Ken Lay, Enron’s former boss, a friend and former client, was buried last week, free at last from the prosecutors who made the last five years of his life hell. Years ago, his crimes would have been of no interest in Britain.
But the stepped-up globalisation of the energy industries in which Enron operated, and of the capital markets on which it relied, make its history of great moment in the UK. Especially for the so-called NatWest Three, who are accused of complicity in the crimes that brought Enron down. The trio were bailed on Friday and will return to court this week.
In the old days, when energy companies were primarily local operations, the NatWest Three would never have crossed paths with American law, or with Enron.
It also would have been unlikely that a single political prisoner, isolated and rotting in a Siberian prison as a guest of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, could have any effect on a share offering in London. But Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose Yukos oil group was bankrupted by Putin, and had its assets transferred to Rosneft, is casting a shadow as far as London’s financial markets, and has thrown the issue of Rosneft’s $80 billion float into courts around the world.
So potential investors in Rosneft have to factor Russia’s special version of the rule of law into the price they are willing to pay for a Kremlin-dominated company that is unlikely to put shareholder interests at the top of its priority list.