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Yukos taps U.S. citizen as CEO

Yukos said Tuesday it has appointed U.S. citizen Simon Kukes as CEO. Kukes takes over the top spot left vacant after Mikhail Khodorkovsky resigned from jail on Monday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Russia’s embattled Yukos oil giant said Tuesday that it had appointed a U.S. citizen as new chief executive to replace Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who has been jailed on charges of fraud and tax evasion in what some see as a politically driven probe.

In a brief statement, Yukos said it had appointed Simon Kukes to the post. Khodorkovsky resigned Monday, saying he wants to deflect the blows from his company. A U.S. citizen, the Russian-born Kukes was elected chairman of Yukos’ board of directors in June.

The statement said Khodorkovsky would not seek any executive position within YukosSibneft, the world’s fourth largest oil company, which will be created by Yukos’ agreed takeover of another major Russian oil producer, Sibneft.

The company also said it had appointed Steven Theede, an American, as executive director of Yukos-Moscow, a subsidiary under which many of Yukos’ central corporate functions are incorporated. Bruce Misamore, also a U.S. citizen, remains the group’s chief financial officer.

The appointment of foreigners was seen as a further attempt to protect Yukos from Russian prosecutors.

Kukes was president and chief executive officer of the Tyumen Oil Company or TNK, which merged with British Petroleum’s Russian subsidiary earlier this year.

Khodorkovsky’s resignation came nine days after he was jailed in Moscow amid a 4-month-old investigation of the oil company that has caused the Russian stock market to plunge and raised questions about Russia’s economic and political course.

The price of Yukos shares shot up by 3.9 percent in Moscow trading on Monday immediately after Khodorkovsky’s announcement, ending up 12 percent at $12.65. They are still more than 20 percent below their all-time high, which was posted shortly before Khodorkovsky’s arrest.

Critics say Khodorkovsky was chosen as a target by President Vladimir Putin’s fellow ex-KGB officers in the Kremlin to curb his growing financial and political clout. Khodorkovsky has funded opposition parties.

Putin has denied any political motives behind the probe. He denied that the investigation was aimed at revising results of the controversial privatization of the 1990s, in which tycoons such as Khodorkovsky won quick fortunes by snapping up state assets at rock-bottom prices.

In an interview with Italian journalists that was posted on the Kremlin web site Tuesday, Putin said that while the results of privatization “weren’t ideal,” changing them would entail negative economic and social consequences.

“There will be no deprivatization or review of privatization results, but every one must learn to live in accordance with the law,” he said.

Putin also dismissed the allegations that the prosecutors had unfairly singled out Yukos from among many companies that could be prosecuted on the same charges, saying that some of its officials were accused of involvement in murders. Yukos has denied the accusations.

Putin defended the prosecutors, saying that “they are acting correctly as long they don’t go beyond the law.”

Turning to the resignation of his chief of staff, Alexander Voloshin, Putin said that the probe against Yukos had served as a “catalyst” for the Kremlin reshuffle. He had words of praise for Voloshin, but added that he had long planned to replace him.