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Dramatic Close To Yukos Auction

by Tatiana Smolenskaya, for, Moscow

20 December 2004

Confusion was the order of the day late last week as the Russian authorities went ahead with their planned auction of Yukos's key production unit, despite the fact that the oil firm has filed for Chapter 11 protection in the United States.

A mystery shell company called Baikal Finance won the auction on Sunday with a $9.37 billion bid for Yukos's most valuable asset, Yuganskneftegaz.

Tver-registered Baikal Finance Group won the auction with a bid $503 million above the minimum after state energy giant Gazprom, the clear favorite and only other contestant, declined to raise its bid.

The announcement on Friday that the consortium of Western banks which were to back Gazprom's bid for the Yuganskneftegaz unit had decided to withdraw their loan offer following the Houston bankruptcy court's issuance of a 10-day injunction prohibiting the sale, left Gazprom without a ready source of finance for a higher bid.

It is supposed that the banking consortium will wait until the Houston court reaches a decision on the way forward for Yukos and its creditors to decide whether to grant the loan, if it turns out still to be needed.

The Russian government sought to auction off the Yugansk unit in order to reclaim some of the $27.5 billion that it alleges Yukos owes in back taxes.

Commentators in Moscow suppose that Baikal Finance is somehow linked to Gazprom or the Russian Government, but other possibilities are being mooted.

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