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Mystery shrouds Yukos ownership

Dec. 20, 2004 at 9:26 AM

MOSCOW, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- The mystery behind the new owner of Russia's embattled Yukos oil company swept Moscow politicians, energy analysts and media Monday.

Yuganskneftegaz was purchased at auction Sunday by Baikal Finance Group, which bought 76.79 percent of Yukos' core asset for $9.3 billion, payable Jan. 2.

But no one knows who is behind the group. The government of Vladimir Putin denies any involvement, as does the official Gazprom energy company, Itar-Tass said Monday.

Spokesmen for Lukoil, TNK-BP, Sibneft and Surgutneftegaz also told the Novosti news agency their companies had no relation to Baikal.

Representatives of Yugansk's new owner refused to participate in a press conference summing up the auction, and Novosti said reporters could not physically find a company located at the address on the formal bid.

Analyst Ronald Smith of Renaissance Capital told Itar-Tass he doubted the company would be able to pay the bid, and said he expected a new auction would be probably called.

Yukos' troubles began more than a year ago when its key shareholders were arrested, including founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky, now on trial on in Moscow on separate charges of tax evasion and fraud.

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