MOSCOW -- A half-dozen executives of Yukos, the embattled oil giant, have left Russia and the company's chief financial officer said he won't return until he learns whether the government plans to charge him.
The company's six-member management board has been meeting in London this week. The only member of Yukos's management reachable in Moscow yesterday told Dow Jones Newswires he planned to flee the country today because of the company's ongoing troubles with prosecutors.
Yukos and its subsidiaries face a $24.5 billion tax bill, and its former chief executive has been imprisoned for more than a year on fraud and tax-evasion charges.
Yesterday, Yukos said it had met this week to adopt a ''short-term emergency plan" but is now unsure whether it can operate because of government pressure.
''The actions taken against Yukos and members of the Yukos management team over the last few days by the General Prosecutors Office in Russia are more deliberate than the cycle of raids and demands placed on the company in the recent past," the company said. ''It is our belief that this extraordinary pressure . . . has specific aims: the removal of the management, the derailing of any settlement process with the Russian authorities, and the total destruction of Yukos Oil Co."
In a phone interview, Yukos chief financial officer Bruce Misamore denied managers were fleeing to avoid prosecution. He said the executives were mostly ''abroad on trips that have been planned for some time."
Misamore, a US citizen, was in London with Yukos chief executive Steven Theede and others on the company's six-member management board. Misamore said prosecutors had called him in for questioning on Wednesday.
''I was going to travel back [Wednesday] but had information that there was potential that they could bring charges against me," Misamore said. ''Management hasn't abandoned the company -- we are tying to find out what the situation is.
The Prosecutor-General's office declined to say whether it has issued an arrest warrant for Misamore or any other Yukos manager.
There were also unconfirmed reports yesterday that Yukos's refining and marketing head, Pyotr Zolotaryov, had resigned.
The Vedomosti daily reported yesterday that six other managers had received summonses, but the spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office could not confirm that information.
Misamore said that despite key managers being outside of Russia, Yukos's operations would not be harmed. The company's day-to-day business could be run ''from anywhere," he noted.
Analysts inferred the worst from the managers' absence. ''If all the top managers are gone, including their CFO and CEO, then it's got to fall apart at some point," said Ronald Smith, an analyst at Renaissance Capital in Moscow. ''This could be the last blow."
Over the weekend, Interfax quoted an unidentified Yukos board member as saying dozens of Yukos managers have been targeted in a far-ranging investigation that included home searches.
Observers say the tax probe was triggered after the company's jailed ex-CEO, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, funded opposition parties in the run-up to parliamentary elections last year. Khodorkovsky has been jailed for more than a year and faces criminal charges centering on the privatization of a key fertilizer component maker in 1994. The Kremlin has dismissed suggestions the legal assault against the company and its founder is political and casts it as a drive against shady bookkeeping.