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Monday, March 16, 2009

Russneft may go bankrupt or be sold due to $2.8 bil loan

Platts16 Mar. 2009 - Platts by Anna Shiryaevskaya - Moscow. Russian oil producer Russneft may go bankrupt or be sold as a result of a looming default on a $2.8 billion bank loan arranged by billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who initially planned to buy the company, sources close to Russneft shareholders said Monday. Russian state energy giants Gazprom and Rosneft are now listed among new potential buyers of Russneft, Russia's eighth-biggest oil producer, the sources said. Deripaska has been attempting to buy Russneft since the middle of 2007, when the company's founder, Mikhail Gutseriyev, ceded control of Russneft to the businessman after Russian tax authorities hit both the company and Gutseriyev with claims for back taxes. The sale of Russneft to Deripaska's holding company, Basic Element, has not yet been approved by the federal anti-monopoly agency, however. In 2007 Deripaska took out a $2.8 billion loan to buy Russneft from Russian state-controlled bank Sberbank, using shares of one of his existing businesses as collateral, one source said. The businessman used the money to pay Gutseriyev, the source added. In late January this year, officials from Basic Element were appointed as board chairman and acting president of Russneft. In February 2009, Deripaska arranged a new $2.8 billion loan with Sberbank, using 100% of Russneft shares as collateral and making the oil company the borrower, in order to repay the first credit, the source said. Russneft does not have cash to pay off the new loan, another source said. "There are only two options now, bankruptcy or the sale of the company," the source said. Gazprom and Rosneft declined to comment on possible interest in buying Russneft. A source at Rosneft, however, said the company was unlikely to buy into Russneft. Sberbank was not available to comment on the terms of the loan.

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