The Russian gas monopoly Gazprom has approved a plan to bid for a main production unit of the troubled giant oil firm Yukos.

The company's board of directors Wednesday also approved obtaining outside financing for the December 19 bidding on the unit, Yuganskneftegaz. Government officials say they want to recover billions of dollars Yukos owes in back taxes.

Bids are to start at $8.6 billion, far below what independent assessors say the unit is worth.

The Interfax news agency quotes a source close to Yukos saying authorities questioned a member of the firm's legal department for eight hours Tuesday in a probe of financial wrongdoing.

The report says the interrogation ended only after the man lost consciousness. Russian officials have pledged to fight corporate corruption and today gave mobile phone operator VimpelCom a tax bill for nearly $160 million for 2000.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and AP.