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MOSCOW -- The key production unit of beleaguered Russian oil giant Yukos was handed a back-taxes bill for nearly $1 billion, the Interfax news agency reported Wednesday, apparently increasing the likelihood that the unit would be sold at auction, according to the Associated Press.
The Interfax report cited a source in the Nefteyugansk city administration as saying the Tax Ministry submitted a bill of $951 million to the Yuganskneftegaz company, which pumps some 60 percent of Yukos's oil.
Yukos officials in Moscow declined immediate comment on the report.
The reported tax claim would be the latest in a series of blows to Yukos, Russia's largest oil producer, which accounts for about 2 percent of world oil supply. Yukos itself faces billions of dollars in tax claims and the prospect that key units such as Yuganskneftegaz could be sold off by the state to meet the bill.
Months of uncertainty about Yukos's future and concerns over possible supply interruptions have been among the factors behind record-high world oil prices.
The announcement of the new tax claim came hours after a Justice Ministry official announced that Yukos was making headway in paying off some of its tax debt. The official was quoted by Interfax as saying that more than 75 percent of Yukos's 2000 tax debt had been recovered from the company.
But Yukos faces a similarly large claim for 2001, and total claims against it for 2000-2003 are expected to exceed $10 billion. Bailiffs have ordered Yuganskneftegaz to be sold at auction to pay the bill.