* Potanin may step in as CEO
* Higher dividends seen - sources
* Abramovich may come in as shareholder - sources
By Polina Devitt
MOSCOW, Nov 26 Roman Abramovich, owner of
Chelsea soccer club, may step up as a "white knight" minority
shareholder to resolve a four-year power struggle at Norilsk
Nickel in a deal that would also name the Arctic miner's largest
owner Vladimir Potanin chief executive.
Sources close to the talks said good progress was made over
the weekend in agreeing terms of the peace deal. Abramovich, a
core shareholder in FTSE 100-listed Evraz, would act as a buffer
between Potanin and Oleg Deripaska, who also controls a stake in
the world's largest nickel and palladium miner, the sources say.
Potanin and Deripaska have been at loggerheads since the
latter's Hong Kong-listed aluminium firm RUSAL bought
a one-quarter stake in Norilsk just before the 2008
global crash in a cash-and-stock deal worth around $14 billion.
RUSAL is now losing money and burdened by $10.7 billion in
net debts, while Deripaska never won a real say on the Norilsk
board and instead was overruled by Potanin, who launched a
series of share buybacks with the backing of company management.
Deripaska also refused offers by Norilsk to buy back the
stake at what would have been a relatively modest loss,
infuriating his partners in RUSAL. One, Viktor Vekselberg, quit
earlier this year as RUSAL chairman.
Analysts say that movement in the shareholder deadlock at
Norilsk may reflect Kremlin concern over an ugly court battle
just as Russia's metals and mining sector is struggling with a
nasty cyclical downturn.
Were Abramovich to buy the 7 percent stake on offer - worth
about $2 billion - that would introduce a shareholder at Norilsk
who has a history of good relations with President Vladimir
Putin. Abramovich's spokesman declined to comment.
Under the terms of the deal the parties would also agree to
increased dividend payouts over the next three years, meeting a
demand long pressed by Deripaska. Norilsk currently pays no less
than 20-25 percent of earnings to shareholders; one of the
sources said that could rise to 50 percent although a second
doubted this was possible.
CHANGES AT THE TOP
Both Norilsk and Interros, Potanin's holding company, said
the 51-year-old tycoon may replace Vladimir Strzhalkovsky as CEO
at Norilsk, a company he first invested in through the
loans-for-shares privatisations auctions he orchestrated in the
"This scenario is being considered as part of possible
agreement," Interros representative Larisa Zelkova told Reuters
Norilsk spokeswoman Alisa Fialko said it was too early to
say if and when a decision might be taken.
"Strzhalkovsky knows about this scenario of personnel
changes. He understands the main shareholder's desire to become
head of the company," she said.
Potanin now owns 28 percent of Norilsk, which has a market
value of nearly $28 billion. After the buybacks 17 percent of
its equity is now held in treasury and the main shareholders
have agreed to cancel 10 percent of that by next April.
Two sources familiar with the shareholder discussions said
Abramovich may buy the remainder of the treasury stock,
equivalent to a 7 percent stake before the stock cancellation
and nearly 7.8 percent afterwards.
The two sides want to bridge their differences before a
London arbitration court opens hearings next week into a case
dating back to 2010 in which Deripaska accuses Interros of
reneging on deal to run Norilsk in the interests of all
shareholders - although sources say a full agreement is unlikely
Shares in Norilsk fell by 1 percent to 4,632 roubles,
extending their year-to-date decline to 6.6 percent. In Hong
Kong, RUSAL's shares gained by 2.7 percent to HK$4.62, narrowing
their 2012 losses to 6.5 percent.