A Russian battle over Russian drinks: Vladimir Putin wants his vodka back, saying Russia is the owner of Stolichnaya.
In the 1990s, Yuri Shefler, one of the richest men in Russia, bought Sojuzplodoimport, the state company behind the world famous vodka Stolichnaya. The vodka company was in a deplorable condition, but Shefler managed to turn it into a highly profitable business: now Spirits International, the new name of Sojuzplodoimport, 30 million bottles a year in 150 countries, making Shefler one of the 1.000 richest people on earth.
But then it is March 13, 2000. Shefler received a letter from newly elected president Vladimir Putin. It is a copy of a decree of two sentences to his ministers: “I urge you to restore the right of the state over the ownership rights to vodka production, and to take legal action against those who have violated those rights.” Whether it’s oil, gas or vodka; Putin wants all production back in the hands of the state.
Shefler refused. This marked the beginning of a series of raids by Russian offices. A month later Russia begins the first proceeding against the company. Main argument: the company was not privatised in the early 90s, according to the law, so the shares Shefler bought, were acquired illegally.
In a series of lawsuits around the world, Russia has lost; the claim is judged to be invalid in many western countries. But not in the Netherlands, where a Dutch court ruled that the famous vodka brand may no longer be run by Shefler in the Benelux, but only by the Russian Federation.