Investigators from the Prosecutor General’s Office seized documents from the central office of Yukos Oil in Moscow on May 6. A source in the company told Interfax’s Petroleum Information Agency that the investigators confiscated several bags of documents, specifically from the office of a Yukos vice-president, Aleksandr Temerko.
According to Reuters, Temerko is one of the Yukos managers closest to those of the company’s core shareholders who are currently either in jail or outside Russia (Reuters, May 6). Among these core shareholders are former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and former Menatep board chairman Platon Lebedev, both of whom are in pre-trial detention, and Leonid Nevzlin, who is living in Israel. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are awaiting trial on a host of charges, including large scale fraud and tax evasion, while several of the core shareholders living abroad, including Nevzlin, are accused of tax evasion and have been put on Russia’s international wanted list.
The Petroleum Information Agency’s source said that the investigators who seized documents from the offices of Yukos on May 6 also presented summons to several other top Yukos managers to appear for questioning. A source in the Prosecutor General’s Office, meanwhile, confirmed that the seizure of documents at Yukos’ central office took place, but said its investigators took only three documents connected to ongoing investigations (Interfax, May 6).
On April 22, Interior Ministry investigators raided Yukos’ central office and seized documents after reopening a probe into alleged tax evasion by two of the company’s production units, Tomskneft and Samaraneftegaz, in 1999 (Russian agencies, April 22). The Tax Ministry, meanwhile, has sued Yukos for 99.375 billion rubles (US$3.5 billion) in taxes that the oil company allegedly evaded in 2000, plus penalties, and the Moscow Arbitration Court will begin considering the ministry’s claim against the company today (May 6). Yukos claims it avoided paying the taxes using legal tax-avoidance schemes; the ministry thinks otherwise. Last month, the Moscow Arbitration Court barred Yukos from disposing of any of its property, including shares, so that it can pay the Tax Ministry’s bill in the event that the court so rules (RosBusinessConsulting, April 16).
The latest raid on Yukos came just one day after the publication of an interview in which Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin made it clear that the government has no intention of letting up on the embattled oil major. “If you are talking about the tax aspect of this matter, we have only just begun to state our case,” Kudrin told Kommersant. The Tax Ministry is in the process of auditing Yukos’ tax returns for 2001 and 2002, and observers say that while the oil company would be able to hand over the US$3.5 billion it is being asked to pay for 2000 should it lose in court, it might face bankruptcy if it is presented with additional hefty bills for back taxes.
Signs that the financial community believe Yukos’ future is bleak abound: In April, the Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s international rating agencies drastically lowered Yukos’ credit rating, while banking syndicates led by Citigroup and France’s Societe Generale warned that Yukos could default on loans they extended it, amounting to US$1 billion and US$1.6 billion, respectively (Reuters, April 27). Adding to Yukos’ potential problems, Britain’s Independent reported on May 2 that the British Home Office is believed to be considering an application from the Russian authorities to allow them to raid Yukos’ London offices.