Parliament creates conditions for Williams-Yukos deal

  • 2001-08-09
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - On Aug. 2 the Lithuanian Parliament adopted amendments to the law on privatizing the oil company Mazeikiu Nafta. The changes are needed to facilitate a major agreement between the U.S. company Williams International, operator of Mazeikiu Nafta, and the Russian oil producer Yukos.

The voting was almost unanimous. Ninety-eight MPs voted in favor of the amendments and nine MPs abstained, with no votes against.

The amendments enable Yukos to acquire more than 24 percent of shares in the Lithuanian company and allow for the adoption of all decisions related to the implementation of the deal at the next Mazeikiu Nafta shareholders' meeting.

Under the July agreement between Williams and Yukos, the Russian oil producer would acquire a 26.85 percent stake in Mazeikiu Nafta through new share issues for 300 million litas ($75 million), and provide a loan of the same amount to finance the oil refinery's modernization.

Williams and Yukos would become equal financial partners, and each would hold a 26.85 percent stake in Mazeikiu Nafta. In addition to Yukos' equity investment, the transaction will include a 10-year crude oil supply agreement, by which the Russian company will supply approximately 5 million tons (approximately 36 million barrels) of oil per year to Mazeikiu Nafta's refinery.

The rest of the company's oil requirements would be bought from other Russian oil companies. Williams remains the operator of Mazeikiu Nafta.

Conservative MP Andrius Kubilius said that the vote came about so smoothly because Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas lent his support to the deal. He said that after taking power the Social Democrats started to feel the responsibility for the interest of the state and feel compelled to continue "right-wing policies."

"The times of the Social Democrats' destruction are over. I can imagine political passions and anti-Williams demonstrations in front of the Parliament if some Social Democrats ever rise up in opposition," Kubilius said during a press conference in the Parliament on Aug. 6.

The ruling Social Democrats expressed regret that the Lithuanian state will need to pass on part of its shares to Yukos and will no longer possess a controlling share in Mazeikiu Nafta. Following Yukos' acquisition of a stake, the state's ownership would drop to 40.67 percent.

Currently, the state controls a 59.3 percent stake in Mazeikiu Nafta, with Williams at 33 percent; the remaining shares are owned by minority shareholders.

"Lithuania is only an observer in Mazeikiu Nafta. Our hands are tied. And it is more a political than an economic issue," Brazauskas said on the eve of the vote.

This summer U.S. President George Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote letters to the Lithuanian president, parliamentary chairman and prime minister urging support for the Williams-Yukos deal, as well as speaking about the bright propects for Lithuania's expected NATO membership.

Political observers say that they do not know of a previous occasion when American leaders have written letters to the leaders of such a small country. It was especially unusual that Bush wrote not only to President Valdas Adamkus but also to Brazauskas, who is the third man in the country according to the Lithuanian constitution (after the president and parliamentary chairman).

Conservative Party leader Vytautas Landsbergis was happy with the vote in the Parliament. Referring to an earlier series of negotiations, he said that Yukos did not ask for operational control in Mazeikiu Nafta, "unlike LUKoil." Mazeikiu Nafta and Williams spent over a year in fruitless discussions with LUKoil over long-term oil supply. But LUKoil kept looking for ways to control the refinery.

The Lietuvos rytas daily reports that recently LUKoil and Yukos agreed to make a trade in two of their oil export routes. Yukos will export more oil to Lithuania instead of to Slovakia. And LUKoil will export more of its oil to Slovakia and not Lithuania, as was done previously.

Jonas Lionginas, a Liberal MP and former finance minister in Rolandas Paksas' government, said that he is happy with the decision of the Lithuanian Parliament.

"Mazeikiu Nafta got guarantees for its oil supply. Its taxes make up one-third of the Lithuanian state budget. It pays up to 6 or 7 million litas daily to the state budget when it is fully operating, and only 1 million litas when it is working poorly. Mazeikiu Nafta's refinery should get 7 million tons of crude and the Butinge oil terminal should export another 8 million tons of oil. Only in this case is the work of Mazeikiu Nafta profitable," he said.

The shareholders' meeting at which the Williams-Yukos agreement should be approved is likely to take place at the end of August.