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Russia Plans to Seize, Sell Oil Giant's Key Subsidiary

"The appraisers have been provided with all necessary work materials," the statement said. "After the evaluation, the packet of shares of Yuganskneftegaz will be transferred to a specialized organization for sale."

A report by the Interfax news agency Tuesday quoted an unnamed Yukos official claiming that the state planned to sell Yuganskneftegaz for $1.75 billion to a favored buyer without competing bids by the end of July. A Yukos spokesman later disavowed the report, and the state property fund rushed out a statement saying the sale would take at least a month.

Former Yukos chief executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky listens from behind customary courtroom bars during his trial in Moscow on fraud charges. (Alexander Zemlianichenko -- AP)

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Yukos issued its own appraisal Tuesday valuing the subsidiary's proved and probable reserves at $30.4 billion, about two-thirds of the $43 billion in total reserves that the company claims to have. Several investment banks valued Yuganskneftegaz at between $12 billion and $15 billion.

But it appeared the state was preparing to value it far lower, given that it is taking the subsidiary to satisfy a $3.4 billion tax bill from 2000. Another nearly identical $3.4 billion tax bill from 2001 has yet to be adjudicated and therefore is not part of the seizure process.

Yukos has floated several proposed settlements in hopes of staving off such an asset seizure and last week began paying cash to satisfy at least part of the first tax claim. According to the Justice Ministry, the government has so far collected about $181 million toward the tax claim.

"Yukos wants to work toward a global settlement with the government," said company spokesman Hugo Erikssen. Another Yukos official noted that the firm had not received any notice from the Justice Ministry about the disposition of assets.

Some analysts, including Sawikin at Firebird, said they doubted the state would follow through on the sale of the Yukos subsidiary. "This may just be another stage of the bluff, but that's new," said Adam Landes, another Renaissance Capital analyst. "They have to build the semblance that they can take the assets to get the shareholders to capitulate."

But others said the state appeared intent on dismembering Yukos despite Putin's recent statement that he was not interested in seeing the company go bankrupt. "All of a sudden there seems to be a very serious escalation of the attack on the company," said Stephen O'Sullivan, an analyst at United Financial Group, a Moscow investment bank. "It's interesting that Putin said he didn't want to bankrupt the company, but the same thing has happened."

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