Obscure buyer pays $4bn for Yukos HQ

The last bankruptcy sale of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Yukos ended in mystery on Friday when an obscure company bought an auctioned lot including Yukos’ headquarters building for almost $4bn, in what looked at first glance to be the most expensive property deal in recent history.

The company, Prana, bid nearly five times the starting price of Rbs22bn to head off state-controlled Rosneft in more than two hours of fierce bidding.

Observers were baffled by the price paid for the lot, which, at first glance, included only the office building and a couple of shell companies.

Moscow property experts estimated Yukos’ tower block was worth no more than $300m. “It’s not new. It’s not in the centre. This sum just does not fit the building,” said Constantine Demetriou, head of capital markets at Jones Lang Lasalle in Moscow.

The most expensive single office blocks ever sold in Europe are thought to be London’s HSBC Tower, which was bought this month by Spain’s Metrovacesa for $2.2bn, and Unibail’s Coeur Defense skyscraper in Paris, bought last month by Lehman Brothers for $2.8bn. The previous record for an office block in Moscow was $150m, according to data from Cushman & Wakefield, the real estate advisers.

Rosneft had widely been expected to snap up the headquarters as the culmination of its takeover of Yukos. The state-controlled oil major has faced little competition in previous bankruptcy auctions in which it has bought all Yukos’ remaining production units and refineries in bidding often lasting less than 10 minutes.

The break-up of Yukos over $33bn in back tax demands has helped propel Rosneft to the position of Russia’s biggest oil producer.

But Friday’s price brings the total raised from the Yukos bankruptcy sale to Rbs824bn. This substantially exceeds the company’s total debts of Rbs709bn, fuelling Yukos shareholders’ claims the company was bankrupted illegally to benefit the state and Rosneft.

Alexander Temerko, Yukos’ former vice president, said he had information that the trading entities included in Friday’s lot held more than $4.5bn in cash from oil sales by Yukos’ two remaining production units. “The company should never have been bankrupted,” he said.

Other former Yukos employees were at a loss to explain what could have been so valuable in the lot.

Dmitry Golobov, a former Yukos corporate lawyer, questioned whether the trading entities included in the auction - Trading House Yukos M and Vostok Trade - could hold so much cash. If they did, however, he said that this would “raise a lot of questions” over the bankruptcy process.

A spokesman for the bankruptcy receiver, however, seemed unaware during the sale of other assets apart from the office building held any value. He could not be reached for comment.

Additional reporting by Jim Pickard in London

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