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Mon, Jul 05, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Yukos headquarters raided by police

INVESTIGATION The politically-charged Yukos tax case continued as heavily-armed police searched through the offices of the oil giant, removing boxes of documents


Police officers stand guard in front of the Yukos headquarters in Moscow on Saturday. The sign reads Yukos.


Scores of plainclothes officers searched for several hours through the headquarters of the oil giant Yukos, beleaguered by a 99.4-billion-ruble (US$3.4 billion) back taxes claim, a company spokesman said.

The Interfax news agency reported that Saturday's search ended after the officers removed several boxes of documents.

But company spokesman Hugo Erikssen said it was not clear what was taken away and could not confirm earlier reports that they had intended to take computer servers.

No Yukos officials were in the building during the raid.

"Why they had to come on a weekend ... that's a question we'd like to know," he said.

The move came a day after a Moscow court refused to unfreeze the company's assets, making it impossible for the company to sell property in order to pay the back taxes bill and avoid insolvency.

But the Prosecutor-General's office said that Saturday's actions were connected to a criminal fraud and tax evasion case "against structures controlled by Yukos," Russian news agencies said. The reports said the matter was separate from the fraud and tax evasion cases pending against Yukos ex-CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and a close associate, Platon Lebedev.

The prosecutor's office refused to elaborate, but the statement appeared to refer to allegations of tax-dodging by Samaraneftegaz, Yukos' third-largest operating unit.

Yukos also likely faces further claims beyond the 99.4-billion-ruble (US$3.4 billion) that a court upheld this week. News reports said this week that the Tax Service is seeking another 99 billion rubles (US$3 billion) for 2001 back taxes.

Yukos has said it faces bankruptcy if it cannot sell assets to pay the tax bill and to stagger the payments.

With pressure intensifying, the future of Russia's biggest oil producer and its more than 100,000 employees was increasingly uncertain. Its ruin could tarnish Russia's image abroad and slow growth in the oil sector -- the country's main cash earner and an industry that bolsters President Vladimir Putin's international clout.

Some analysts have suggested that the only way for the company to survive would be for Khodorkovsky and his partners to relinquish control.

They hold control through involvement with the Menatep holding company, which is Yukos' largest shareholder, and through personally owned shares.

For the past year, Yukos has been the focus of a complex probe that many analysts see as a Kremlin-driven effort to punish him for funding opposition parties and to stifle his purported political ambitions. He has been in jail since his dramatic arrest by gun-wielding special forces at a Siberian airport in October.

The probe first gained wide public attention with Lebedev's arrest on Friday while he was hospitalized.

"Maybe this [raid] was a kind of celebration" of the arrest anniversary, Erikssen said.

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