Russian law enforcement officials entered the headquarters of the oil giant, Yukos, Saturday, apparently to enforce a court order for the company to pay a huge tax bill. This is the latest move in a legal battle between the state and Yukos.
Backed by police, up to 100 government officials entered the steel and glass office building of Russia's largest oil company Saturday afternoon, when only security guards were present.
A Yukos spokesman said the raid was the start of a general takeover of the company's headquarters, following a court order that the oil giant must pay the government up to $3.4 billion in back taxes. The court gave Yukos until next Wednesday to pay the tax bill. Russian media report the government is seeking a similar amount for unpaid taxes in 2001.
Yukos officials have said this may force the company into bankruptcy. Last week, Yukos offered a compromise solution, offering to pay in assets that it holds in another oil company. But the government rejected the offer.
The Kremlin is also pursuing a criminal fraud case against Yukos' former chief, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Kremlin critics say the case against Mr. Khodorkovsky, who was a financial backer of opposition candidates in the last parliamentary and presidential elections, is politically motivated. Some analysts see the investigation of Yukos as a warning to other Russian oligarchs to stay out of politics.
President Vladimir Putin has dismissed such claims, insisting Russia's rich are not exempt from criminal justice. Both cases have sent Yukos' stock plummeting, dragging much of the Russian stock market down with it. Yukos was once seen as the most transparent of the major Russian companies to emerge since the collapse of the Soviet Union.