Putin does not want Yukos broke
The Russian Finance Minister Aleksey Kudrin promised in his interview with Financial Times that the sale of Yukos's property would be carried out openly, in compliance with market principles. The Russian government insists of the sale of the oil giant's property to receive back taxes from the company. Kudrin said that Yukos should pay its debts, although the minister added that the government did not push one of the nation's most profitable companies to bankruptcy within the scope of the “political vendetta.”
”The state will do its best to carry out the transaction in strict compliance with the law, on the base of market principles and openly,” Kudrin said, having indirectly confirmed the fact that the auction sale of the company's assets would be a part of the process to settle the long-lasting conflict between Yukos and the Russian government.
The statement was released soon after the Russian Ministry for Natural resources said that it was considering a possibility to withdraw the oil extraction license from Yukos's major company in Western Siberia, Yuganskneftegaz, on account of tax arrears. Spokespeople for Yukos said that the company would not be able to pay the debt despite the considerable oil income, because a Moscow court had ruled to freeze its bank accounts.
The stock market has virtually ignored the threat from the Natural Resources Ministry to withdraw the license from one of Yukos's strategic enterprises. Experts said that the company's assets would lose $10-12 billion of their value to $1-3 billion. In addition, the court of arbitration upheld the decision to collect 99.3 billion rubles of back taxes from Yukos. To crown it all, a Moscow district court ruled to prolong the imprisonment term of Platon Lebedev till December 26, 2004. However, Yukos's shares gained 2.5 percent that day. According to experts' estimates, the market had such an illogical reaction to the negative news because of numerous purchase orders from the West. The demand on the holding's ADR provided the 7.8-9.5 percent growth on European and American exchanges. Specialists say that Yukos probably has an agreement with Sibneft to pay back a big part of $3 billion, which had been paid for 20 percent of Sibneft's shares. Sibneft's shares and ADR gained 4-6 percent in Russia and abroad.
President Putin repeated last week that he was against Yukos's bankruptcy, although Putin added that the state could appropriate the company's shares as a payment for tax claims against the oil giant.
”I don't want to bankrupt Yukos. It is the people in Yukos themselves who are raising this," Harvard University Professor Marshall Goldman cited Putin as saying. “Tell me, who wants Yukos broke and I will fire them,” Putin told the journalist.
Yukos needs to pay $7.5 billion for 200 and 2001. The oil giant might face more claims next year, which will make the total sum of $10 billion of back taxes.
A lot of observers say that Kremlin officials might try to make Yukos vest its basic property to the state-owned oil company Rosneft. The latter is chaired by Igor Sechin, a Putin's aide. The president does not exclude that Rosneft might purchase Yukos's property, although he said that he was not sure if the company had enough money for such an acquisition. “Yukos's assets are enormous. It can pay taxes with money or shares. The government will support the acceptable decision and assist in its future activity,” Putin said.
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