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Yukos Asks London to Halt Rosneft IPO

Yukos has called on Britain's financial markets watchdog to halt Rosneft's initial public offering, claiming the listing would be tantamount to abetting the sale of stolen property.

The last-ditch appeal came on the eve of Rosneft's roadshow Monday and the official start to the sale of about $10 billion in the state oil company's shares.

The shares are due to be listed in London and Moscow on July 14, one day before President Vladimir Putin is to preside over a Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg.

In a complaint last week to Britain's Financial Services Authority, obtained by The Moscow Times on Friday, Yukos said Rosneft's "shareholding in Yuganskneftegaz was expropriated from Yukos by actions of the Russian state in proceedings that were contrary to Russian law."

"There is a serious risk that the offering ... would constitute the sale ... of criminal property," the complaint said.

Yukos spokeswoman Claire Davidson said the company could file for a judicial review in London's High Court if the FSA failed to give Yukos a satisfactory response to its complaint. The court would be obliged to respond to a request for a judicial review by putting a temporary restraining order on the sale -- an action that could delay the IPO until after the G8 summit.

Critics have slammed the IPO as an attempt to legitimize the state's takeover of Yukos by selling back to investors what it seized in a forced auction.

Investor jitters have mounted over the potential legal risks of the Rosneft IPO at a time when emerging markets are plummeting across the board, prompting fears the share issue could fail.

Rosneft acquired Yukos' main production unit, Yuganskneftegaz, via a forced state auction in late 2004 as partial payment for more than $28 billion in back taxes.

The back tax campaign smashed the nation's one-time biggest oil producer in a politically charged legal assault against its owner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

With the help of loans from state banks, Rosneft bought Yugansk for $9.4 billion. Yugansk now makes up two-thirds of Rosneft's production base. Rosneft is now variously valued at between $60 billion and $120 billion, a vast mark-up on the Yugansk purchase price.

Even though several investors said Friday that Yukos' complaint would have no real impact, Davidson said further legal action could still lie ahead.

"If Yukos does not receive a satisfactory answer from the FSA, or does not receive one on time, we could file for a judicial review in the High Court," Davidson said by telephone from London. "This would automatically put a temporary restraining order on the sale."

Rosneft spokesman Nikolai Manvelov said he was not worried. "We consider that we gained Yugansk in line with Russian law," he said. "All this is dealt with in the prospectus."

Rosneft's share prospectus is to be published Monday.

A group of U.S.-based shareholders have filed a $3 million expropriation suit in the United States against Rosneft and senior officials in Rosneft, Gazprom, the Kremlin and the government.

The legal action in the United States already appears to have affected Rosneft's preparations for the IPO, said several bankers involved in the sale, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"They are not going to target the United States because of the threat of legal action there," one banker said. A decision last month to scale back the IPO from $20 billion to $10 billion came partly because of the need to avoid the United States, he said.

Manvelov said he was unaware of any plans to offer the Rosneft shares in the United States. He said he thought efforts were being focused on Europe and Asia, and declined to comment on whether this was linked to any legal issues.

Other bankers involved in the sale, however, said that discreet meetings involving Rosneft representatives had taken place in New York over the last few weeks.

Eric Kraus, who manages the Nikitsky Russia Fund, said investors were likely to pile into the IPO regardless. "They're just going to hold their noses and buy some," he said.

(The Moscow Times 26.vi.06)

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