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The Wall Street Journal: Moscow Sends Pipeline a Bill

Levy of $250 Million
Comes Amid Dispute
With Foreign Partners
By GREG WALTERS
July 27, 2006

MOSCOW — Russian authorities have slapped a Western-backed venture bringing Central Asian oil to world markets with a $250 million back-tax claim, the company said, in the latest sign of growing unrest between Russia and the group of Western oil companies who are the government’s partners in the venture.

The claim comes as the U.S. has been pushing Moscow to expand the pipeline and Moscow has dragged its heels, demanding that its oil-company partners agree to first build an extension to the pipeline around the congested Bosporus strait.

Russia also has been critical of the financial performance of the venture, which is known as the Caspian Pipeline Consortium. Analysts said the government may be trying to make up for what it considers a low return on its 24% stake, or using the claim to push the company to further increase tariffs for crude transit.

“Russia is trying to get something more out of this project,” said Dmitry Loukashov, oil and gas analyst at Moscow’s Aton Capital.

The governments of both Russia and Kazakhstan are shareholders in the consortium, along with Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp., BP PLC and Chevron Corp.

Chevron, which owns 15% of the CPC, said the consortium is challenging the validity of the claim in the Russian courts. “While collection of the claim prior to the court’s review of the legitimacy of the case would be unusual, Chevron would expect CPC to be able to meet a collection order without this affecting its operations,” the company said in a statement.

Russia’s Federal Tax Service declined to comment.

In recent months, Russia has increased its control over the CPC, the country’s only crude-oil-export pipeline that isn’t majority-owned by the government. The CPC also is the main crude export artery for the oil-rich but landlocked former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.

Write to Greg Walters at [email protected]

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