The main production unit of embattled Russian oil giant Yukos has been forcibly auctioned off. The sale was ordered by the authorities who say they were acting to recover billions in unpaid taxes from the firm. But the sell-off did not go quite as expected.
It was thought the buyer would be Russia’s state-sponsored gas monopoly, Gazprom – fuelling concerns that the Kremlin was moving in to take control of Yukos’s principal asset.
But, in the end, it was the mystery Baikal Finance Group that paid out over nine billion dollars in a sale that went ahead despite a restraining order by a US court, where Yukos has filed for bankruptcy protection.
However, the fact that the buyer was unheard of until a few days ago has prompted speculation that it could simply be Gazprom under a different name. When a Russian reporter tried to track down Baikal’s official headquarters, he found only a shop and restaurant.
Baikal’s purchase, Yugansk, pumps more oil than OPEC
member Qatar. It is reported that if Baikal does not pay up within a certain time limit, its new acquisition will automatically come under government control.