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Wed, Dec 22, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Paper names Yukos unit's purchaser

OIL MARKET A firm said to be friendly with the president's administration is reportedly behind the winning bid for the Yukos group's main oil assets

AGENCIES , MOSCOW

The cash-rich private oil company Surgutneftegaz is the mystery purchaser of the main assets of the Yukos empire, auctioned for US$9.35 billion to a shell company on Sunday, the daily newspaper Gazeta said yesterday.

Analysts quoted by the paper, which described Surgutneftegaz as friendly to the administration of President Vladimir Putin, said the company might later sell all or part of the Yukos assets on to Gazprom, the state-owned gas concern which has been widely rumored as the intended final purchaser of the oil interests.

Other analysts have already named Surgutneftegaz as the possible buyer of the Yukos assets, which were put on the block to pay off a massive tax bill claimed by the Russian government.

Gazeta added that two people who represented the obscure Baikalfinansgroup company, which bidded successfully for the assets at Sunday's auction in the city of Tver, were linked to Surgutneftegaz.

One of them, Valentina Davletgareeva, was part-owner of a subsidiary of Surgutneftegaz, and the other, Igor Minibayev, was a director of the same company, it said.

Given the presence of the two at the auction, it is logical to suppose that the company which put up the US$1.7 billion bond necessary to take part in the auction was Surgutneftegaz, the paper wrote.

Meanwhile, Yukos Chief Executive Stephen Theede acknowledged on Monday that the US$9.4 billion government sale of its Yuganskneftegaz operation was an "irreversible act," but the company would not turn over its shares until the buyer, Baikal Finance Group, revealed its identity and backing.

After his comments to reporters in London, the company issued a combative press release from Houston that said Sunday's auction in Moscow violated a US bankruptcy court restraining order and threatened to seek damages against auction participants.

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