Oil Exec Accused Of $1Bln Tax Fraud

The Interior Ministry is accusing a top executive of a large oil company of evading nearly $1 billion in taxes, it said in a statement Thursday.

A ministry source said the executive used to work in TNK, or Tyumen Oil Company, before it teamed up with British oil major BP to create TNK-BP in 2003, RBK news agency reported. The tax evasion occurred from 2001 to 2003, the source said.

If the executive now works for TNK-BP, the accusation would appear to be further pressure on the company, which is widely seen as a takeover target for a state energy firm, such as Gazprom.

A spokesman for the ministry's Economic Security Department, which issued the statement, declined to name the company and the executive, saying it could hurt the investigation.

He referred further enquiries to the ministry's Investigative Committee, but a spokeswoman there said the committee was not investigating the case.

TNK-BP said it was unaware of any police probes. The company has received no complaints from the ministry and considers its tax arrears settled for that period, company spokeswoman Marina Dracheva said.

In a case settled by a payment by TNK-BP of 30 billion rubles in 2006, tax authorities demanded back tax payments from TNK-BP from 2002 and 2003.

Interior Ministry investigators established earlier this year that an energy company evaded paying a profit tax of more than 22.5 billion rubles ($957 million), Thursday's statement said. They filed a criminal case against a "top manager of a large oil company" on suspicion of tax evasion, the ministry said.

It was not clear if the oil company was the same one that evaded the taxes.

Punishments for the crime range from a fine of 200,000 rubles ($8,400) to six years in prison.

Former TNK top executives who continued their careers at TNK-BP include its shareholders Viktor Vekselberg and German Khan. Vekselberg was TNK's chief executive before becoming TNK-BP's executive director for gas business development. Khan was his deputy at TNK from 2002 to 2003; he now works as TNK-BP's executive director.

Igor Maidannik, TNK-BP's executive vice president for legal support, used to be head of TNK's legal department from 1998 to 2003.

The ministry's Economic Security Department issued its statement after a session of a working group that is fighting crime in the energy industry. The group reviewed its progress for the first four months of the year.

Calls to the spokeswoman for the Federal Tax Service went unanswered Thursday afternoon.