Creditor banks have filed a suit seeking to have the stricken Russian oil company Yukos declared bankrupt, court officials said on Friday, potentially threatening the survival of Russia's former No. 1 crude producer.
The Moscow Arbitration court accepted the request to hear the case, Yukos spokeswoman Claire Davidson said. The Interfax news agency quoted an unidentified official at the court as confirming it would accept the case.
The news comes amid reports that executives running Yukos operations in Moscow have refused to accept the authority of the company's senior management, which has run the business from self-imposed exile for more than a year.
Davidson said on Friday that a company official, Stanislav Vinokurov, had been suspended, then dismissed following an internal audit of the company that turned up "very significant concerns" over oil trading deals that cost the company an estimated US$50 million to US$100 million.
But Moscow-based manager Anatoly Nazarov rehired the manager at the company's main oil trading unit against the orders of CEO Stephen Theede.
Nazarov's action appeared linked to the latest round of Russian prosecutors' summons against Yukos officials, Davidson told Dow Jones Newswires.
The Russian prosecutors have begun "picking off very senior people and putting inordinate amounts of pressure on them, forcing them to think about either the company or their own personal safety," she said.
Yukos, once the nation's biggest oil producer, is struggling to stay afloat after a sustained campaign against it that caused huge damage to business confidence under Russian President Vladimir Putin, although investor sentiment has now recovered on the back of massive oil-fueled profits.
International creditors are seeking to retrieve nearly US$500 million from Yukos, while its former main production unit, now owned by state oil company Rosneft, is suing it for billions of dollars for alleged mismanagement.
Davidson told reporters that the company was taken aback by the banks' action as they were close to recovering their outstanding share of a US$1 billion syndicated loan issued in 2003. She pointed out that under Russian bankruptcy law, these creditors would be last in line after employees and tax liabilities.
But oil and gas analyst Oleg Maximov from Troika Dialog brokerage in Moscow said the creditors appeared to be protecting their interests.
"From their point of view, it's a logical step because arbitration courts in London and Moscow confirmed that Yukos must repay the banks, but Yukos so far didn't pay anything," he said.
Yukos has been selling noncore overseas assets to raise funds that it says it will use to pay back its creditors, which include a consortium of banks led by France's Societe Generale.