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    Putin Says Yukos Auction Done Legally

    Mystery oil company buys main production unit for $9.3 billion.

    MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that the auction of Yukos's main operating unit was conducted in accordance with Russian law and that the Chinese state oil company might be involved in the future operations of the unit, reported the Associated Press.

    Putin also said that the company representatives who had won the auction were private individuals who had worked many years in the energy sphere, the Interfax news agency reported. His comments at a news conference in Germany came two days after Yukos's core Yuganskneftegaz unit was sold at auction to a mystery bidder for $9.3 billion.

    Meanwhile, a source with Yuganskneftegaz said that a team of officials from the Rosneft-Purneftegaz company, a subsidiary of state-controlled Rosneft, had arrived Tuesday in Nefteyugansk, where the unit is based.

    Rosneft is in the process of being rolled into Gazprom, the state-controlled gas giant. Despite being purchased by an unknown company on Sunday, Yuganskneftegaz is also expected to eventually be incorporated into Gazprom's oil operations, creating a state-controlled, international energy titan.

    Two Russian newspapers reported Tuesday that managers from the secretive, Kremlin-loyal Surgutneftegaz oil company had represented BaikalFinansGroup, the mystery buyer of Yuganskneftegaz. The Vedomosti daily identified a man and a woman who represented the firm at Sunday's controversial auction as employees of Surgutneftegaz.

    Both Igor Minibayev, an administrative manager, and Valentina Komarova, deputy head of Surgutneftegaz's finance division, are now believed to be vacationing abroad, Vedomosti said.

    The Gazeta newspaper also identified Minibayev as having participated in Sunday's auction, and said that BaikalFinansGroup's director -- one Valentina Davletgareyeva -- is a co-owner of the Surgut-based Soveren company, which the paper said is affiliated to Surgutneftegaz.

    Analysts had earlier suggested that Surgutneftegaz, which is based in the western Siberian town of Surgut, could have bought the Yuganskneftegaz unit via the previously unheard of BaikalFinansGroup, on behalf of state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom.

    The management-controlled company is estimated to have $8 billion in cash reserves.

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