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Rosneft Fills Yukos Gap, Signs Volgotanker Deal

Having lost all its business with troubled oil major Yukos, Volgotanker has sealed a shipping deal with state-run oil giant Rosneft.

Rosneft has filled the gap left from the lost business with Yukos, Volgotanker said Friday in a statement.

The move did not come as a big surprise, since Rosneft gained control of Yukos' biggest production unit, Yuganskneftegaz, after the unit was sold at auction in December to recoup billions of dollars in tax claims against Yukos.

The shipper's deal with Rosneft may have a positive effect on ending Volgotanker's own tax disputes with the authorities, said Maria Radina, oil and gas analyst with the investment company Finam.

Volgotanker is in the process of appealing a bill for 715 million rubles ($26 million) in back taxes and penalties for 2001, which the company received in December. To add to the company's legal woes, the Samara region prosecutor's office is investigating Volgotanker's senior managers on suspicion of fraud and money laundering.

Yukos did not sign a new contract for 2005 with Volgotanker, which ships some 10 percent of the country's oil product exports.

Signing a deal with Rosneft was a forced decision, Radina said. Still, Volgotanker has always tried to "distance itself from the Yukos affair."

"There are no oligarchic structures with bottomless pockets or foreign governments behind us. Therefore we are appealing to you, the head of our country, for support," Volgotanker's management wrote in a letter to President Vladimir Putin in December, asking for protection against regional tax authorities.

"Making a deal with Rosneft is likely to help normalize the situation" for Volgotanker, Radina said.

Volgotanker hopes that the tax authorities will stop hindering oil shipments, since most of them are now going to be made for state-run firms, company spokesman Andrei Kleimyonov said.

In addition to Rosneft, Volgotanker sealed deals with mid-sized oil firm Bashneft, which is under de facto control of Bashkortostan's government, and state-run Astrakhangazprom.

Volgotanker has also reached final agreements with Tatneft, TNK-BP, Kazmunaigaz and Turkmenneft, the shipper said in the statement.

The shipping company was once controlled by Yukos, which gave up its stake four years ago. Foreign investors now hold 75 percent, the government 20 percent and minority shareholders the rest, but reports over the past month have indicated a potential sale of a controlling stake.

According to Radina, Rosneft is a prime candidate for buying the stake.

Kleimyonov declined to comment on a possible buyer, because he has "no information regarding the sale" of Volgotanker's controlling stake by its managers, or about whether such negotiations are even in the works.

(The Moscow Times 28.iii.05)

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