MOSCOW -- The oil giant Yukos, already on the brink of insolvency, could face two more crippling tax bills, Russia's prosecutor general, Vladimir Ustinov, said yesterday. The company warned that the government could begin seizing its assets this week.
Yukos has until the end of the business day today to pay its $3.4 billion tax bill from 2000, but it is prohibited from selling assets to raise cash.
On Monday, the Tax Agency delivered another back taxes bill claiming Yukos owes $3.3 billion for 2001. Ustinov told Ekho Moskvy radio yesterday that more back tax claims were likely for 2002 and 2003.
Yukos chief financial officer Bruce Misamore warned yesterday that court action to seize the company's assets could begin this week, Dow Jones Newswires reported.
Misamore said the company had no plans to cut production. But how Yukos, with 105,000 employees, would function if assets are seized was unclear.
Yukos has been beleaguered for more than a year by a complex probe that many analysts see as directed by the Kremlin. Former chief executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been jailed since October, and he and a key associate face charges of fraud and tax evasion.
"This affair has a beginning, but it is very difficult to see the end," Ustinov told Ekho Moskvy radio.
The prosecutor general's comments cooled a sharp rally that Yukos shares enjoyed earlier yesterday after another senior government official said the Finance Ministry could theoretically restructure the tax bill already facing the company.
Yukos shares climbed 22 percent after those comments but later pared their gains in to finish at $6.85, up 7 percent from Monday's close.
A group of Western lenders, led by Societe Generale, issued notification Monday that they could call in a $1 billion loan to Yukos. Yukos finance chief Misamore, who met with bank officials yesterday, said they reiterated that they had no plans to immediately call in the loans, the Interfax news agency reported.
But the company is still in a bind. Misamore said Yukos has only about $1.3-$1.4 billion in cash on hand. On Monday, Misamore had warned that the government was driving Russia's largest oil producer to the brink of bankruptcy.