Business & Finance

Yukos was in danger of disappearing as a company after the sale of its biggest asset by the Russian government. But the deal only deepened the intrigue that has cloaked the oil-industry giant since before authorities demanded $27.5 billion in unpaid taxes and interest dating back to 2000. The buyer in Sunday's auction of Yuganskneftegaz, Yukos's main production unit, is an obscure bidder: BaikalFinans Group. The sale price, $9.3 billion, also was a fraction of what Yukos executives estimated their company was worth. BaikalFinans didn't register for the auction until last Friday, and analysts said it may be a front for Gazprom, the state-owned natural gas company. Gazprom was ready to offer $13.3 billion for Yugansk-neftegaz before an injunction granted last week by a federal court in the US blocked it from bidding. Attorneys for Yukos vowed to challenge Sunday's auction, but other analysts said the company is so weakened that its remaining assets almost certainly will have to be sold as well.

The board of troubled mortgage lender Fannie Mae deferred a decision on whether to keep chief executive Franklin Raines. But The Wall Street Journal, citing sources close to the situation, said the directors appeared to reach a consensus that chief financial officer Timothy Howard will have to leave over violations of accounting rules that could result in restating almost four years' worth of results and acknowledging as much as $9 billion in losses. The board, meeting in special session Sunday, issued no statement on its deliberations, and no date for a follow-up meeting on the matter was announced.

Stock in Deutsche Telekom worth $2.14 billion was sold by the German government to help bridge a budget deficit because "tax revenues haven't grown as hoped." But the sell-off did not represent privatization as such because the buyer, KfW Group, is a state-owned development bank. The Finance Ministry in Berlin has said it plans to sell all remaining holdings in the communications giant and in Deutsche Post by the end of 2006.

Once-secret details of Lazard LLC's finances were being studied by potential investors after the world's largest privately owned bank filed for approval by the Securities and Exchange Commission Friday for an initial public offering aimed at raising $850 million. The 156-year-old Paris institution is seeking a listing on the New York Stock Exchange as early as March.

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