Yukos investors wobble as Kremlin coerces

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The Independent Online

Yukos's core shareholders are considering selling some of their 60 per cent stake in the $30bn (£16bn) Russian oil company in the face of mounting pressure from the Kremlin.

A source close to Menatep, the investment vehicle controlled by jailed former chief executive Mikhael Khodorkovsky and Yukos's largest shareholder, admitted: "The pressure is stronger. The majority shareholders are considering their options."

Menatep directors plan to meet the Yukos board in London this week to agree the terms of the $11bn decoupling from rival Sibneft.

The Yukos board will put Menatep under pressure to offer compensation to minority Yukos shareholders, such as Western institutional investors, in return for agreeing to a quick divorce.

Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, has been targeting the Menatep group after Mr Khodorkovsky started to get involved in politics last year. Russian prosecutors, backed by Mr Putin, have already seized most of the Menatep stake while Mr Khodorkovsky has been jailed after being charged with fraud and tax evasion. It also resulted in the termination last year of Yukos's merger with Sibneft, controlled by Roman Abramovich, who also owns Chelsea football club. The campaign has escalated in the run-up to next month's presidential elections.

Menatep reached agreement last week with Sibneft to unravel the merger on the same terms on which it was formed. Mr Abramovich will hand back the $3bn in cash and the 26 per cent in Yukos he received in return for his 92 per cent stake in Sibneft. Yukos, which had argued it was entitled to $1bn compensation to terminate the deal, has now waived any demands for compensation from Sibneft. But it could seek compensation from Menatep, which it blames for the Kremlin campaign against the company. The divorce is expected to be completed by the beginning of April.

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