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Ministry Approves YukosSibneft Merger

The Anti-Monopoly Ministry said Thursday that it had approved a merger between oil majors Yukos and Sibneft, quashing speculation the deal could collapse due to a dispute between Yukos and the Kremlin. The ministry said in a statement it had approved the $12 billion to $15 billion transaction with a number of conditions, including an obligation that the merged firm grant fair access to its regional retail markets and refineries.

Any move by the merged company to block competition could result in it being forced to sell off its refineries in Omsk, Achinsk and Angarsk, Interfax reported, citing a copy of the ministry's recommendations.

Yukos announced plans in April to acquire Sibneft by the end of 2003 to become the country's largest and the world's fourth-biggest private oil producer. But analysts had speculated that the deal could be delayed or scrapped due to a stand-off between the firm and the Kremlin.

Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky had told the Financial Times in an interview last week that he thought the merger deal had strengthened opposition to his company from reactionary forces in the Kremlin. He said it could have served as the trigger to the legal attack. Many analysts have seen the tie-up as creating a powerhouse with the global clout to stand up against the Kremlin and state controlled energy firms Gazprom and Rosneft. Yukos has vied with these companies for licenses in the Russian Far East.

Yukos spokesman Alexander Shadrin praised the ministry's decision Thursday, saying one of the last obstacles for the two firms to merge by the end of 2003 had been removed. But he declined to say whether he thought the conflict around Yukos was dying down.

(The Moscow Times 18.viii.03)

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