VILNIUS - Russia's moribund oil major Yukos has transferred its majority stake in Mazeikiu Nafta to another subsidiary in a move that could signify either renewed attacks on the company or a possible sale of the asset.
Dutch-registered Yukos Finance BV transferred its 53.7 percent stake in Mazeikiu Nafta, the Baltics' only oil refinery, to Yukos International UK BV, another Dutch-registered subsidiary on May 4 in a transaction registered on Vilnius' stock exchange.
Nerijus Eidukevicius, Mazeikiu Nafta's chairman and deputy economy minister, confirmed the asset transfer, saying, "We are aware of it. This transaction is legal as the agreement concluded by the government and Yukos does envisage that such transfers of shares are allowable inside the group."
Though he refused to comment on Yukos' motivations behind the move, he said, "This transaction will have no impact on processes related with the relations between government and Yukos at Mazeikiu Nafta."
Normally such transfers of assets are executed to protect it from liabilities 's tax or legal 's or to set up a future sale. Since the asset transfer occurred in one country, the latter is more likely.
The value of the Mazeikiu Nafta stake was 2.9 billion litas (870 million euros) at current market price.
Foreign news agencies earlier reported that Yukos would attempt to sell 53.7 percent in Mazeikiu Nafta for some $800 - $900 million.
Eidukevicius also said that talks with Yukos over the transfer of rights for the purchase of a new issue of Mazeikiu Nafta shares to the government were under way. Draft agreements should be worked out in two weeks and then submitted to the Cabinet of Minister for discussion.
The government wants to take over Yukos' option to buy a 9.72 percent stake in Mazeikiu Nafta via a new share offering and thus obtain a majority interest in the company. If it took place, the $75 million deal would give the government the necessary ownership control to begin searching for a new foreign investor who can guarantee deliveries of crude oil to the refinery. The Kremlin's ongoing campaign to dismantle Yukos has led to disruptions in deliveries to the Lithuanian refinery, which is the country's largest taxpayer.
Some Russian companies, such as Lukoil, have already expressed interest in buying a controlling interest in Mazeikiu Nafta, which includes the Butinge export terminal.