OAO Yukos Oil Co. will lose more than $13 bln of assets as its stakes in state companies are auctioned under bankruptcy proceedings the government is using to dismantle what was once Russia's largest oil exporter.
Yukos's 9.4% stake in OAO Rosneft will be offered March 27 in a single lot, along with promissory notes issued by its former unit OAO Yuganskneftegaz, the Federal Property Fund said today in a notice in Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official state newspaper. The starting price for the combined assets is 195.5 billion rubles ($7.46 billion). A 20% stake in OAO Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of the natural gas company, will be sold next, as early as the first week of April, Nikolai Lashkevich, a spokesman for Eduard Rebgun, Yukos's court-appointed manager, said by phone today. He declined to reveal the starting price. President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin bolstered its control of the nation's resource wealth by taking over Yukos assets after crippling the company with billions of dollars in tax claims. Former Yukos owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is serving eight years in a Siberian penal colony for tax evasion and fraud, says he is being punished for opposing Putin.
„Russia wants Yukos's ashes scattered before the presidential elections next year,” Chris Weafer, the chief strategist at Moscow-based Alfa Bank, said by phone from London. „The Kremlin wants to clean up the images of the national champions it's setting up in strategic industries.” Yukos's former management and owners called the auctions part of „the world's largest unwarranted expropriation” and criticized Rebgun for offering assets at discounted prices, in an e-mailed statement today. The 9.4% stake in Rosneft is worth $9 billion today, based on the company's share price of $9. Yugansk promissory notes have a nominal value of 3.56 billion rubles, according to the sale notice. This implies the stake may be sold with a discount of as much as 19%. A 20% stake in Gazprom Neft is worth $4.2 billion. Interfax said yesterday bidding will start at about $4 billion. „Whoever buys the Rosneft shares will be getting an expensive gift from the state,” Weafer said. Rosneft would be likely to resell the shares, while a buyer such as India's Oil & Natural Gas Corp. would mean the government is trading the shares for political goodwill and improved trade ties, he said.
Rosneft has said it may bid for its shares as well as for refineries. State-owned OAO Gazprom and international companies such as Chevron Corp. have sent letters to Rebgun, expressing interest in the assets, Lashkevich said last week. Rosneft, now Russia's second-largest oil producer, bought Yugansk in 2004 after the government seized it from Yukos and sold it for $9.3 billion to pay off tax claims. Gazprom bought 73% of Gazprom Neft in 2005, more than a year after the oil company, then named OAO Sibneft, backed out of its planned merger with Yukos because of the tax investigations. Appraisers last month valued what remains of Yukos at more than $22 billion, an estimate that Lashkevich said „still stands.” That amounts to about 82% of the 709 billion rubles ($27 billion) Yukos owes to creditors. The Federal Tax Service is the largest creditor, with 429 billion rubles in court-approved claims. Rosneft is next, with 264 billion rubles.
Khodorkovsky and his former business partner, Platon Lebedev, who were tried and sentenced together, face new charges of embezzling more than 850 billion rubles and money laundering, which may add at least 15 years to their prison sentences. Khodorkovsky would be eligible for parole in October, after serving half of his sentence, including pre-trial detention. Russia holds parliamentary elections in December, followed three months later with a vote for Putin's successor. (Bloomberg)