Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny has been elected to the board of state-controlled airline Aeroflot, putting the anti-corruption blogger in a position of influence at one of Russia’s most high-profile companies.
Navalny, also a shareholder activist who has campaigned for better corporate governance at state firms, was nominated by Alexander Lebedev – a 15 percent Aeroflot shareholder and owner of British newspaper The Independent.
“Fly Aeroflot!” Navalny posted on Twitter on Monday, invoking the airline’s Soviet-era advertising slogan.
Navalny later posted on his blog that Glass Lewis – a US corporate governance analysis group – had recommended minor shareholders vote for him due to his independence.
“Alexei has made his name as a shareholder activist, promoting and fighting for information and transparency at Russian state-controlled companies,” said Navalny associate and investment manager Vladimir Ashurkov, who manages a fund set up by Navalny to fight corruption.
“There are limits to what an independent board member can do, but I think he can have an uncompromising stance on those issues – to improve corporate governance, information, and the communication channel with minor investors.”
Navalny, a lawyer, rose to prominence as a blogger, using small shareholdings to highlight what he said was corruption at firms including state oil pipeline monopoly Transneft.
He later became a leader of Russia’s opposition, helping to organise a series of street protests against alleged ballot fraud in last December’s parliamentary election, and the March presidential vote that returned Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin.
Aeroflot confirmed Navalny’s appointment at its annual general meeting on Monday. Its shares climbed 0.7 percent after the announcement, outperforming a falling broader market.
“I don’t think there will be a large difference (at Aeroflot) with Navalny or without… Aeroflot is a much more transparent company than, for example, Transneft… It will be very difficult to find an example of misappropriated funds, said Nikita Melnikov, aviation analyst at Aton.
A spokesman for Aeroflot, the state-owned airline of the USSR, declined to comment.
Aeroflot is 51 percent owned by the Russian government, although the state plans to sell its stake by 2016 under its latest privatisation plan.
A possible exit could be via a secondary listing in London followed by a placement of shares, sources familiar with an internal presentation said this month.