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Sat, Nov 27, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Yukos executives flee Russia amid state crackdown

UNDER FIRE As the oil giant's legal struggle drags on, six members of the management committee have left the country to avoid possible prosecution

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , MOSCOW

Top executives at the Russian oil giant Yukos, including the company's American chief executive and chief financial officers, have left the country, saying they fear prosecution as part of the company's continuing power struggle with the Kremlin.

All six members of Yukos' management committee have now left Russia, including the company's chief executive, Steven Theede, a US citizen. Theede will be traveling in Europe and the US in the coming days, a Yukos spokesman said.

Bruce Misamore, also an American and the chief financial officer of Yukos since 2001, said he did not plan to return to Russia until he was certain that his safety and that of his family was not in jeopardy. Earlier this week, the Russian general prosecutor's office asked Misamore to come in for questioning, but he was in London for a previously scheduled Yukos management meeting and decided not to return, he said.

No formal charges have been filed against any American or other expatriate employee at Yukos.

Prosecutors are shifting their attention to Yukos senior executives as part of the state's crackdown on the company, and that could pave the way for the Russian government to become the new owner of the oil concern, industry analysts said. With top managers leaving Moscow, "this could give the state legal grounds to install outside management," said James Fenkner, head of research at Troika Dialog brokerage firm here.

So far, oil production at Yukos has not dropped off, despite the company's wrangle with the Kremlin. Yukos produces 1.7 million barrels a day, or about 2 percent of the world's oil supply.

The company came under fire from the Kremlin after its founder, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was arrested in October last year in what was widely considered to be retaliation after he challenged President Vladimir Putin politically. Khodorkovsky remains in prison and is on trial on criminal charges of tax evasion, fraud and embezzlement.

The hunt for the Yukos senior management heated up last week when police here raided the offices of Theede and arrested Alexei Kursiin, who is the vice president of Yukos-Moskva, the operating company that oversees Yukos' day-to-day business. Yukos' chief lawyer, Dmitri Gololobov, was placed on an international wanted list while he was on a business trip. Misamore was then summoned for questioning this week.

"I'm perfectly happy to answer questions from prosecutors as long as I'm not exposed to criminal charges or arrest," Misamore said in a telephone interview from London. "If I can be assured of that, I can return. Or they can visit me somewhere else in the world. We're still trying to figure out what is the situation."

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