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The Times: Head office sale marks the end of Yukos

May 11, 2007
Steve Hawkes

The final chapter in the demise of Yukos, once Russia’s biggest oil producer, comes today when its Moscow head office is put on the block.

The sale will mark the end of the business founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the oligarch now serving ten years for fraud and tax evasion in a Siberian prison.

Rosneft, the Kremlin-backed oil group, picked up Yukos’s last major assets, including three refineries, in a £3.2 billion auction yesterday and a little-known Russian company called Yuniteks fought off bids from Shell and TNK-BP, BP’s Russian joint venture, for more than 500 Yukos petrol stations.

Shell and TNK-BP’s defeat was widely expected by analysts in the West, who have long argued that foreign companies have taken part in the auction process over the past two months only to curry favour with the Kremlin. The Government has been desperate to lend an air of respectability to a programme designed to raise the $27.5 billion (£13.8 billion) needed to cover a back-tax bill that forced Yukos into bankruptcy last year.

Supporters of Mr Khodorkovsky claim the tax campaign against Yukos that began in 2003 was driven by fear of the oligarch’s political ambition and a desire to bring more of Russia’s oil assets under state control. In a letter published in a Russian newspaper yesterday, Mr Khodorkovsky, who was once Russia’s wealthiest man, said his fate was “the result of personal vindictiveness”.

Rosneft’s success at the sales yesterday means that the Russian state now controls 42 per cent of the country’s oil production.

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