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    Moscow court sanctions arrest of RussNeft ex-head -1

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    The Tverskoi Court of Moscow has issued in absentia an arrest warrant for former head of RussNeft oil company Mikhail Gutseriyev, a spokesman for the Moscow City Court said Tuesday.

    (Adds details, background in paragraphs 2-7)

    MOSCOW, August 28 (RIA Novosti) - The Tverskoi Court of Moscow has issued an in absentia arrest warrant for former head of RussNeft oil company Mikhail Gutseriyev, a spokesman for the Moscow City Court said Tuesday.

    RussNeft former CEO Gutsiriyev resigned July 30 amid accusations of tax evasion and illegal business made by the Interior Ministry. He is currently living abroad, and an international search is underway, according to the ministry's investigators.

    The company, one of Russia's top 10 crude producers, with recoverable reserves of more than 630 million metric tons (4.6 billion barrels), faces substantial back tax claims.

    In July, Moscow's Arbitration Court upheld a claim by tax authorities that RussNeft owed over 3.7 billion rubles ($145 million) in back taxes for 2003 and the first quarter of 2004. The court is now examining a series of transactions involving RussNeft securities that the Federal Tax Service claims are illegal.

    In a statement briefly posted on the company's Web site July 30, Gutseriyev said he had been forced to resign and sell the oil business under pressure from prosecutors and tax authorities. However, the tycoon later said the decision to sell RussNeft was made by shareholders, and that the company would be sold at market value.

    Earlier, the company reported that the Kremlin-friendly industrial holding Basic Element, controlled by billionaire Oleg Deripaska, had applied to the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service for permission to acquire a controlling stake in RussNeft.

    Under Russian law, the service must make a decision within three months. A source close to the negotiations said the deal could be worth $6.5-7 billion.

    On Monday, Igor Artemyev, the head of the Russian Anti-Monopoly Service, said on an Internet news conference that Basic Element's application did not correspond with the service's requirements and has not been considered yet.

    If charged and convicted, Gutsiriyev faces up to six years in prison, in a case reminiscent of legal battles for the now bankrupt oil firm Yukos, widely seen in the West as punishment against company founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and as part of a Kremlin campaign to regain control of oil and gas assets.

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