Yukos wants international arbitration in tax dispute

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YUKOS, THE stricken Russian oil group, has asked a US court to send its multi-billion dollar tax dispute with the Russian authorities to an international arbitration forum. The company insists it cannot get justice in Russia.

The company filed for bankruptcy protection in Houston in December. Yukos revealed yesterday that it had asked the US bankruptcy court to send the case for international arbitration. Steven Theede, the chief executive of Yukos, an American citizen, told a press conference in London yesterday he feared more of the company would be confiscated by the Russian authorities.

In December, the group's biggest operating asset, Yuganskneftegaz, was forcibly auctioned off by the Russian government, to meet part of a $28bn tax claim lodged against Yukos. Mr Theede likened that auction to "theft".

"The process was completely outside the norms and laws in Russia. We receive no formal notification of the winner of the auction, no notification of payment, no notification of our alleged tax liabilities being reduced as a result," Mr Theede said.

Separately, it emerged that the Chinese had bankrolled the acquisition of Yugansk by Rosneft, a Russian state-owned energy group. Russian ministers said in Moscow yesterday that Chinese banks or the Chinese state oil company CNPC provided $6bn of the $9bn purchase price. China loaned the cash in return for a guaranteed supply of oil from Yugansk in the future.

Yukos filed a motion to the Houston court late on Monday night, asking for it to refer the claims and counter-claims between Yukos and the Russian government to international arbitration. Mr Theede said: "There is no doubt that Yukos will not get a fair hearing in the Russian courts."

The Houston court hears the case on 16 and 17 February.