Tycoon seeks to buy out rival investor in Norilsk

AP News
Posted: Oct 22, 2010 11:33 AM
Tycoon seeks to buy out rival investor in Norilsk

Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin on Friday offered to buy out his rival Oleg Deripaska's 25 percent stake in miner Norilsk Nickel for $9 billion _ a deal that would solve a long-running conflict between the two corporate titans but which was promptly turned down.

Potanin's holding company Interros approached Deripaska's aluminum giant Rusal, which owns the stake, with the offer, Interros spokesman Andrei Kirpichnikov said.

Rusal rejected the offer within minutes, calling the stake "strategic" in an email to The Associated Press. That dampened hopes of an end to a corporate battle that started in June, when the Norilsk board voted to oust one of Deripaska's representatives.

Deripaska convened an extraordinary shareholders meeting Thursday to elect a new board and restore his influence, but the shareholders voted against his proposal, leaving him with three seats compared to Potanin's four. Rusal insisted after the vote that it was not giving up its fight for Norilsk, in which both tycoons own 25 percent.

"The position of Rusal's board of directors is that its Norilsk Nickel stake is a strategic investment and we are not going to sell it," the email said.

Characteristically for the relations between the two billionaires, who are not on speaking terms, Potanin addressed his offer to Viktor Vekselberg, chairman of Rusal's board, but not Deripaska, its chief executive and biggest shareholder. Vekselberg, a tycoon in his own right with assets in metals and energy, has not commented on the offer.

Observers fear that if neither of the tycoons sells his stake the ongoing spat will force the Russian government, which has no shares in the company, to intervene.

So far the government, which has just unveiled a $60 billion privatization plan over the next five years, has distanced itself from the conflict.