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London, Monday, 26 July, 2004

Yukos shares dive on market fears

[Wanted for murder, now safe in Israel]
Leonid Nevzlin is estimated
to have a fortune of $2bn

SHARES in embattled oil firm Yukos have nosedived amid increasing concerns about its ability to avoid bankruptcy.

Yukos lost a fifth of its stock market value on Monday, and its rouble-denominated shares were temporarily suspended due to the sharp fall.

A Moscow court earlier issued an arrest warrant for a major Yukos shareholder, accusing him of involvement in murder.

Leonid Nevzlin, who is living in Israel, is accused of ordering the killing of a married couple in 2002. He also is facing charges of attempted murder. A lawyer for Mr Nevzlin said the charges would be challenged.

Selling out

Yukos shares fell 22% to $4.20 in Moscow, leading some analysts to argue that the company's chances of avoiding financial collapse were increasingly slim.

Yukos has lost half its market value since last Wednesday, the day after state bailiffs said they would sell off the firm's main production unit - Yuganskneftegaz - in order to help pay the company's $7bn tax bill.

Yukos executives have expressed fears that the unit, which accounts for 60% of its oil output, could be sold for as little as $1.75bn. Yukos values it at $30bn.

Analysts said that investors who had bought into the company in the hope that it may reach a settlement with the government in its tax dispute were now selling out.

"We are getting into the first signs of market surrendering," said Kakha Kiknavelidze, a leading analyst.

"It looks like surrender," another said. "A lack of liquidity is playing against Yukos."

Strong protest

Mikhail KhodorkovskyMr Nevzlin fled to Israel shortly before the arrest of the oil giant's former boss, Mikhail Khodorkovsky [left, with another oligarch in courtroom]. Mr Khodorkovsky is on trial on charges of fraud and tax evasion.

The court in Moscow's Basmanny district said the alleged killing and attempted murders were organised by Yukos's former head of security, Alexei Pichugin, on the orders of Mr Nevzlin, Interfax reported.

Mr Nevzlin's lawyer, Dmitry Kharitonov, said he was studying the court order and would "launch a protest against it by all means", Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported.

Mr Nevzlin is estimated to have a personal fortune of $2bn (£1.1bn), according to Forbes magazine.

He arrived in Israel last autumn as legal proceedings against Yukos were intensifying and was granted Israeli citizenship.

However, authorities in Israel have previously said that Mr Nevzlin's new citizenship would not automatically prevent his extradition to Russia.

The on-running case against Mr Khodorkovsky is widely seen as a Kremlin-inspired drive to punish Russia's richest man for funding opposition political parties and to deter him from further political activity.

Yukos has warned it could be driven into bankruptcy after a court ordered it to pay a $3.4bn tax bill.

 ... on the, ahem, oligarchs
Moscow whistleblower Pavel Klebnikov, Editor who unmasked super-rich of Russia is shot dead in Moscow Whistleblower Pavel Klebnikov whacked in Moscow: Oligarchs suspected | Berezovsky sneers that victim 'was like a bull in a china shop' | Shooting of editor may be revenge for delving into Russia's rich
Forbes magazine: Forbes Russia editor murdered in Moscow
Khodorkovsky: From billionaire to cage in court
Our dossier on the life and troubled times of the Russian "oligarchs"
Our dossier on the origins of anti-Semitism
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