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Halliburton Man to Sub for Khodorkovsky

The Central Bank of Russia and U.S. oil services giant Halliburton may seem like strange bedfellows, but they have at least one thing in common: has-beens from both organizations will soon be working for jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Yukos on Thursday unveiled the list of nominees for its board of directors, which includes "old-school" former Halliburton executive Edgar Ortiz and flamboyant ex-Central Bank chief Viktor Gerashchenko.

Gerashchenko will take Simon Kukes' spot as chairman, while Ortiz, who used to run Halliburton Energy Services, will replace Khodorkovsky himself. Observers said the board reshuffle is designed to give the company more leverage in its ongoing legal dispute with the Kremlin. Both nominations must be approved next month at the besieged company's annual shareholders meeting.

Yukos' main shareholders are either in prison or in exile. Khodorkovsky and his longtime partner, Platon Lebedev, are awaiting trial in Moscow on charges of tax evasion and fraud, which they deny.

The company's assets have been frozen over a $3.5 billion tax claim, which the company is appealing, and it is locked in a messy divorce battle with rival Sibneft, which backed out of the two companies' $14 billion tie-up after Khodorkovsky's arrest in October.

Anton Drel, who represents both Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, would not say whose idea it was to nominate Ortiz and Gerashchenko.

A spokesman for Yukos' holding company, Group Menatep, denied the two men were selected to put political pressure on the Kremlin. Analysts, however, said just the opposite.

The move is unlikely to help the company, however, despite Halliburton's links to Washington -- its former CEO is U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney -- and Gerashchenko's experience in state antechambers.

(The Moscow Times 30.iv.04)

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