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Yukos Office Auction Raises $3.9Bln

A mystery firm called Prana bid $3.9 billion to beat Rosneft in a fiercely fought auction on Friday for assets of bankrupt oil firm Yukos, including its head office.

The price was far higher than expected, and Prana's backers are as yet unknown.

The lot also included Yukos' other Moscow property and a trading unit that several sources said might have access to oil inventories or cash. Otherwise, the price would make the firm's headquarters one of the most expensive buildings in the world.

Rosneft has snapped up most of Yukos' assets so far, and it was widely thought to covet lot No. 13 since capturing Yukos' Moscow headquarters would crown a string of victories in the series of auctions held to pay off Yukos' $26 billion in debts.

But after 707 bids and counterbids, the price topped 100 billion rubles ($3.9 billion) -- 4 1/2 times the 22.1 billion ruble starting price -- and Rosneft threw in the towel.

"I don't think anyone would have expected the price to go up so quickly and such a big battle to break out," said Nikolai Lashkevich, a spokesman for Yukos' bankruptcy receiver. "We just hope that the winner of the auction will be able to meet the obligations it has taken on."

Representatives from Prana declined to comment after the auction, which took almost three hours. During the auction, the organizers declared three breaks to give the bidders a rest.

"We considered the lot interesting and we went as far as we were prepared to go," said Rosneft spokesman Nikolai Manvelov, without explaining why it was worth almost $4 billion.

The bidding amounts appeared unjustified by the value of the 22-story Moscow headquarters and several other buildings in the city center.

"In the investment sales market, the largest sales of office buildings have been around $120 million to $140 million. This is off the scale," said Christopher Peters, head of research at real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield Stiles & Riabokobylko.

Some observers of the auction said it was possible the bidders knew about hidden value in another asset in the lot.

"I can't see why a big building in Moscow could cost that much. Some people say that the lot, which also contains Yukos' trading firm, Trading House Yukos-M, is attractive because there are some oil inventories left," a market source said.

Another industry source said it was possible that Trading House Yukos-M held billions in cash as it was always the profit center and cash flow handler for Yukos.

A former top Yukos shareholder and deputy CEO, Alexander Temerko, said by telephone from London that he was also surprised by the price paid as he valued the lot at around $1.5 billion.

He said he did not know whether the trading unit held significant oil inventories or cash.

Temerko said he did not know who was behind Prana.

One source said he suspected Prana represented the interests of Gazprom, Rosneft's only real competitor for Yukos assets.

Lashkevich said minority Yukos shareholders had "some theoretical" chances of getting access to excess cash.

(The Moscow Times 14.v.07)

 
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