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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rosneft Targets Yukos Mystery Buyers

Rosneft is in talks to buy a clutch of valuable Yukos assets that went to two mysterious companies in bankruptcy auctions, Rosneft CEO Sergei Bogdanchikov said Monday.

The companies, Unitex and Prana, together paid $4.4 billion for their lots.

Unitex bought Yukos' 537 filling stations in Moscow and the surrounding region while Prana acquired the bankrupt company's trading house, beating Rosneft in a fierce bidding. Prana's lot included Yukos' office building in central Moscow, oil products and bank accounts that some say held billions of dollars.

Rosneft is seeking much but not all of what went to Prana, a company whose owners still remain unknown, Bogdanchikov said.

"Frankly, we are not much interested in who they are and we intend to buy ... a considerable part of the assets," he said, Interfax reported.

Prana paid 100.1 billion rubles ($3.9 billion) for the headquarters building and trading firm in the most competitive of the Yukos auctions. It battled a Rosneft subsidiary for three hours on May 11, paying 4 1/2 times the starting price.

"The trading house alone is worth more than $1 billion," Bogdanchikov said.

He did not say why the company did not continue bidding at the auction.

The Federal Anti-Monopoly Service last month approved Prana as a buyer after an investigation into its obscure ownership structure. At first, it even failed to contact the firm at its stated address. Officials eventually communicated with Prana but declined to reveal their findings. Gazprom, which analysts say is the only Russian company able to challenge Rosneft, denied having links to Prana.

Rosneft did not continue to compete with Prana because it probably had a certain limit on how much it could spend at the auction, said Konstantin Batunin, an analyst at Alfa Bank. It could since then have revised its best price for the assets, he said.

Rosneft's talks with Unitex are in their closing stages, Bogdanchikov said. Rosneft did not take part in the filling stations auction because it did not have enough information about the lot at the time, he said.

"But when we realized that we had enough information to make a managerial and commercial decision we decided to buy," Bogdanchikov said, Interfax reported.

Unitex beat TNK-BP and Shell with a bid of $483 million at the May 10 auction.

Rosneft dropped out before the bidding started, but said immediately afterward that it was interested in the assets.

Analysts have linked the firm to Gazprom and Novatek, but neither Unitex nor the authorities officially announced the owners.

Unitex bought the filling stations at just one half of their fair value, Batunin said. Even if Rosneft buys them with a markup it could still end up paying less than the market price, he said.

The situation with Unitex is reminiscent of Rosneft's purchase of Yuganskneftegaz, the jewel in Yukos' crown, in December 2004. A virtually unknown company, Baikal Finance Group, snapped up Yugansk without any significant competition, and then sold it to Rosneft a few days later.

Rosneft did not say how much it paid for Yuganskneftegaz but Baikal Finance Group acquired it for only $9.35 billion, far below the value that had been estimated by independent banks.