02/24/2005, 00.00
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Texas court to decide whether it has jurisdiction or not

by Maurizio d’Orlando

Milan (AsiaNews) – Bankruptcy Court Judge Letitia Clark will soon rule whether her court has jurisdiction over the Yukos case. The Russian oil company has 13.7 billion barrels in proven reserves in Russia, mostly in Siberia (plus those in Algeria).

Appearing before the court on behalf of Deutsche Bank, William Butler, a law professor at the University of London, said that the company should have filed for bankruptcy in its home country as required of insolvent companies there. Deutsche Bank has been challenged the court's jurisdiction because Yukos has no assets here beyond the residence of its displaced finance chief and two bank accounts.

According to Yukos's attorneys the company couldn't get fair treatment in its battle against what has grown to be a US.5 billion back-tax levy and its inability to pay it or even do business. Questioned about whether a treaty exists to allow Russian courts to enforce a U.S. court's orders related to Russian tax claims, Mr Butler said that none existed. This means that a US Court can order a Russian Court to do anything concerning taxes owed to the Russian government by a Russian company.

Yukos has argued that since it has a subsidiary, Yukos U.S.A., and two Texas bank accounts holding about million to cover business costs and legal fees, the US Court could rule on the matter. Both indicate intent on the part of the Russian company to increase its presence in the US and should bolster its claim to have its case heard in a US Court.

Deutsche Bank attorneys countered accusing Yukos of back-dating documents regarding money transfers into the United States to bolster its claim.

Yukos's Chief Financial Officer Bruce Misamore, who arrived in Houston in early December, admitted that Yukos executives had backdated documents after the Russian declared the company bankrupt on December 14, 2004. But he also said that any discrepancy was due to the fact US$ 480,000 dollars were remitted to a US bank on December 14 and the rest on the following day.

The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has waded into the Yukos affair. On February 17, it heard Steve Theede, who replaced Mikhail Khodorkovsky as Yukos CEO, and Tim Osborne, director of Menatep, Yukos's parent company. On the February 16, it heard newly-appointed US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who said that democracy was retreating in Russia.

Ms Rice noted that President Bush's budget request for 2006 stipulates cuts in appropriations to programs of US federal assistance to Russia. Similarly, in her view, the US should monitor this situation for 6 to 12 months regarding what is happening in that country.

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