Russneft's Back Tax Claims Could Double to $1.7Bln

Russneft may see its back tax claims doubling to more than 40 billion rubles ($1.69 billion) in a move that would further complicate its sale, an industry source said Monday.

The source said the Federal Tax Service had discovered unpaid taxes for up to 20 billion rubles for 2006 in addition to the already upheld claim of 20.5 billion for 2003 to 2005.

"The [service's] checks for 2006 were similar to the one made for 2003 to 2005, but the figure has yet to be made public. As oil prices during the period were high, back tax claims could amount to 18 billion to 20 billion together with arrears and penalties," said the source, who is familiar with the inspection results.

The company and the tax service declined to comment. A court froze Russneft's shares last year and issued a warrant for the arrest of its owner, Mikhail Gutseriyev, who has accused the state of bullying and using tax charges to force him out of business.

Gutseriyev agreed last year to sell Russneft to Basic Element, the investment vehicle of aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, but the deal, bogged down in legal complications, has yet to be completed.

Swiss-based trader Glencore, which already owns stakes in some of Russneft's production units, also filed a request with the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service to buy some of the company's units. The Federal Anti-Monopoly Service has said it will make a final decision on both bids after all court proceedings are over.

Deripaska said in April that he hoped to close the deal within months and take over the firm, in which Glencore would remain a partner.

Russneft moved to a net loss of 12.25 billion rubles last year, compared with a net profit of 9.94 billion rubles in 2006, as it started paying back taxes and fines.

It also owes 32.58 billion rubles and $1.89 billion to a number of creditors, including Sberbank, the country's largest bank, and Glencore.