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Reuters: Russian prosecutors attack TNK-BP Rospan gas unit

Tuesday November 7, 10:26 PM

MOSCOW, Nov 7 (Reuters) – Russian-British oil firm TNK-BP, half owned by BP Plc , came under new attacks on Tuesday as prosecutors asked to withdraw its top Siberian gas licences, which previously belonged to gas monopoly Gazprom.

Prosecutors said in a statement the reason for the move was multiple ecological and licensing violations at the Novo-Urengoi and East-Urengoi fields, which belong to TNK-BP’s unit Rospan.

The fields, Rospan’s key assets, are located near West Siberian production sites operated by Gazprom and belonged to the gas monopoly before being spun off in the early 1990s.

Rospan had long existed as an independent firm, then was bought by oil major YUKOS , which later sold it to TNK-BP after being hit with a massive back tax claim, which led to YUKOS’s bankruptcy.

Analysts say the Kremlin wants to strengthen its control over the strategic energy industry, leading to problems for foreign companies as Gazprom seeks a greater role.

Gazprom has said it will block TNK-BP’s plans to build a massive gas pipeline to China from its top East Siberian field, Kovykta, which has come under attacks from Russia’s resources ministry over licensing compliance.

The ministry has also discovered multiple ecological and technical violations at Sakhalin-2, a $22 billion project led by Royal Dutch Shell , after Gazprom failed to secure a stake in it.

Aton brokerage analyst Dmitry Lukashov said the loss of $2.5-$3.0 billion worth of Rospan business would have a negative impact on TNK-BP’s value.

Solid brokerage analyst Denis Borisov said he considered the risk of licence withdrawal as high.

“The accusations of non-compliance with the subsoil use legislation and non-fulfilment of the licensing agreement is far more serious than any ecological accusation,” he said.

The General Prosecutor’s Office has become one of the most feared institutions among Russia’s investment community since the demise of YUKOS, in which prosecutors played a key role.

Their request on Rospan will now go to Rosnedra, a licensing agency, which is part of the resources ministry.

A Rosnedra official said the agency had received the request and would give Rospan the usual three to six months to put right the violations. Only then would it take a final decision.

Copyright © 2005 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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