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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rosneft Goes After Sibneft Shares

Assets in embattled oil company Yukos, including 20 percent in former partner Sibneft, were frozen at the request of state oil company Rosneft, the CEO of Rosneft said Wednesday.

"At our request, as a guarantee in our lawsuits, a number of Yukos assets have been seized, including 20 percent in Sibneft," Rosneft CEO Sergei Bogdanchikov said in Astana, Kazakhstan, Interfax reported.

The announcement comes amid market speculation that Roman Abramovich, Russia's richest man according to Forbes, is looking to sell his majority stake in Sibneft to either Rosneft or Gazprom.

The speculation was fueled by Sibneft's announcement Monday that it would pay out a record $2.3 billion in dividends for 2004.

Rosneft and state-controlled Gazprom are believed to be interested in Sibneft, as both want to bolster their oil operations. Also, the state has made it clear it wants control over Russian energy.

Yukos currently has a 34.5 percent stake in Sibneft, one of the spoils of a failed merger between the companies in 2003.

Bogdanchikov said Wednesday he was not interested in any more than a 20 percent stake in Sibneft shares held by Yukos. "We seized those assets in order to prevent property sales by Yukos," Bogdanchikov said.

"This is a political move by Rosneft to try and make sure that it can get the Sibneft shares when the court confiscates them on behalf of the tax ministry," said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Alfa Bank.

Yukos has had its assets frozen by tax authorities seeking to recover over $27 billion in back taxes. As part of that scheme, the government sold Yukos' prize asset Yuganskneftegaz last December to Rosneft for $9.3 billion.

Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky was sentenced in May to nine years in jail for fraud and tax evasion in a case widely seen as the Kremlin's punishment for his political ambitions.

Claire Davidson, a Yukos spokeswoman in London, said the company had yet to receive any official confirmation of the freeze, The Associated Press reported.

She noted it was only the latest court injunction banning Yukos from selling off its assets, dating back to last year.

Rosneft is already targeting Yukos for $13 billion in damages. Rosneft claims Yukos stripped production unit Yugansk of profits before its December sale. Rosneft has already had other Yukos assets frozen in that case.

Also on Wednesday, a court in the Far East region of Chukotka, where Abramovich is governor, ruled that Yukos must hand back 14.5 percent in Sibneft to its former owners, Sibneft spokesman John Mann said. He refused to elaborate.

Yukos has a month to appeal the court ruling, Interfax quoted a court official as saying.

Separately, Bogdanchikov said that Rosneft had no plans to increase its borrowing, with the company already three times over its credit limit. Since buying Yugansk last December, Rosneft's debt levels have rocketed, increasing fivefold on the year to $22.65 billion.