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Russia Opens Probe on Yukos’ Acquisition

July 8, 2003

MOSCOW (AP) _ Russian prosecutors opened an investigation Tuesday into Russian oil company Yukos’ acquisition of a minority stake in the Yeniseineftegaz energy firm.

Russia’s state-owned oil company Rosneft claims Yukos’ 19 percent stake in the Siberian based company was acquired illegally, Interfax news agency reported. Yeniseineftegaz has licenses to develop potentially lucrative oil fields in Siberia.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, chief executive of Yukos and one of the country’s richest men, denied the shares were acquired illegally, questioning why the case was being investigated by the prosecutor’s office and not an arbitration court.

``If they believe we obtained those shares illegally, they should take us to court,″ he told reporters Tuesday. Either Rosneft knew the claims wouldn’t stand up in court, or they were put up to it by a third party, he said.

Khodorkovsky, his companies and business partners have recently been involved in a series of legal proceedings.

Last week, Platon Lebedev, a billionaire partner of Khodorkovsky, was arrested amid allegations he defrauded the state of $283 million in the 1994 privatization of the Apatit fertilizer company. Lebedev is chairman of the Menatep group, a holding company that owns 61 percent of Yukos.

Khodorkovsky has said those investigations are ``outside the framework of the law″ and have nothing to do with the business operations of the company.

Opposition politicians and analysts said Lebedev’s detention appeared to be a warning from the government to big business ahead of December’s parliamentary elections.

Khodorkovsky, an increasingly influential business leader, has supported a number of opposition parties. Lebedev’s detention came out of an investigation requested by lawmaker Vladimir Yudin, a member of the pro-Kremlin Fatherland-All Russia faction.

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