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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 August 2006, 19:59 GMT 20:59 UK
Russian probe into Yukos bosses
Steven Theede, former Yukos chief executive
Mr Theede and other former bosses are based outside Russia
Russian prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into former bosses of bankrupt oil company Yukos, accusing them of asset-stripping.

Ex-chief executive Steven Theede and three others are said to have switched $10bn in assets outside Russia beyond the reach of liquidation proceedings.

The four have denied wrongdoing, one of them accusing Russian authorities of a "vendetta" against ex-Yukos personnel.

Yukos has broken into two, one arm managing foreign assets outside Russia.

'Stolen property'

The other - which controls Yukos' core refining and production operations - is the subject of bankruptcy proceedings in Russia.

Dutch-based subsidiary Yukos Finance - run by former Yukos executives "exiled" from Russia - has sold a number of interests recently to help pay off creditors with financial claims against Yukos.

These include the Russian state and state-owned energy firm Rosneft but also international financial institutions.

It shows without any doubt the unbelievable length to which the vendetta against Yukos and Group Menatep is being pursued
Tim Osbourne, Group Menatep

It has raised about $1.6bn from sales of shareholdings in Lithuanian and Slovakian energy businesses.

However, prosecutors say ex-Yukos bosses illegally transferred these assets to the subsidiary and their actions are tantamount to theft.

Prosecutors said Mr Theede and former chief financial officer Bruce Misamore, - both US citizens - special adviser David Godfrey and Tim Osbourne, from Yukos' shareholder Group Menatep, "took advantage of their official positions to steal and legalize property that had been trusted to them which caused considerable damage to the owner".

Dutch decision

News of the investigation came soon after a Dutch court refused to grant Russian liquidators full control over Yukos' Dutch subsidiary.

It also refused to allow Eduard Rebgun, appointed by a Moscow bankruptcy court to handle the winding up of the business, the right to veto transactions of more than $1.3m.

Man filling up car at petrol station owned by Yukos
Yukos was declared bankrupt earlier this month

Mr Osbourne denied any misconduct and said the investigation was both petty and vindictive.

"It shows without any doubt the unbelievable length to which the vendetta against Yukos and Group Menatep is being pursued," he said.

"This action also appears to be a direct response to the recent refusal from the Amsterdam courts to recognise the Russian bankruptcy of Yukos."

A spokesman for Yukos' Dutch subsidiary said the business was managed with "integrity and in full compliance with national and international standards of good governance".

Yukos was declared bankrupt earlier this month after what critics claim was a three-year political campaign to dismantle the business.

Russian prosecutors have pursued the firm relentlessly for tax evasion while former boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky is serving an eight-year sentence after being convicted on multiple counts of fraud.

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