Foreign Digest

FOREIGN DIGEST

July 02, 2004

Russian court bailiffs freeze bank accounts of top oil producer

MOSCOW - Court bailiffs in the $3.4 billion tax dispute between the Kremlin and Russia's biggest oil producer took the extraordinary step of freezing the Yukos Oil Co.'s bank accounts and demanding payment in full within five days.

The company said the action threatened to shut the company down, and offered to sell a major block of stock that Yukos holds in Sibneft, a competitor that it tried and failed to merge with last year, to pay the tax claim. Hours before the bailiffs froze the company's accounts, the government sharply raised the ante in the dispute, indicating that it might double its demand for back taxes from Yukos by adding charges for 2001. The original $3.4 billion claim relates to the 2000 tax year.

Yukos, founded by the maverick Russian financier Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, has been sparring publicly with the Kremlin for nearly a year over taxes and other issues. Khodorkovsky has been in jail since November on charges of fraud, embezzlement and tax evasion related to his creation of Yukos during the murky privatizations of Russian state assets in the 1990s. His trial, begun and adjourned last month, is scheduled to resume July 12. Khodorkovsky has denied all the charges.

Mexican official denies U.S. request for gun salute

MEXICO CITY - U.S. Marines won't be allowed to fire a traditional gun salute at the graveside of a Mexican-American killed in Iraq, Mexican officials said yesterday, noting the country's laws against foreigners carrying firearms.

Lance Cpl. Juan Lopez, who was born in the central Mexico state of Guanajuato and resided in Dalton, Ga., was one of four U.S. Marines killed in an ambush in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, on June 21. Lopez was born in the town of San Luis de la Paz and emigrated to the United States as a teenager. His mother stayed in Mexico.

After family members elected to bury Lopez in Guanajuato, U.S. Marines made arrangements to give him a traditional 21-gun salute during the funeral ceremony, said Maj. Curt Gwilliam of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. But Mexico's Secretary of Defense turned down the request, saying the salute violated constitutional measures preventing foreign soldiers from bearing arms on Mexican soil.

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