Director of Yukos joint venture arrested

Russian prosecutors have opened a criminal case against the general director of a joint venture between the embattled Yukos oil company and MOL of Hungary, a Yukos spokesman confirmed Friday. Oleg Vitka, who has been detained by prosecutors, is accused of violating licensing agreements between April 1 and December 31, 2003, that led to the Zapadno-Malobalykskoe company exceeding its agreed extraction quota by 52 percent, and receiving extra revenues of 536 million rubles (US$19.5 million, Ђ14.5 million). After appearing on March 9 for questioning by prosecutors in the Siberian Khanti-Mansiisk region, where the company is located, a court in the town of Nefteyugansk ordered that Vitka's period of custody be extended by two months. Zapadno-Malobalykskoe was established by Yukos and MOL in 2003. Vitka's arrest is the latest case in a complex and expanding web of investigations and arrests against managers of the shattered Yukos oil empire. In December, Yukos' core unit Yuganskneftegaz was sold off for US$9.3 billion (Ђ6.9 billion) against its back-tax claims of some US$28 billion (Ђ21 billion), marking the climax of what observers call Kremlin punishment for the political ambitions of Yukos' jailed founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Analysts have suggested that the company could see its remaining units, Tomskneft and Samaraneftegaz, sold to repay the outstanding claims. Yukos spokesman Alexander Shadrin said that while Zapadno-Malobalykskoe had technically exceeded its agreed extraction quotas, such cases were common among oil companies in Russia, and were normally resolved by a standard renegotiating procedure. "Formally it is of course a violation," Shadrin said. "But since he worked for Yukos they clearly decided that in respect of all other companies they would close their eyes. ... If you take this approach all oilmen should be in prison." Associated Press

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