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Ex-Yukos unit head detained on embezzlement charges

Russian prosecutors detained the former head of a unit of now-bankrupt OAO Yukos Oil Co. For alleged embezzlement and money laundering as they prepare new charges against jailed ex-Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Prosecutors detained Sergei Shimkevich yesterday for allegedly conspiring with managers at the unit, OAO Tomskneft VNK, to embezzle 5.93 billion rubles ($223 million) that was meant for tax payments, the Prosecutor General's office said on its Web site yesterday. Russia is preparing new charges of theft and money laundering against Khodorkovsky and plans to sell off Yukos's assets, such as Tomskneft, after bankrupting the oil company over $30 billion in tax claims. Khodorkovsky and his former partner, Platon Lebedev, were sentenced to eight years in prison for fraud and tax evasion in 2005. Shimkevich and an „organized group” allegedly swapped worthless Tomskneft promissory notes for 5.7 billion rubles worth of notes issued by a bank and then took steps to legalize their gains, the Prosecutor General's office said. Shimkevich, is a deputy in the Tomsk regional assembly. His assistant, Valentina Sokolova, didn't answer her office phone when called by Bloomberg yesterday.

Tomskneft is Yukos's largest remaining oil-production unit after OAO Rosneft, Russia's state-run oil company, gained control of OAO Yuganskneftegaz in 2004. Rosneft and OAO Gazprom, the state-controlled natural-gas producer, have said they may bid for Yukos assets. An appraisal of the assets should be ready by January 19, Yukos spokesman Nikolai Lashkevich said by phone yesterday. Prosecutors will announce new charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev „shortly,” Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika said on Thuesday after a Russian-born Spanish national, Antonio Valdez-Garcia, who was accused of helping embezzle $13 billion from Yukos, escaped from his guards in Moscow. A hearing of the embezzlement case was postponed. Alexei Golubovich, a former vice president of strategy and finances at Yukos, returned voluntarily to Russia and is cooperating with prosecutors, Chaika said yesterday. Prosecutors had unsuccessfully sought his extradition from Italy. Charges against Golubovich were dropped and he was enrolled in a witness-protection program after the special services received information of threats against his life, Interfax reported yesterday, citing an unidentified person. (Bloomberg)