TCO says unaware of Kazakhs $2.5 bln back-tax claim

28.09.04 11:08
/REUTERS, September 28, 04/ - ChevronTexaco-led oil venture Tengizchevroil (TCO) said on Tuesday it was unaware of a $2.5 billion back- tax claim against it by Kazakhstan, despite an earlier confirmation of the pay demand by a venture partner. "Tengizchevroil has no knowledge of any claim by the government of the Republic of Kazakhstan of $2.5 billion against the joint venture," TCO Media Holding said in a statement sent to Reuters. An official from Russian oil company LUKOIL, a TCO venture partner, confirmed earlier on Tuesday a report in Russian business daily Kommersant that Kazakhstan was seeking $2.5 billion from TCO for back taxes and fines. "I believe this is now in the stage of negotiations (with the government)," the official said by telephone from Moscow. "I have nothing to add to what Kommersant said." Kommersant said that Kazakhstan's tax claim to TCO was for overdue taxes and fines dating back to 2000-2003. TCO, the Central Asian state's largest oil producer, has been at odds with the government on how to fund its expansion. The venture has pressed for an accelerated amortisation of its assets. But the government has said that this financial strategy cuts taxes that the multinational venture pays to the state. Kazakh Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik told reporters he "had no information" about the tax claim to TCO. "It's not up to me; it's up to the finance ministry (to comment)," he said. Other government officials could not be reached for comment. TCO, which sits on the giant onshore Tengiz oilfield in western Kazakhstan, aims to boost output to 480,000 barrels per day by 2006 from around 260,000 bpd currently. ChevronTexaco holds 50 percent in TCO, while LUKOIL owns a 54 percent stake in LUKArco, which holds 5 percent in TCO. On Wednesday Russia's government is due to hold an auction to sell its remaining 7.6 percent stake in LUKOIL with a starting price of nearly $2 billion. LUKOIL is the world's second largest oil company by reserves. U.S. energy firm ConocoPhillips is tipped by Russian media and officials to be a "very interested" bidder for the LUKOIL stake. The firm has several joint projects with LUKOIL. Other partners in TCO include ExxonMobil with 25 percent and Kazakh state oil and gas holding company KazMunaiGas with 20 percent. [2004-09-28]