a conference at Harvard University. Arguably Russia's most powerful businessman and a former member of President Boris Yeltsin's Security Council, Berezovsky said the misunderstanding impeded foreign investment and led to higher risk premiums. On the other hand, he said, Russians are wrong to be be suspicious of foreign capital, fearing that it will leave the country at the first sign of market trouble and lead to instability. "In America you are not afraid when the Japanese buy half of Rockefeller Center," he said. But while the economic transition putting industries and properties in private hands is irreversible, the threat of a coup is very real in Russia, as it is in many countries, Berezovsky said. "Nobody can be safe from that," he added. Executives of Russian oil and gas companies told the conference their firms would have to attract billions of dollars from Western banks, securities markets and companies to upgrade pipelines and equipment. "YUKOS is absolutely interested in a strategic partnership with a foreign company," said Vasily Shakhnovsky, the chairman of YUKOS Oil, Russia's second-largest oil company. Shakhnovsky said YUKOS was in talks with Amoco Corp. of the United States and within the year would form a partnership with a foreign firm. Berezovsky went out of his way to disagree with billionaire financier George Soros, who criticized First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais on Friday at the conference. Soros said Chubais, who was popular in the West for his leading role in reforming the economy before he lost much of his power in a Cabinet shake-up in November, was "tainted" by scandal. Chubais raised eyebrows by accepting a $90,000 advance for a book from a publisher linked to a firm that was victorious in two controversial sales of big state companies last year. "That Chubais organized the theft of Russian property -- I think that that is wrong, and it is unjust," Berezovsky said, referring to the hostile interpretation of the deal. He said Chubais should be commended for his reforms, which had transferred state property to private hands without bloodshed. Berezovsky's defense of Chubais surprised some of the hundreds of people at the conference. Berezovsky's television and media empire vigorously attacked Chubais during the scandal, and he played a role in removing Russia's Finance Ministry from the reformer's control.
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