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Rosneft takes over main Yukos production unit

Russian state oil firm Rosneft took control of stricken oil major Yukos's main production unit on Friday, said Yukos, which is challenging the government auction of the asset in U.S. courts.
/ Source: Reuters

Russian state oil firm Rosneft took control of stricken oil major Yukos's main production unit on Friday, said Yukos, which is challenging the government auction of the asset in U.S. courts.

Rosneft managers, escorted by bailiffs, arrived at Yuganskneftegaz's Siberian headquarters and told staff there that Rosneft had already fully paid the state $9.4 billion for the unit, Yukos spokesman Alexander Shadrin said.

The delegation was headed by Nikolai Borisenko, Rosneft's first vice president. The head of Rosneft's Purneftegaz unit, Vladimir Bulba, was introduced to Yugansk's staff as their new boss.

"Rosneft claim they have fully paid for Yugansk via MDM bank, have shown us some documents and want to hold an extraordinary general meeting today after registering title of ownership," Shadrin told Reuters.

Rosneft, MDM and the Russian Federal Property Fund, which auctioned Yugansk on Dec. 19, did not answer repeated calls.

One member of Yugansk's staff reached by phone from Moscow said: "I can't say anything." She gave other phone numbers which were either engaged or went unanswered.

The ultimate source of funding for the purchase of Yugansk remains a mystery, but it is clear that Rosneft — with debts of $4.4 billion at mid-year — would have needed outside financing.

Rosneft has already raised $1.7 billion by selling joint venture assets to Russian gas monopoly Gazprom, which was originally tipped to win the Yugansk auction.

Sources familiar with the Yugansk deal said state-owned Sberbank was a key source of funding. Sberbank also could not be reached for comment.

Hot potato
The Yugansk auction marked the climax of a Kremlin campaign to crush Yukos's politically ambitious principal owner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and seize control of strategic sectors of the economy sold off in the chaotic privatization's of the 1990s.

Yugansk, which pumps 1 million barrels per day of crude, or 60 percent of YUKOS's output, was sold to help recover more than $27 billion in back taxes owed by Yukos.

Yukos filed for bankruptcy in the United States to try and halt the Yugansk sale, and has vowed to press damage claims of $20 billion against anyone involved in the deal.

Gazprom pulled out of the Yugansk auction at the last minute after Western banks syndicating a $13.6 billion loan, led by Deutsche and ABN AMRO, got cold feet due to legal risks.

Gazprom Chairman Dmitry Medvedev, who is also President Vladimir Putin's chief of staff, said on Thursday a planned merger between Gazprom and Rosneft would go ahead as scheduled in January — but without Yugansk's assets.

China syndrome
Russian officials have made conflicting statements in recent days over who will end up as the ultimate owner of Yugansk, suggesting the Kremlin has had to rework its takeover strategy to protect against litigation.

"One gets the clear impression that nobody there currently knows how this is all going to play out and that officials are making it up as they go along," said Matthew Thomas from Alfa Bank.

Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said on Thursday Yugansk's assets would be spun off into a new state company, in which top Chinese state oil company CNPC may buy 20 percent.

But on Friday CNPC, parent of New York- and Hong Kong-listed PetroChina, added to the confusion by saying Khristenko had spoken out of turn.

"This is their one-sided comment. We honestly can't give you a definitive reply. About what they said, we really can't understand," said company spokesman Li Runsheng from Beijing.

China has long sought access to Siberian oil to fuel its booming economy and has lobbied for Russia to build an eastward export pipeline.

But the Russian government gave its long-delayed approval on Friday to an alternative eastern route to pump 1.6 million bpd to the Pacific coast to supply Japan and the United States.

"The Chinese side will be very careful depending on the price and also there is not much progress on the pipeline deal. They are not excited to jump into it and will take a long look," said Scott Weaver, analyst at Macquarie Securities.