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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gazprom Denies Being Behind Yukos Bid Winner

Gazprom on Wednesday denied that it stood behind the mystery winner of the multibillion-dollar Yukos headquarters auction last week.

"We have no connection with this company and we never have," Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said. "They did not act on our behalf."

Prana, headed by Vladimir Yesakov, more than quadrupled the starting price to $3.9 billion when it cast the winning bid against Rosneft for a lot that included Yukos' central Moscow headquarters and a trading company said to be storing up to $3 billion in cash.

Kommersant reported Wednesday that Prana was linked to Gazprom through Boris Fyodorov, a member of the state-run gas giant's board of directors and co-founder of investment bank UFG.

Yesakov, Prana's general director, also serves as director of two other companies, Kataron and Biospark, Kommersant said Wednesday in an investigative story.

Biospark is the new pet project of Fyodorov, who mentioned the firm in a March interview with the newspaper, it said.

The other company, Kataron, is linked to Citadel Asset Management, which owns a share in Forpost Management, which is in turn owned by a Gazprom-led consortium, the newspaper said.

"If you look at how we took part in earlier auctions, we were always open. If we were interested, we said so outright," Kupriyanov said.

Gazprom openly took part in one auction, signing a call option with Eni and Enel before the Italian companies took part in an April 4 sale of Yukos gas assets.

The Eni-Enel consortium won the lot and agreed to sell a 20 percent stake in Gazprom Neft back to Gazprom, which also has an option to buy 51 percent of Yukos gas production units within two years. The call option was only made public after the auction closed.

The Federal Anti-Monopoly Service has yet to approve Prana's purchase of the lot, and on Tuesday its chief, Igor Artyomov, cited concerns over the company's obscure ownership structure.

The lot could then be handed to the next highest bidder, wholly owned Rosneft subsidiary Neft-Aktiv.

Neft-Aktiv won yet another auction on Wednesday, paying 1.8 billion rubles ($70 million) for stakes in various oilfield services and IT companies, bankruptcy receiver spokesman Nikolai Lashkevich said.

The Rosneft subsidiary beat out two unknown companies, Akkord and Tekhniks, after just eight bids, he said.

The next auction will be held June 7 and the final one has yet to be scheduled, he added.

Rosneft has won nearly all the major auctions to sell off Yukos assets. Analysts say Gazprom declined to take part because of legal concerns. Former Yukos managers call the series of sales expropriation and are waging legal battles in the Netherlands and Strasbourg, France.