PUTIN
Itar-tass  /  AP
Yukos's chief financial officer said Russian president Vladimir Putin wrecked secret talks aimed at saving the oil company from bankruptcy, and said, “There is just one person in this entire country who must be held responsible: Mr. Putin. He started the problem and only he can solve it.”
By
updated 7/7/2004 10:41:17 AM ET 2004-07-07T14:41:17

A top Yukos executive has accused Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, of scuppering secret talks with the government last month to save the embattled oil group from bankruptcy.

Bruce Misamore, Yukos's chief financial officer, told the Financial Times there had been discussions with senior members of the Russian government but there was a sharp change of mood by the start of last week that risked "artificially" pushing the company into insolvency.

"The situation is still extremely uncertain," Mr. Misamore said. "There is just one person in this entire country who must be held responsible: Mr. Putin. He started the problem and only he can solve it."

Mr. Misamore was speaking after bailiffs froze Yukos's bank accounts on Thursday, giving the company until Tuesday to find €2.8 billion to pay outstanding taxes for 2000, while tax authorities announced a fresh assessment for 2001.

A syndicate of 10 banks, led by Société Générale, said on Monday that Yukos was in default on a $1 billion loan, but stressed there was no immediate intention of pushing the company into bankruptcy. They are due to meet Mr. Misamore on Tuesday.

Mr. Misamore said that, after Mr. Putin stressed in mid-June that bankruptcy was not in his administration's interests, Yukos met senior officials to propose ways of paying its tax bills.

Alexei Kudrin, finance minister, had called one of the western banks for reassurance over fears of default. Mr. Kudrin's office has denied such contacts.

The sharp changes in the authorities' approach to Yukos appear to many observers to provide further confirmation of the widely held view that the year-long investigations against Yukos and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, its main shareholder, are politically motivated.

Positive signs from the government came after Yury Beilin, Yukos's deputy chief executive, wrote to Mikhail Fradkov, prime minister, admitting tax evasion and proposing to sell off assets and reduce Mr. Khodorkovsky's stake with the state's approval.

The text was later partly disowned by Yukos's board and executive management committee. Menatep, the vehicle through which Mr. Khodorkovsky and his partners hold their controlling stake, stressed that it was willing to assume some liabilities but would also fight to defend its investment.

Separately, Roxwell Holdings, a Bahamas-based fund, has launched a class action in New York against Yukos and PwC, the company's auditors, alleging securities fraud. Russia's energy ministry said ChevronTexaco had pledged to invest $5 billion-$10 billion in Russia, following a meeting last Friday with David O'Reilly, the U.S. oil company's chief executive.

Copyright The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved.

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