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Last Updated: Monday, 6 June, 2005, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
Ukraine 'ready for steel resale'
Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko
Ms Tymoshenko wants thousands of sell-offs to be reviewed
A controversial steel sell-off is to be rerun in Ukraine, the country's prime minister has said.

Yulia Tymoshenko told reporters she had signed an order to repeat the auction of the Krivorizhstal steel mill.

The mill was sold for $800m (440m) in 2004 to a group whose members included the son-in-law of former president Leonid Kuchma.

Mr Kuchma's anointed successor lost to Viktor Yushchenko in an election in December after weeks of protest.

Crony sale?

Krivorizhstal was the most high-profile of the privatisations carried out by the Kuchma administration.

Its resale was an urgent priority, Ms Tymoshenko told reporters.

The sell-off was ruled illegal by a court earlier this year. An appeal against the ruling was rejected in June.

The original buyer was a consortium led by Viktor Pinchuk, Mr Kuchma's son-in-law, and Rinat Akhmetov - often reported to be Ukraine's richest man.

But, other bidders - including international steel group LNM and Russia's Severstal - have argued that they offered more money.

Ms Tymoshenko said the resale would be open to all "qualified" bidders, including the current owners.

But despite losing the court cases, lawyers for the current owners continue to insist they own the firm.

"Regardless of court cases, the consortium still holds the shares," Oleksiy Reznikov, a lawyer for the current owners, told Reuters.

"Tymoshenko, for the moment, is selling something that does not belong to her."

Command economy

In the months since the election, different members of the new government have announced widely differing estimates of the number of sell-offs which will be repeated, with one estimate as high as 3,000.

Many of the higher estimates have come from the office of Ms Tymoshenko - a businesswoman accused by Russia of trying to bribe officials there over a gas contract in 1996.

She argues that her businesses were damaged by President Kuchma's government.

Mr Yushchenko, in contrast, has quoted a figure of "dozens" of privatisations to be re-examined.

In all, some 90,000 businesses were sold off in the process of creating a private sector out of the old state-run command economy, from massive corporations to tiny shopfronts.

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