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Russneft Tax Ruling Upheld

A Moscow arbitration court on Friday upheld a 17 billion ruble ($666.7 million) lawsuit against oil firm Russneft over tax evasion, increasing the firm's debt before its planned sale to a Kremlin-friendly owner.

The ruling added to a 3.4 billion ruble ($133.3 million) back tax claim against the midsized oil firm upheld by the court last month and extended the state pressure which prompted the firm's head, Mikhail Gutseriyev, to step down, also in July.

The new tax claim may complicate the plans of Oleg Deripaska to buy Russneft. Deripaska is considered a close ally of President Vladimir Putin.

A spokesman for Deripaska's investment vehicle, Basic Element, said the firm was not going to change its plans concerning Russneft and was still waiting for the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service to approve the deal.

A Moscow court earlier this week seized Russneft shares, as well as other property of Gutseriyev, who was personally accused of tax evasion and illegal business activities.

Gutseriyev said he was the target of unprecedented bullying from the state, but later withdrew the statement.

Analysts have linked the pressure on Russneft with the state's wish to increase control over the strategic energy sector, and said the firm eventually might go to state-controlled oil major Rosneft.

Russneft produces 300,000 barrels of oil per day, has two refineries and recoverable oil reserves of 4.6 billion barrels.


(The Moscow Times 13.viii.07)

 
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