The search is on to find out who is behind the mystery firm that has bought the core unit of Russian oil giant Yukos. At a weekend auction, the previously unknown Baikal Finance Group purchased Yugansk, a move that has puzzled investors. Yukos shareholders say they are trying to establish whether the company was a front for Kremlin attempts to get round a US court order which barred Russia’s gas monopoly Gazprom from bidding in the auction.
Analyst James Fenkner said: “The general view within the market is that this group was created as a result of the tax bankruptcy claims out of the US in an attempt on one hand to hold an auction as scheduled, because it would have looked bad for the Russian government to postpone it, and on the other hand to allow potentially the beneficiary of Gazprom or Surgutneftegaz to eventually win.” A court in Texas slapped an injunction on prospective buyers and their foreign bankers to stop them bidding for Yugansk, after Yukos filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US. Had Gazprom taken part in the auction, at which Yugansk went for 7 billion euros, it could have faced asset seizures abroad. Russian authorities ordered the sale ostensibly to recover taxes owed by Yukos, but it is widely believed the hidden agenda is to break up the company and crush the anti-Kremlin ambitions of its embattled owner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.