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Moscow court postpones hearings on ex-Yukos unit's damages claim

MOSCOW, August 10 (RIA Novosti) - The Moscow Arbitration Court has postponed until September 12 hearings on a claim for damages from an ex-Yukos unit sold in a December 2004 auction to help pay the parent company's massive tax bills.

The hearings were postponed because Yuganskneftegaz lawyers said they needed time to obtain more documents from the Federal Tax Service, a RIA Novosti correspondent reports from the courtroom.

Yuganskneftegaz, now owned by largely state-owned Rosneft Oil Company, lodged the suit in March 2005, claiming more than 304 billion rubles ($11.4 bln) in damages, including 163 bln rubles ($6.1 bln) for losses sustained as a result of Yukos's lower transfer pricing schemes in oil deals in 1999-2003. Later, a court increased this amount to 226 bln rubles ($8.46 bln).

Yugansk is seeking the remainder of the sum, 141 bln rubles ($5.28 bln), to compensate for losses arising from the settlement of tax arrears.

Yukos, once Russia's biggest oil company, was declared bankrupt on August 1 after three-year litigation with tax authorities. The group now faces a total of $18.2 bln in claims from creditors, including Yugansk ($4.07 bln), the Federal Tax Service ($13.1 bln), Rosneft ($482 mln) and more than 20 other companies.

An inquiry was opened August 8 into alleged fraud during Yukos bankruptcy procedures. The Prosecutor General's Office said Yukos had secured a loan worth over $4.5 bln from Yukos Capital SARL, a Luxembourg-based subsidiary and major creditor, through affiliated legal entities. It said ex-Yukos officials had masterminded a scheme to sell crude oil through trading companies Fargoil and Ratibor under their control, acting both as fictitious owners and buyers.

Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky is serving an eight-year prison sentence after being convicted for fraud in May 2005.

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