Eni SpA, Italy's state-run oil company, won the auction for a stake in OAO Gazprom's oil unit, helping the Russian government in its final push to reclaim the assets of jailed billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Eni and bidding partner Enel SpA will pay $5.8 billion for 20 percent of OAO Gazprom Neft and two gas units of OAO Yukos Oil Co., after beating Russian state oil company OAO Rosneft in today's auction in Moscow. Gazprom said it has the right to buy control of the assets from Eni and will exercise that option.
Eni and Enel join BP Plc in helping President Vladimir Putin dismember Yukos while seeking to acquire other assets in Russia, the world's biggest oil and gas supplier. BP's Russian unit legitimized the first Yukos auction last week. The BP unit bid for 9.44 percent of Rosneft and then withdrew, allowing Rosneft to buy its own shares at a discount.
“The Kremlin has been successful at co-opting global energy majors,'' said James Fenkner of Red Star Asset Management in Moscow. “These international companies have to play this game because they need access to Russia's reserves.”
Today's auction bundled the stake in Gazprom Neft, Russia's fifth-biggest oil producer, with Siberian gas producers OAO Arcticgas and ZAO Urengoil. The winning bid was 4.6 percent above the starting price. The sale was the second in a series of auctions to liquidate Yukos, which owes $27 billion to creditors including the Federal Tax Service and Rosneft, Bloomberg reports.
Troika Dialog analyst Valery Nesterov noted that the price had risen only slightly above the start price, which analysts had seen as a bargain.
"There was no serious competition," he said.
Still, the participation of a foreign company added "legitimacy and prestige" to the auctions, Nesterov said.
The success of the Italian companies benefits all sides, he said. On the one hand Eni and Enel can, at least temporarily, book the companies' reserves. Meanwhile, Gazprom is free to tie up the deal later and have funds free for bidding in the more juicy auctions of Yukos' remaining production and refining assets. The Italians' participation has also insulated Gazprom from any possible legal repercussions from the sale, he said.
"Now Gazprom has one headache less," he said.
Once Russia's biggest oil producer, Yukos was driven into bankruptcy after it was hit by billions of dollars in back-tax bills and its founder and chief, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was arrested at gunpoint in 2003. Khodorkovsky was sentenced in 2005 to eight years in prison for fraud and tax evasion in what critics called a show trial to punish him for funding political parties opposed to President Vladimir Putin.
Yukos' main production unit, Yuganskneftegaz, was sold at auction in 2005 to a shell company that was purchased by Rosneft shortly afterward.
More Yukos assets are to go on the block in May, including the Tomskneft production unit and three refineries, the AP reports.
Prepared by Alexander Timoshik
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