MOSCOW -- Russia's beleaguered Yukos oil company offered to voluntarily pay $8 billion in back taxes from 2000-2003 if it is given three years to make the payments, Russia's Interfax news agency reported yesterday.
Citing a high-level source in Yukos, Interfax reported that the offer was made to the government by Yukos chief executive Steven Theede on Thursday.
No one at Yukos could be reached for comment yesterday evening.
Yukos and its majority shareholders have already proposed numerous alternatives to settle their $3.4 billion back-taxes bill for 2000, which came due last week. But the government has said it won't restructure the bill and has shown little enthusiasm for the other proposals.
The government's position has led to speculation that it intends to seize Yukos's choice assets for nonpayment of the taxes and redistribute them into Kremlin-friendly allies.
Yukos has said that it lacks the ready cash to pay the tax bill, and it is forbidden by a court order from selling its assets to raise cash.
Adding to its troubles, the Tax Agency has announced an additional bill of $3.3 billion for 2001, and Russia's top prosecutor suggested more bills were likely coming for 2002 and 2003.
Last week, Yukos's former chief executive, Mikhail Khodorkovsky -- currently in jail, he is Russia's richest man -- proposed giving up his stock to settle the tax claim, but the government has not responded.
Bailiffs already began work to freeze accounts in Yukos-owned production companies in Siberia.
Interfax reported that in the latest offer, Yukos proposed making voluntary tax payments in three $2.5 billion installments over three years. Yukos is also offering its 35 percent stake in the Sibneft oil company as a security.
The Russian government has portrayed its investigation into Yukos and its owners as a drive against corruption, but observers have said that Khodorkovsky's jailing and the probe against his company has more to do with his political activities in the run up to last year's parliamentary elections than dubious business practices.
Khodorkovsky's fraud and tax-evasion trial with codefendant Platon Lebedev resumes today.