VILNIUS - Mazeikiu Nafta officials assured that the arrest of the president of Russia's Yukos oil company, which owns 53.7 percent of the Lithuanian oil complex, would not affect operations at the refinery and the Butinge terminal.
In fact, both plans for a major increase in exports and the continued interest on the part of the European Bank for Reconstru-ction and Development indicate that the situation at the refinery is set to improve in the near future.
Yukos public relations officer Arunas Jonkus told the Baltic News Service that it was only the company chief executive who has been arrested, and that the company's operations have not been interfered with.
"Oil will be pumped as usual," Jonkus said.
Two weeks ago Yukos announced it would increase exports through the Butinge terminal by some 20 percent in 2004. The company is actively searching for alternative supply routes to thirsty markets and wants to pump some 11 million tons of crude via Butinge this year.
"We have already obtained permission from the Lithuanian government to increase Butinge's export capacity and plan to export some 13 million tons of oil next year," said Paul Nelson English, general manager of Mazeikiu Nafta.
Yukos took over Mazeikiu Nafta from Williams Inter-national in 2002.
In the first half of the year, the only refinery in the Baltics posted a profit of 74 million litas (21.4 million euros) under U.S. accounting standards, compared with a loss of 135.7 million litas over the same period in 2002.
The EBRD has expressed interest in buying a stake in the refinery, which shut down for a month earlier this year for a major overhaul in operations. However, it was not clear which stake – the state's or Yukos' or a combination of both – that the bank would acquire.
President Rolandas Paksas met with Yukos Vice President Mikhail Brudno on Oct. 22 – or three days before the arrest of Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky – to discuss the deal, though by the time The Baltic Times went to press no announcement had been made.
The bank's representatives said earlier that the EBRD would seek a 10-15 percent stake in MN, while Lithuania has said that it could sell no more than 10 percent.
Yukos, which recently merged with its smaller Russian rival Sibneft, owns a 53.7-percent stake in the Mazeikiu Nafta oil complex, which includes the Mazeikiu refinery, pipeline and Butinge terminal.
A 40.66 percent stake is owned by the state, while 6 percent of the shares are in private hands.
Yukos' executive home in Lithuania billionaire Mikhail Brudno, vice president of Yukos and chairman of the board of Mazeikiu Nafta, said he would like to retire in Lithuania. In an interview published two days before the arrest of his boss in Siberia, Brudno said he has begun to look for a place to live in the Baltic country but had run into bureaucracy.
"I like Lithuania, especially the Moletai district, so I've decided to establish here one of family resorts. My wife and I have decided that after we retire on a pension we will settle in Lithuania," Brudno, 44, told the paper.
The Russian billionaire, who made Forbes' list of 500 richest people in the world, said his visits to Lithuania had become for him "commonplace and pleasant."
"I come here every month," he said.
The arrest of Yukos' CEO has fueled speculation in the local press that more Russian businessmen might follow Brudno's lead and pack their bags for the Baltics.
In Brudno's words, Yukos' employees are constant invitees to the prosecutor's office and the Interior Ministry. However, the businessman said this wasn't surprising considering that the company was huge and its affiliates were scattered throughout Russia. (AFP, BBN)