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Daily Telegraph: BP insists: ‘We’re in bidding to win’

President Putin

(Putin: energy-control aim)

By Russell Hotten
Last Updated: 7:09am BST 27/03/2007

Only two bidders are likely to be in today’s auction in Moscow for the assets of oil company Yukos, fuelling a belief that the sale is being stage-managed.

TNK-BP and Rosneft were the only firms to register for the auction by the deadline, according to a statement from Yukos’s receiver.

It has been claimed that TNK-BP, a joint venture in which the UK’s BP owns 50pc, have agreed to enter the auction to lend the process credibility and does not really want the assets. TNK-BP denies this, saying that it is “bidding to win”.

Several analysts suggest that Moscow is determined that state-run oil firm Rosneft gets the assets, but needs at least one other bidder to give the process legitimacy. Yukos collapsed under the weight of back-tax claims, demands which critics say were politically inspired to ruin its former head Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

President Vladimir Putin wants to bring Russia’s prime energy assets under state control after they were sold off in the early 1990s.

The controversial strategy has seen Gazprom take control from Royal Dutch Shell over the Sakhalin 2 field. Now Moscow is targeting a BP gasfield.

BP is bidding for Yukos’s 9.44pc stake in Rosneft, said to have a starting price of around £3bn.

Some analysts have speculated that if TNK-BP wins the bidding, the acquisition would be part of a complex deal that would see Rosneft replace BP’s partners at TNK-BP – a group of Russian billionaires.

Lord Browne, BP’s chief executive, met Mr Putin on Friday and said the company wanted to expand in Russia through joint ventures.

Timothy Osborne, the London-based director of GML, which manages a large stake in Yukos, said he was seeking to sue Russia for damages associated with the drop in Yukos’s value.

He warned yesterday that other shareholders could be tempted to target western companies which participate in the sales.

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