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Unknown company buys Yukos assets for $138 million

The little-known Monte Velle company paid $138 million for energy assets of Russian oil firm Yukos at a Moscow auction on Tuesday as the bankrupt former oil major continued to dissemble its holdings, Russian news agencies reported.

The auction saw 10 Yukos assets, many of them Russian-based electricity generation and distribution networks, sell for $35.8 million higher than their collective starting price. Monte Velle beat out equally unknown firms Versar and Finance Agency, as well as Neft Aktiv, which is connected to state-run oil major Rosneft. A December 2004 auction saw Yukos sell its largest oil field to the obscure Baikal Finans company, which subsequently sold the field at a discount to Rosneft. It was unclear on Tuesday, however, what larger company may be tied to Monte Valle. In the past month, Yukos' court-appointed bankruptcy managers have sold a 9.44% stake in Rosneft and a 20% share in Gazprom Neft, the oil-producing arm of state-owned natural gas monopoly Gazprom. The Rosneft stake went to Rosneft at a discounted price of $7.6 billion. Italian energy company Eni produced the Gazprom Neft shares for just under $6 billion, with an agreement the stake would later go to Gazprom.

Yukos was declared bankrupt last August, just over a year after its former head, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of $25 billion in tax fraud. Khodorkovsky and his jailed business partner, Platon Lebedev, have recently been hit with new charges of embezzling some $30 billion. Critics of the charges call them Kremlin revenge for Khodorkovsky's opposition political ambitions. Once Russia's largest company, Yukos has been systematically taken apart and sold following the charges. Western energy firms have been reluctant to bid for its assets, as former Yukos shareholders have threatened legal action against companies that obtain the assets. (