August 16, 2005
Paper Sheds Light on Yukos Sale
By Catherine Belton
The Audit Chamber has confirmed that the Federal Treasury transferred $5.3 billion to a state-owned bank on Dec. 30, 2004, the same day that state-owned oil major Rosneft bought rival Yukos' main production unit, the business daily Vedomosti reported Monday.
The report is a further indication that Rosneft may have dipped into state coffers to buy the Yuganskneftgaz, the Yukos unit auctioned off to recover a towering tax debt.
In June, Vedomosti reported that a large chunk of cash used for the Yugansk acquisition may have originated in the Federal Treasury, citing transfer logs purportedly from the Central Bank.
The Finance Ministry on Monday denied that Rosneft could have borrowed treasury funds to buy the unit. A Rosneft spokesman refused to comment.
If ever proven, the report could help Yukos' main shareholder, Group Menatep, in its lawsuit against the Russian government for expropriating Yugansk. The money trail would appear to show that while the state was selling off Yugansk as payment for Yukos' back taxes, it was lending its own money to a state-owned oil firm to buy the unit.
The Vedomosti report cited Nikolai Tabachkov, an auditor at the Audit Chamber, the state budget watchdog, as saying that the Federal Treasury transferred $5.3 billion to its account at Vneshekonombank on Dec. 30 for payment of foreign debt.
But Russia was due to pay only $1 billion of foreign debt in January, the paper said. The Finance Ministry later agreed to pay early $3.3 billion to the International Monetary Fund by the end of the month, the report said.
Vedomosti cited the former head of the Finance Ministry's foreign debt department, Andrei Cherepanov, as saying that funds for foreign debt repayment were not normally transferred so far in advance.
According to a Rosneft financial report for 2004, a large part of the money used to pay for Yugansk came from $6.1 billion in promissory notes, or veksels, it issued, Vedomosti said.
Meanwhile, VEB's balance sheet as of Jan. 1, 2005, shows that the bank held veksels belonging to "certain companies" worth 147 billion rubles, or $5.3 billion -- exactly the same amount the Finance Ministry transferred, the paper reported.
According to the bank's balance sheet, these promissory notes had disappeared by Feb. 1, Vedomosti said. By that time, Rosneft had paid off its promissory note debt via a $6 billion loan it got from Chinese banks -- paid to the company via VEB -- the paper said, citing Rosneft's financial report.
Vedomosti cited experts as saying that the $5.3 billion VEB received from the treasury looked like it had been invested in Rosneft's veksels. "Judging by VEB's balance sheet, you can say with 100 percent certainty that the $5.3 billion received from the Finance Ministry was invested in the Rosneft veksels," the paper quoted Cherepanov as saying.
The Audit Chamber is continuing to check whether the $5.3 billion transferred by the Federal Treasury was used correctly, the paper said citing a written statement from Tabachkov.
Audit Chamber spokesman Leonid Zhigalov said Monday that the watchdog was conducting a probe into the use of state funds over that period, but it was not aimed specifically at the Yugansk deal.
Gennady Yezhov, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin's spokesman, confirmed the $5.3 billion transfer to VEB on Dec. 30, but denied the money could have been used to finance Rosneft's buy.
"We were using the money to pay off foreign debt," he said. "We were in the stage of building up funds and using this for our negotiating position."
VEB declined to comment.