Source Pravda.Ru

Russian experts suspect "British consortium" is a cover for Yukos shareholders

Experts believe a consortium of private British investors that has suggested paying off the Russian YUKOS oil company's tax arrears may cover major YUKOS shareholders or oil companies, primarily Russian ones.

Some of the foreign news agencies reported on Friday that a British consortium of private investors had sent a letter to Russian authorities saying they were prepared to pay off the company's tax arrears and, if need be, to satisfy financial claims to ex-YUKOS chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky in exchange for his share block.

A source close to YUKOS shareholders has made it clear that he knows about the letter.

Yevgeny Sotskov, an expert at Metropol, said it was yet another attempt to prevent YUKOS' bankruptcy.

"However, I do not think they will receive any reply whatsoever to the letter," said the expert. "I do not rule out that the consortium may comprise major oil companies and YUKOS shareholders," said Mr. Sotskov.

Andreas Vild, a Brokerkeridservis expert, believes the consortium does not comprise foreign oil companies as they would have acted openly.

The expert suggested that the consortium may be used as a cover by Abramovich, Vekselberg, and Blavatnik (representing Sibneft and Tyumen Oil Company-British Petroleum oil companies).

Maxim Shein, head of analysis at Brikerkreditservis, also believes that the consortium is a cover for Sibneft-connected persons.

"Taking an interest in YUKOS is only natural for these companies' shareholders. If Sibneft, TNK-BP, and Slavneft (Sibneft and BP own an aggregate of 98.95% of Slavneft shares) acquire YUKOS shares, they will emerge as a huge oil company," said Mr. Shein.

In that case their companies would produce over 200 million tons of oil annually, which is over 50% of Russia's overall oil output, according to the expert.

Russia's Federal Anti-Trust Service did not rule out that the emergence of such a company might be approved.

"This is a complicated issue. It is necessary to study the situation on the market and the company's position on it before adopting any decision whatsoever," said Irina Kashunina, in charge of the service's PR. "Domineering on the market is not illegal, while abuse of that dominant position runs counter to law. If the company seeks to enhance its dominant position, it will be set a number of relevant conditions," according to Ms. Kashunina.