Russia's No. 1 oil producer Lukoil faces US$1.5 million tax investigation

A subsidiary of Russia's No. 1 oil producer Lukoil has became the latest Russian company to come under the focus of tax authorities.

Lukoil's Naryanmarneftegaz is under investigation for evading nearly US$1.5 million (Ђ1.22 million) in taxes this year, the Interfax news agency said, citing a statement issued by the Interior Ministry's branch in northwestern Russia.

Lukoil spokesman Dmitry Dolgov said the allegations concerned VAT that Lukoil had paid to the budget and is currently fighting tax authorities in court to have refunded. He called the tax authorities' claims "absolutely groundless" and said the statement appeared aimed at undermining Lukoil's reputation.

In the wake of a politically charged US$28 billion (Ђ22.72 billion) tax probe last year that saw the heart of the Yukos oil empire end up in the hands of a state oil company, tax authorities have opened a series of back tax investigations into other Russian companies.

That has spooked investors and driven President Vladimir Putin to promise a curb on tax inspectors' authority earlier in the year.

Over the past eight months, British-Russian oil company TNK-BP, the Unified Energy Systems electricity monopoly, Japan Tobacco and No. 2 mobile operator Vimpelcom have all received back tax bills.

Unified Energy Systems head Anatoly Chubais has suggested that companies that weren't facing bills were in a minority.

The reported amount of the tax claim against Lukoil can scarcely be compared to Yukos' bill, which observers say was engineered to punish the political aspirations of its jailed founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky and reinforce state controls over the strategic energy sector. Lukoil has repeatedly said it faces no tax claims at all.

According to the Interfax report, Naryanmarneftegaz is due to be rolled into a joint venture with strategic Lukoil shareholder, U.S. oil company ConocoPhillips.

Associated Press

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