Russian authorities have detained the executive vice president of the country's failing Yukos oil company for questioning on charges of embezzlement and money laundering.

Officials at the office of Russia's prosecutor general say Vasily Aleksanian is being questioned as a suspect in the Yukos investigation.

Company officials say executives in London appointed Aleksanian to the post just last week in efforts to help protect the firm's remaining assets.

Yukos, once Russia's largest oil company, is facing bankruptcy and liquidation following huge Russian government back tax claims.

A Moscow court last month ordered bankruptcy officials to oversee Yukos assets pending a June 27 court hearing. Several Western banks had asked the court to declare Yukos bankrupt, saying it defaulted on more than $480 million in debt.

The banks have already reached a deal with the Russian oil company Rosneft to transfer control of the Yukos debt to the state-owned firm.

The conglomerate's former head, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is serving an eight-year prison term in Siberia following conviction on tax evasion and fraud charges. His supporters say the Kremlin is punishing Khodorkovsky for his support of the political opposition, a charge Russian officials deny.

Meanwhile, Moscow court has rejected Khodorkovsky's appeal against being sent to Siberia instead of a prison closer to his residence near the Russian capital.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.