Abramovich's Norilsk stake cut in revised deal to end billionaires' feud

HONG KONG Tue Dec 11, 2012 5:38am EST

Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea football club Roman Abramovich arrives at Commercial Court in London January 19, 2012. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea football club Roman Abramovich arrives at Commercial Court in London January 19, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Olivia Harris

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HONG KONG (Reuters) - Russia's RUSAL Plc (0486.HK) said on Tuesday that Kremlin-favored tycoon Roman Abramovich would buy a smaller stake in Norilsk Nickel (GMKN.MM), the world's largest nickel and palladium miner, than previously agreed in a revised deal that will also give him reduced voting rights.

Abramovich, the well-connected owner of London's Chelsea football club, would pay RUSAL and billionaire Vladimir Potanin $1.5 billion for a 5.87 percent stake in the Arctic miner, less than the 7.3 percent stake agreed last week.

Analysts said, however, that the significance of the original deal to end a four-year shareholder battle over Norilsk Nickel would not change under the revised terms.

"The whole point here is that you have now got the third party which can act as an arbitrator between the two largest shareholders and hopefully it means that Norilsk Nickel can be managed with less conflict and overhangs," said Andrew Driscoll, an analyst at CLSA.

RUSAL said last week that Potanin and the company's chief executive, Oleg Deripaska, had agreed to give Abramovich the biggest voting stake in their $30 billion company in a bid to end the two Russian billionaires' battle over Norilsk Nickel.

Potanin and Deripaska agreed that Abramovich would buy a 7.3 percent stake, in the form of treasury stock, at market price.

As part of that deal, the three parties would each contribute equal stakes, amounting to 22 percent of Norilsk, to an escrow account that would be voted by Abramovich's investment company Millhouse - giving him the largest say over how the company was run.

On Tuesday, RUSAL said the terms of the deal had been revised and Abramovich would now buy a combined 9.29 million shares from Potanin and RUSAL at $160 per share.

The revised terms meant that Abramovich would now hold 5.87 percent of Norilsk Nickel, while RUSAL would hold 27.8 percent and Potanin's Interros would hold 30.3 percent.

Norilsk's treasury shares, which Abramovich had agreed to buy in the previous deal, would be canceled, RUSAL said in the statement.

The board of directors of Norilsk Nickel would now comprise 13 members, including four from RUSAL, four from Interros and one from Millhouse. A further three independent directors would be nominated by each of the three parties. The 13th member would be elected by Norilsk Nickel minority voters.

"It suggests that it doesn't change the overall implications of the transaction or of the agreement, which we think is a positive development in this long-running dispute between the two parties which control Norilsk," Driscoll said.

Potanin and Deripaska have been locked in a shareholder dispute since RUSAL bought a one-quarter stake in Norilsk just before the 2008 global crash in a deal worth around $14 billion.

Shares of RUSAL fell 1.6 percent on Tuesday morning, lagging a 0.02 percent gain in the benchmark Hang Seng Index .HSI.

Vladimir Putin, who returned to the Russian presidency in May, has said he wanted an end to the feud between two of Russia's richest men - Potanin and Deripaska - over board control and payments to shareholders in the firm.

Norilsk Nickel, which mines the vast mineral deposits of Russia's far north, was one of the biggest prizes handed to insiders in the post-Soviet carve-up of Russian industry that created a generation of oligarchs.

(Reporting by Donny Kwok, Anne Marie Roantree and Alison Leung; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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