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China Offers to Pay for Yukos' Fare

MOSCOW - China said it would foot the bill of Yukos shipments to its oil-thirsty economy Wednesday, but investors seemed unimpressed by the announcement, letting shares in the besieged company drop 12 percent.

The shares rose insignificantly Thursday, with trading volumes remaining low in the wait of further developments.

Amid concern that Yukos will be unable to pay its bills, Russian Railways Co., RZD, said that Chinese buyers are prepared to pay for the transportation of the company's oil by rail.

"Should there be any problems with payments, the Chinese side will cover transportation expenses," Gennady Fadeyev, the head of RZD, told reporters in Moscow, news agencies reported. "All existing agreements with Yukos are still in place."

Concerns that Yukos' struggle to pay the tax claim could disrupt the country's oil exports have intensified over the past week, reportedly prompting the Chinese side to raise the issue with Russian authorities.

Officials have said that if Yukos is unable to pump and ship crude oil to China, there are no other Russian sources with which to supply the world's fastest growing economy.

However Gordeyev said that Yukos has already prepaid 700 million rubles ($24 million) for shipments to China through Sept. 10, after which China is ready to chip in if needed.

Despite the company's legal woes, Gordeyev said, Yukos is now shipping by rail some 400,000 barrels per day - more than originally planned.

But even with one headache temporarily off the agenda, investors still gave Yukos' near future a gloomy rating.

Yukos shares plunged Wednesday, forcing the MICEX to halt trading of the company's shares twice during the day. Yukos lost 12.11 percent on the MICEX Wednesday closing at 107.22 rubles. On the RTS, Yukos shares closed at $3.75, down 11.76 percent. The drop came after the Moscow Arbitration Court on Tuesday rejected Yukos' attempt to cover part of a $3.4 billion bill with its stakes in Sibneft and its petition to postpone collection of the claim.

Yukos is on the verge of bankruptcy, its managers have warned. In addition to the 2000 bill, it faces a similar charge for 2001.

The company posted negative net assets of $2.1 billion as a result of growing liabilities in the first half of 2004, which analysts say could indicate the company is ready to file for bankruptcy.

(The St. Petersburg Times 20.viii.04)

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