Ex-central Banker Gerashchenko Set To Chair YUKOS

Moscow, April 27 | Updated: Apr 28 2004, 05:30am hrs
The former head of Russias central bank, Viktor Gerashchenko, has agreed to become chairman of embattled oil major YUKOS, Interfax news agency reported on Tuesday.

Mr Gerashchenko would assume the role from current chairman and chief executive Simon Kukes as YUKOS fights a $3.5 billion tax bill, which its foreign lenders warn could force it into default, while trying to unwind its failed merger with Sibneft.

YUKOS shareholders proposed to me that I should join the board of directors and I accepted, Mr Gerashchenko told Interfax, saying his appointment should get board approval on Wednesday.

Mr Gerashchenkos comments confirmed a report in the Vedomosti daily, quoting sources close to holding company Menatep, saying Mr Kukes should share roles with Mr Gerashchenko.

One person should not carry out these two duties, Vedomosti quoted one source as saying. Shareholders regard Gerashchenko as a good candidate. He has a spotless reputation and is a strong financier. That is what we need now.

News of Mr Gerashchenkos appointment gave a modest lift to shares in YUKOS, which fell by nearly 10 per cent on Monday as the company said its banks had served notice that enforcement of the tax bill could lead it to default on a $1 billion loan.

At 0810 GMT, YUKOS shares were up 2.8 per cent at 329 roubles on the MICEX stock exchange, whose composite index was down 0.5 per cent.

Analysts said Mr Gerashchenko, Russias central bank governor in 1992-1994 and 1998-2002, could calm down the tax dispute.

His appointment could facilitate negotiations with the government over a possible settlement, Troika Dialog brokerage commented in its morning report.

Although he was a pillar of the communist-era establishment, Mr Gerashchenko is now a deputy for the Nationalist Motherland Party, part of the small opposition in a parliament loyal to President Vladimir Putin. He said he would give up his seat.

YUKOS is controlled by six individual shareholders through Menatep, before taking in to account dilution resulting from the failed merger with Sibneft, which the two sides have so far failed to unwind.

The largest individual shareholder is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former CEO of YUKOS who was arrested last autumn and remains in jail awaiting trial on charges of fraud and tax evasion.

A court ban on asset sales linked to the tax case led Standard & Poors to slash its YUKOS rating last week by five notches to CCC, leading to the banks warning it may default on the syndicated loan taken out to help fund the Sibneft deal. Analysts pointed to cross-default provisions on other loans which could mean the firm lacks the cash to repay its $3 billion in obligations to lenders now, although YUKOS business could generate enough cash if enforcement of the tax bill is delayed.

If...YUKOS is required to pay the entire $3.5 billion (tax) claim it would have a long period during which to accumulate the cash to meet it, said UFGs Stephen OSullivan, who has an outperform rating on the stock.

The problems for YUKOS are real, although not fatal.

YUKOS declined comment on Mr Gerashchenko, but chief financial officer Bruce Misamore was due to hold a news conference in London at 0900 GMT and the company plans an investor conference call at 1400 GMT.