“There is reason to question whether Rosneft’s ethical standards are in accordance with Statoil’s, given Rosneft’s history and how it was able to secure ownership of what was once Yukos under Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s ownership,” Amnesty International political advisor Beate Ekeløve-Slydal tells Aftenbladet.

President Vladimir Putin’s government declared political challenger Khodorkovsky’s Yukos bankrupt.

Almost all its assets were then sold to state-owned Rosneft in a process that many believe was an illegal nationalisation of the oil company in 2004.

Putin claimed that Yukos owed the Russian government 30 billion dollars. 55,000 stakeholders lost their shares.

In jail

Khodorkovsky was jailed for fraud in 2003 after challenging Putin politically. He was handed a further sentence in 2010, and will now be sitting in a Siberian prison until 2016 to all intents and purposes.

“Mikhail Khodorkovsky is currently in prison in Russia. Amnesty International recognises him as a prisoner of conscience. The Human Rights Court in Strasbourg has also declared that the tax claim Khodorkovsky is sentenced to 14 years in prison for is unreasonable,” says Beate Ekeløve-Slydal.

According to Arild Moe, Russia expert at Oslo’s Fridtjof Nansen Institute, “the production units acquired from Yukos account for the bulk of Rosneft’s production today. There is no doubt that the Russian government liquidated Yukos and that Rosneft acquired assets in process almost entirely lacking in transparency.”

“Nevertheless, was Rosneft behind it, as some have claimed? There are strong indications both that the process against Yukos was politically motivated, but also that Rosneft benefited from the process’ result. There is still the question as to whether Rosneft's role in this process is completely legitimate.”

High ethical standards

Beate Ekeløve-Slydal says Statoil itself is very keen to emphasise that it respects human rights and has high ethical standards.

“An important element here is zero acceptance of corruption. Statoil has stressed that they make risk assessments of human rights when it comes to choosing countries, partners, and projects, and they expect their partners to have ethical standards that are consistent with their own.”

“It is important to clarify what Statoil itself feels about this matter, providing that entering this type of agreement with a company such as Rosneft is unproblematic. Amnesty International is committed to holding Statoil responsible for the ethical standards it has always maintained it stands for, and that these must be complied with in practice if they are to have any value,” she declares.

Zero tolerance

Statoil press spokesperson Bård Glad Pedersen says that the Norwegian oil company is responsible for ensuring that the activities carried out are in accordance with relevant international and Norwegian rules, "with absolutely zero tolerance for corruption, and in accordance with our ethical values.”

“We focus on ensuring this as best we can when cooperating with other companies. This also applies to the partnership with Rosneft.

“Rosneft is a listed company that collaborates with several international companies,” concludes Mr Pedersen.