* Abu Dhabi's IPIC fund has 24.9 pct OMV stake
* Austrian holding company says no sign of IPIC exit from
* Russian gas industry source plays down prospects for deal
* OMV shares close up 2.9 percent
(Adds Wolf appointment, comments, market reaction)
By Stanley Carvalho and Georgina Prodhan
ABU DHABI/VIENNA, June 26 Gazprom is
in talks to buy a 24.9 percent stake in Austrian oil and gas
firm OMV, a source familiar with the talks told
Reuters, a deal that would deepen already controversial
Austro-Russian ties if it comes to fruition.
Buying the stake would give state-controlled Gazprom a
beachhead in the European Union, which has serious issues with
its planned gas pipeline through central Europe to Austria and
has imposed sanctions over Russia's annexation of Crimea.
"Talks were held but they have yet to decide on pricing,"
the source said.
Austrian state holding company OIAG, which holds 32 percent
of OMV in a shareholder pact with Abu Dhabi's International
Petroleum Investment Co (IPIC) and coordinates any shareholding
changes, said it had seen no sign IPIC wanted to exit.
"It's news to me," Siegfried Wolf, an Austrian businessman
with close ties to Russia who was elected OIAG chairman on
Thursday, told a news conference.
But he said OIAG, which has right of first refusal to buy
the stake from IPIC, would not necessarily know about any such
talks until the point at which IPIC was ready to sell. He added
he had not spoken to IPIC about the issue.
A Russian gas industry source dismissed as "rubbish"
prospects that Gazprom would buy the stake in OMV, with whom it
signed a pact this week to build a branch of the disputed South
Stream pipeline to Austria.
Veteran Austrian opposition lawmaker Peter Pilz told Kurier
newspaper and Reuters he had "concrete indications" that IPIC
and Gazprom had held discussions on the issue.
Gazprom and IPIC declined to comment, while OMV referred
questions to its major shareholders. Shares in OMV closed up 2.9
percent at 33.085 euros, making a 25 percent stake worth around
2.7 billion euros ($3.7 billion).
CONFLICT OF INTERESTS?
"As a shareholder of OMV, Gazprom would get closer control
over the construction and operations of the South Stream
pipeline," said Mikhail Korchemkin, director of U.S.-based
consultancy East European Gas Analysis.
"However, there may be a conflict of interests, because
Gazprom would be buying gas from itself."
Another analyst said: "Strictly from the share-price point
of view, I don't see much difference whether IPIC or Gazprom
would hold the stake. But if Gazprom were to make an offer for
the whole company, of course that would be a different story."
The analyst did not want to be named because of the
political nature of the issue.
OMV was the first western company to sign a long-term
gas-purchasing contract with the then-Soviet Union in 1968 and
is still a major Gazprom customer.
Pilz said he was concerned about creeping Russian influence
in Austria, whose president defended hosting a controversial
visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin this week, saying
talks were more fruitful than sanctions.
IPIC, which has held its OMV stake for 20 years, owns stakes
in a number of European companies, including Spain's Cepsa. It
also owns part of Italian lender UniCredit through its
Aabar Investments unit.
The fund is part of a stable of government-owned investment
funds tasked with aiding the diversification of the Abu
Dhabi economy away from hydrocarbon revenues.
($1 = 0.7335 Euros)
(Additional reporting by Angelika Gruber in Vienna and Denis
Pinchuk and Ekaterina Golubkova in Moscow; Editing by Tom
Pfeiffer and Michael Shields)