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Rosneft Facing $1.4Bln Liability

Rosneft is facing the recall of an additional $900 million guaranteed by Yuganskneftegaz this week, Group Menatep said Friday. The money is part of a Menatep loan to Yukos underpinned by a Yugansk guarantee.

Already groaning under billions of dollars of debt, Rosneft was last week slapped with a demand to pay off a $540 million loan to Yugansk from a group of Western banks, who feared their money was going up in smoke amid the uncertainty of how the Yugansk purchase was made.

State-owned Rosneft, which acquired Yugansk for $9.3 billion under the murkiest of circumstances, is quickly discovering that the former Yukos production facility is a ticking time bomb of legal liability.

"We currently anticipate that we will serve the notice to Rosneft for immediate payment of the loan next week," Tim Osborne, managing director of Menatep, Yukos' parent company, told Reuters on Friday.

"Rosneft bought Yugansk with all its obligations and I think they have no other choice but to pay up," he said. "If they default, we will fight them where the rule of law exists under the international arbitration clauses of the credit."

Yugansk was auctioned off in December as the state sought to recoup part of Yukos' multibillion-dollar tax debt. The company's key production unit went to a shadowy shell company, Baikal Finance Group, which was almost instantly bought up by Rosneft.

The opacity of the deal is widely believed to have been intended to shield the end buyer from legal action taken by Yukos in a U.S. court.

Rosneft president Sergei Bogdanchikov seemed unfazed by the company's looming financial problems and increasing criticism over how the Yugansk acquisition was financed.

"The funds to pay for the purchase of 76.79 percent of Yugansk were received from a consortium of Russian banks. Additionally, we also sold some of our assets," Bogdanchikov said at a news conference on Saturday in Yugansk's hometown, Nefteyugansk, Interfax reported.

To date, no Russian bank -- including the rumored financier of the deal, Vneshekonombank -- has confirmed any loans to Rosneft for Yugansk.

Bogdanchikov told Interfax he could not disclose the names of the banks because of confidentiality agreements, but said no foreign lenders were involved.

Even Rosneft's sale of assets could cause unforeseen problems for the oil company, however.

In December, Rosneft sold its share in joint Arctic projects to Gazprom for $1.7 billion. That sale may have violated the terms of Rosneft's issue of $150 million in eurobonds in 2001, when it promised not to sell more than $300 million in assets and not to exceed a debt-to-assets ratio of 75 percent, Vedomosti reported Friday, citing analysts.

Rosneft's debt already appears so big that it poses the threat of a technical bankruptcy. Its total debt now equals 286 percent of its assets, the paper said.

The business daily took the unusual step Friday of publishing a front-page editorial demanding that the authorities provide clarity on the Yugansk purchase. If no answers to questions posed to Rosneft and Federal Property Fund officials are received within seven days, the paper said it would take the government to court for violating freedom of information rules.

The paper complained about confusing and contradictory official statements in relation to the origins of funds used to buy Yugansk. Under media laws, officials are obliged to answer questions within seven business days or explain why the information cannot be provided.

"Bureaucrats have seven days to either comply with the law or violate it. The latter is not going to add any more transparency to what President Vladimir Putin called the 'absolutely free market-style' sale of Yukos' main production unit," Vedomosti said.

"Meanwhile, [Vedomosti] has the right to protect the interests of the readers in court," the newspaper said.

(The Moscow Times 07.ii.05)

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