$850M Released to Yukos Shareholders

Former Yukos shareholders announced a major victory Wednesday in their efforts to get a piece of the bankrupt company's assets, saying they had received $850 million as repayment of an outstanding loan.

Moravel, a subsidiary of Yukos majority shareholder GML, received the money March 14 following a decision by a Dutch court, GML said in a statement.

GML, formerly known as Group Menatep, received part of the proceeds that Yukos' Dutch subsidiary received from the 2006 sale of Lithuanian refinery Mazeikiu Nafta to Poland's PKN Orlen, according to a copy of the court's ruling obtained by The Moscow Times.

Yukos International, the Yukos Dutch subsidiary, confirmed the payment in a statement Wednesday.

The money will remain within GML and will go toward "general purposes," GML director Tim Osborne said.

More than half of GML belongs to Leonid Nevzlin, a key lieutenant of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the company's jailed former CEO.

Nevzlin is currently being tried in absentia in a Moscow court on murder charges, which he has dismissed as groundless and politically motivated.

The other shareholders in GML include Platon Lebedev, who, like Khodorkovsky, is serving an eight-year sentence on fraud charges, and Mikhail Brudno, who is wanted on fraud charges.

GML will not use the funds to pay for the legal defense of Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, who are facing more fraud charges, Osborne said. Khodorkovsky gave up his Menatep shares before he was convicted in May 2005.

Osborne said he was delighted that GML had received the money, but said it was a "drop in the ocean" because the company lost much more after the government dismantled Yukos.

While the Dutch court released some funds to Yukos International, it maintained a freeze on another $650 million that remains in a high-interest account at Fortis Bank. On court orders, Yukos International will also be unable to dispose of Yukos' 49 percent stake in Slovak oil pipeline operator Transpetrol.

By its March 6 decision, the Amsterdam District Court snubbed oil major Rosneft and the winner of a Russian bankruptcy auction for another Yukos-affiliated company, which also claimed the money.

Rosneft wanted to lay hands on the money in the bank account because it had acquired a $480 million debt that Yukos owed to a consortium of international banks. The Dutch court dismissed the claim, ruling that Rosneft was fully compensated in the Yukos bankruptcy proceedings.

A spokesman for Rosneft said Wednesday that he couldn't comment immediately.

The Russian auction awarded Promneftstroi, owned by U.S. citizen Stephen Lynch, the right to buy Yukos Finance, a Yukos Dutch subsidiary that owns Yukos International, the entity that holds the foreign assets. The Dutch court, however, has repeatedly refused to recognize the legality of bankrupting Yukos and the subsequent auctions.

Lynch declined to comment beyond saying Promneftstroi was pleased about the court decision to freeze Yukos foreign assets and "thus protect its value."