New RUSAL chairman says up to shareholders to resolve dispute
HONG KONG, April 3
HONG KONG, April 3 (Reuters) - The newly appointed chairman of Russia's UC RUSAL, Barry Cheung, said it was not for him to broker a settlement between the aluminium giant's different shareholder factions.
Cheung, an independent director of the company and head of the Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange, was elected last month to replace Viktor Vekselberg, who resigned over a disagreement with the management led by RUSAL's largest shareholder Oleg Deripaska over RUSAL's stake in Norilsk Nickel.
"My job is not to solve the dispute among shareholders," Cheung told reporters in a briefing.
Deripaska's holding company EN+ owns 47.4 percent of RUSAL - which competes with Alcoa and China's Chalco - and Vekselberg's Sual Partners has 15.8 percent of the firm.
"My job is to ensure that RUSAL adheres to the highest standard of corporate governance and the board functions efficiently and effectively to protect the interest of all shareholders," Cheung added.
Vekselberg quit as RUSAL's chairman three weeks ago, saying the firm was in "deep crisis" and overburdened with debt.
Deripaska, who is also the CEO of RUSAL, is ready to buy the blocking stake in Norilsk at a price reported to be around $9 billion to resolve the dispute with Vekselberg, a source told Reuters last week.
But Cheung said the company did not receive any offer for its 25 percent stake in Norilsk, which RUSAL bought in 2008 at an estimated cost of $14 billion. "We have not received anything from anybody regarding the stake in Norilsk," he said.
RUSAL intended to keep the stake in Norilsk, the world's largest miner of nickel and palladium but it would not rule out a chance to sell.
"If the price is sufficiently compelling, it is the responsibility of any board to look at it seriously," Cheung said.
A review to improve RUSAL's corporate governance is being carried out and will be presented to the board at a meeting later this month in a bid to boost investor confidence.
It is expected to recommend measures, including increasing the number of independent non-executive directors, Cheung said.
He also said he planned to improve communications with investors.
"I would imagine some shareholders are probably not happy, because our stock prices are quite below the IPO price, so it is important that our priority for the company is to get our share price up," he said.
Shares in RUSAL, the world's largest aluminium company, have fallen more than 5 percent since Vekselberg quit.
The stock, correlated to the aluminium price, closed at HK$5.81 on Monday, or about half of it initial public offering (IPO) value of HK$10.8 per share in January 2008.
Its IPO attracted heavyweights, such as Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong's richest man, a New York hedge fund run by U.S. billionaire John Paulson, Kerry Trading Co owned by Malaysian Chinese businessman Robert Kuok and mining investor Nathaniel Rothschild.
Cheung said he was cautiously optimistic about the price of aluminium, a metal used widely in industries such as automotive, construction and packaging, as demand and supply should become more balanced.