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Yukos, the embattled Russian oil group, yesterday confirmed it had sent a fresh proposal to the authorities offering to pay current and potential tax claims of $8bn over the next two years.

A company official said it pledged to make a first payment of $2.5bn this July, with further installments over the next two years, secured against Yukos’ 35 per cent uncontested stake in Sibneft, the oil group with which it tried to merge last year, which is worth more than $4bn.

However, Yukos reserved the right to choose how to find the cash to make the payments. The company could theoretically raise money from an ordered sale of assets, although with sufficient time it could likely raise such sums from cash generated by oil sales.

The details were contained in a letter sent to Mikhail Fradkov, the Russian prime minister, from Steven Theede, the new chief executive of Yukos, on Thursday.

The action pushes the onus back on government officials to react if they plan to avert Yukos’ move into bankruptcy triggered by a court ruling this month for $3.4bn in back taxes and penalties for 2000, combined with a freezing order preventing the company from selling assets to raise the money.

However, the Yukos official said they had yet to receive any response, in a game of brinkmanship widely seen as part of a politically motivated campaign by the authorities.

The company’s new proposal follows an offer by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head and largest shareholder in Yukos, last week to surrender his 44 per cent stake to help reimburse mounting tax debts and penalties imposed against the company.

The criminal trial of Mr Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev, on fraud and tax evasion charges, is set to reconvene today.

They have been held in detention for nine and twelve months respectively, and risk up to ten years’ imprisonment and fines of at least $700m if found guilty. Advisers to the defendants said they anticipated technical hearings and a possible further deferral, partly driven by health concerns for Mr Lebedev.

Yukos failed on Thursday to meet a deadline set by bailiffs to find the money to meet the court’s ruling. The holding company’s bank accounts have since been frozen.

Company officials believe they can continue to operate for at least another two to three weeks.

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