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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Gutseriyev ‘yet to close’ Russneft deal

 29 August 2007 - Upstream staff - Fugitive Russian tycoon Mikhail Gutseriyev has yet to close a deal to sell his oil company Russneft, would-be buyer magnate Oleg Deripaska said today amid speculation the state wants to nationalise the producer. Gutseriyev agreed in August to sell Russneft to Basic Element, the investment vehicle of Kremlin-friendly Deripaska, but the deal is bogged down in legal complications as some analysts suspect a rival Kremlin group opposes the plan. "We will continue talks on Russneft when we get permission from the anti-monopoly office to buy the company," Basic Element spokesman Sergei Rybak, told Reuters. "At the moment, we are still working on the documents, so the deal is not closed," he added. Rybak declined to comment on whether Gutseriyev had already been paid, while Russneft declined to comment. Gutseriyev had accused the Russian government of "unprecedented bullying" after Russneft received back tax demands totalling $800 million. Gutseriyev later withdrew his statement attacking the government and issued another saying he was happy to sell to Deripaska in a deal that industry sources valued at $6 billion. Gutseriyev was due to receive $3 billion in cash while the rest would cover Russneft's debt to Russia's state-controlled Sberbank and Swiss trading house Glencore. The deal bogged down after a Moscow court ordered the seizure of Russneft's shares. Yesteray, another Moscow court issued an arrest warrant for Gutseriyev, who prosecutors believe has fled Russia despite being under investigation. Russian media issued conflicting reports concerning Gutseriyev's whereabouts today, with the Vedomosti daily saying he was hiding in Baku, Azerbaijan, while Kommersant reported he had fled to London. The Azeri interior ministry said it had no information about Gutseriyev but was ready to co-operate with Moscow. London has become a gathering place for some of Russia's most prominent tycoons who have fallen out of the Kremlin's favour during President Vladimir Putin's seven years in office. Deripaska is regarded as one of the most pro-Kremlin businessmen, but industry sources have said he was not able to stave off a group inside the Kremlin that wants to use the courts to nationalise Russneft. The sources said the Kremlin group's plan was then to amalgamate Russneft's assets into a state major modelled on state oil giant Rosneft , already the holder of nationalised assets of Yukos. Tax officials have brought 11 suits against companies that own Russneft stock on behalf of Gutseriyev, saying the shares have changed hands illegally and should be nationalised. Today, hearings into two out of 11 suits were postponed to 3 October due to the absence of defendants. On top of his business troubles, Gutseriyev has suffered a personal tragedy with the death of his 21-year-old son in a car accident last week.

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