Sun, Feb 01, 2004 - Page 10 News List

Oil prices steady while investors mull varied news


The ongoing probe is widely perceived as punishment for Khodorkovsky's growing clout and political activity, but Russian authorities deny any political motivation.

Meanwhile, Interfax reported that the Audit Chamber has launched a tax audit of Sibneft oil company to check its tax payments for last year and the first quarter of this year.

Sibneft and Yukos had planned a merger that would have created the world's fourth largest oil producer. It was called off last month after the government probe against Yukos heated up. The already intricate transaction, however, remains to be unraveled and Yukos still holds a giant stake in Sibneft.

Billionaire Roman Abramovich is allegedly trying to reclaim control over Sibneft through the courts, according to Russian media reports. On Friday, Sergei Stepashin, the head of the Auditing Chamber, announced a planned audit of Abramovich's activities as governor of Chukotka, a remote Arctic province.

And in related news, Venezuela's state oil company will invest about US$5 billion this year to improve production capacity, the corporation's president said Friday.

Part of the investment will be used to increase drilling activity, Petroleos de Venezuela SA president Ali Rodriguez said in a TV interview.

PDVSA, as the company is known, spent about US$2 billion to improve capacity last year. Venezuela has a production capacity of 3.4 billion barrels a day.

Venezuela, one of the world's top oil exporters, is still recovering from a general strike last year that temporarily paralyzed oil production, costing the nation an estimated US$8 billion.

Chavez fired half of PDVSA's work force for participating in the strike, saying he would take advantage of the circumstances to trim the corporation's bureaucracy and improve its efficiency.

Critics say the abrupt dismissals cost PDVSA critical manpower and expertise.

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