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Creditors file bankruptcy suit against Yukos

Creditor banks have filed a bankruptcy suit against the troubled Russian oil company Yukos, a court spokeswoman said Friday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Creditor banks have filed a bankruptcy suit against the troubled Russian oil company Yukos, a court spokeswoman said Friday.

The Moscow Arbitration court accepted the request to hear the case, the Interfax news agency quoted OAO Yukos officials as saying. However, a spokeswoman at the court, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to give her name, said the court had received the suit but had not yet ruled on whether to hear it.

Yukos could not immediately be reached for comment.

The news comes amid reports that executives running Yukos operations in Moscow have refused to accept the authority of the company's senior management, which has run the business from self-imposed exile for more than a year.

Yukos spokeswoman Claire Davidson said Friday that a company official, Stanislav Vinokurov, had been suspended, then dismissed following an internal audit of the company that turned up "very significant concerns."

But Moscow-based manager Anatoly Nazarov rehired the manager at the company's main oil trading unit against the orders of CEO Stephen Theede.

Nazarov's action appeared linked to the latest round of Russian prosecutors' summonses against Yukos officials, Davidson told Dow Jones Newswires.

The Russian prosecutors have begun "picking off very senior people and putting inordinate amounts of pressure on them, forcing them to think about either the company or their own personal safety," she said.

Yukos, once the nation's biggest oil producer, is struggling to stay afloat. International creditors are seeking to retrieve nearly $500 million from the company, while its former main production unit, now owned by state oil company Rosneft, is suing it for billions of dollars for alleged mismanagement.

Yukos has said it still has to pay $6.3 billion of its original $27.5 billion tax bill and is disputing a new $3.5 billion bill for 2004.

Yukos' biggest oil fields were sold in a controversial state-ordered auction in December 2004 to pay off part of its back tax bill, in what observers say was punishment for its jailed former owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky's political ambitions and an attempt to reassert influence in the strategically important oil sector. A mysterious shell company that won the auction was bought days later by Rosneft.

Khodorkovsky is currently serving an eight-year sentence for fraud and tax evasion in a prison camp near the Chinese border.

Yukos has been selling noncore assets to raise funds to pay back its creditors, which include a consortium of banks led by France's Societe Generale.

The company, after losing its crown jewel Yuganskneftegaz, which produced a million barrels of oil a day, is left with two major oil production units _ Samaraneftegaz and Tomskneft _ which together produce around 600,000 barrels a day of crude. It also owns a major refinery, Angarsk Petrochemical Co.

OAO Rosneft is believed to be interested in acquiring the remaining assets of Yukos.

Under Russian President Vladimir Putin, the government has moved to reclaim control of the strategic oil sector that largely fell into private hands in controversial 1990s privatizations.

State companies are now responsible for around 30 percent of crude production in Russia after the nationalization of the main Yukos asset and a deal by state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom in September 2005 to buy the privately held Sibneft oil company.