Yukos shares fall amid news of new tax claim

/ Source: The Associated Press

Shares in the beleaguered Russian oil company Yukos fell Monday following a report that tax officials are preparing a separate $3 billion tax claim against its main subsidiary.

Yukos is already struggling to pay off a $3.4 billion tax bill for 2000 and faces a similar claim for 2001, another in a series of legal actions against the company and its jailed ex-CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky that is widely seen as Kremlin-approved punishment for his growing clout and political activity.

Yukos’s share price had tumbled over 6 percent by midday on the Moscow’s RTS exchange and plunged 8.5 percent 20 minutes into trading on the MICEX exchange.

The Financial Times reported Monday that the Tax Ministry was preparing the new claim against Yuganskneftegaz, the western Siberian production unit that accounts for 60 percent of the Yukos’ output. Yuganskneftegaz is being evaluated for possible sale as collateral for the tax claims, which are expected to rise to $10 billion for the period 2000-2003.

The Tax Ministry declined to comment immediately on the report.

An earlier announcement that Western investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein had been selected to establish the company’s value had been greeted positively by analysts who had feared that Yuganskneftegaz, which produces as much oil as Algeria, would be sold at a bargain price to a company approved by President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin.

However, Monday’s report appeared to resurrect that possibility, since the tax claim could reduce the company’s market value, putting it within the reach of a Russian buyer.

The possibility of bankruptcy or production stoppages has been raised frequently over the past month, as neither the government nor Group Menatep — the offshore-registered investment vehicle through which Khodorkovsky controls Yukos — show signs of reaching an agreement.

In an interview published Monday in the Russian daily Kommersant, Group Menatep board chairman Tim Osborne said that there had been “no positive signals” from the government so far.

Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev are being tried in Moscow on charges including fraud and tax evasion.