Rosneft buys purchaser of core Yukos unit

By OGJ editors
HOUSTON, Dec. 23 -- OAO Rosneft said it is buying 100% of Baikal Finance Group, giving Rosneft control of OAO Yukos unit Yuganskneftegas. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Rosneft is slated to merge with Gazprom, which will bring Yuganskneftegas under Gazprom's control as anticipated. Yukos faces billions of dollars in delinquent tax claims.

The company's problems began with the Oct. 25, 2003, arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, its former chief executive, on fraud and tax evasion charges. Khodorkovsky, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, remains in jail and is on trial.

Gazprom had been the favorite to buy Yuganskneftegas at the Russian government's Dec. 19 auction. Yukos, once Russia's most aggressive oil company, on Dec. 14 filed a voluntary petition for reorganization in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division (OGJ Online, Dec. 15, 2004).

A Houston bankruptcy judge issued a temporary injunction applying primarily to a consortium of international banks arranging the multibillion-dollar financing. The injunction did not apply to the Russian government, a Yukos spokesman said (OGJ Online, Dec. 17, 2004).

The next bankruptcy court hearing is slated Jan. 6.

Yukos, Putin comments
After the auction Yukos issued a statement saying Yuganskneftegas is property of the bankruptcy estate.

"If sale of the stock is consummated, it will damage Yukos in excess of $20 billion," the company said. "Yukos will pursue all available legal avenues to recover damages."

Rosneft spokesman Alexander Stepanenko told reporters Thursday in Moscow that Baikal Finance had no assets other than the winning bid for the Yukos unit.

"The owners of Baikal Finance made us an offer to sell their company, and we took it," he said.

The mystery company bought 77% of Yuganskneftegas for $9.37 billion. No Western companies were involved in the bidding, and Gazprom also did not submit a bid.

On Thursday, Putin called state-owned Rosneft's acquisition of Yuganskneftegas a legitimate business transaction.

"Rosneft, which is de facto 100% state-owned, bought Yuganskneftegas. I think everything was done by market methods," Putin said during a news conference in Moscow. "Today, the state is using absolutely legal and market mechanisms to serve its interests."

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