Rumours abound as mystery buyer is tracked down to 'London' bar

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The Independent Online

In the style of a surreal farce penned by the 19th century Russian writer Nikolai Gogol the identity of the company which has bought control over some 10 per cent of Russian oil production remained shrouded in quirky mystery yesterday.

In the style of a surreal farce penned by the 19th century Russian writer Nikolai Gogol the identity of the company which has bought control over some 10 per cent of Russian oil production remained shrouded in quirky mystery yesterday.

Yukos, a household name that was once Russia's biggest company and largest oil producer, appears to have been usurped by a firm set up just a few days ago and about which precisely nothing is known.

Officially called Baikal Finance Group (BFG), the shadowy shell company is now the official owner of Yuganskneftegaz, Yukos' main production unit which accounts for 60 per cent of its business.

Considering it will shortly be in charge of a production run of almost 1 million barrels of oil a day, a figure greater than the Opec member Qatar, BFG's "headquarters" present a surreal sight.

Its registered address, 12b Novotorjskaya Street in the provincial town of Tver, a nondescript place 125 miles north of Moscow, is a smart three-storey pre-revolutionary building that houses a popular bar called "London" as well as a mobile phone shop, a travel agency and a food store. Nobody there has ever heard of BFG.

The fact that the bar is called "London" has excited some in the Russian media. Rumours are swirling that the mystery oligarch behind BFG may be none other than Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea FC and the majority shareholder in the oil company Sibneft, a man who spends much of his time in London proper.

His spokesman has dismissed such claims.

Whoever owns BFG is keeping their cards close to their chest; it doesn't have a website and it is not registered with the tax authorities.

Somehow though it managed to stump up the $1.77bn required to take part in Sunday's auction and to persuade the Russian Federal Property Service that it is good for $9.4bn.

Analysts believe that it is a front for either or both Surgutneftegaz or Gazprom, but most Russians believe that BFG is merely a pseudonym for a far greater power in the land: the Kremlin.

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