MOSCOW (Reuters) - Gazprom Neft SIBN.MM, Russia's No.5 oil producer, wants to raise its stake in Sibir Energy SBE.L to as much as 30 percent, Gazprom's broker said, prompting renewed speculation of a takeover approach. Russian investment bank Renaissance Capital, which is buying the shares on behalf of Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of gas giant Gazprom GAZP.MM, said it would not go above 30 percent stake threshold, which would trigger a buyout.
Russian news agency Interfax, citing unnamed sources, said the state-controlled oil company would like to raise its stake to between 45 percent and 75 percent.
A London-based analyst, who declined to be named, said the 30 percent stake plan could be an attempt by Gazprom Neft to block rival takeover efforts.
“It sounds like someone is taking a position to put their moniker on it ... You don’t buy 30 percent without looking for some form of control,” the analyst said.
Analysts have said previously that Gazprom Neft may be preparing to acquire control of Sibir, although the firm itself says it is interested only in acquiring a large minority stake.
Renaissance Capital said in a statement that it would immediately begin purchasing shares in London-listed Sibir on behalf of Gazprom Neft.
Gazprom Neft acquired over 16 percent of Sibir in April after trumping rival TNK-BP TNBPI.RTS with a bid valuing the company at about $2.8 billion. Renaissance Capital also organized that offer.
If successful in acquiring a 30 percent stake in Sibir, Gazprom Neft would become its biggest single shareholder, according to Sibir’s official ownership data.
Sibir’s Web site, www.sibirenergy.com, said two Russian tycoons, Igor Kesayev and Shalva Chigirinsky, owned a combined 47 percent, which is split evenly between them.
Kesayev has already agreed to sell a 23.3 percent stake to Gazprom Neft, the Interfax report said.
Sibir said Chigirinsky, who has fled Russia, handed over 2.7 percent of the company to be sold to Gazprom Neft to cover a $400 million debt to the company, along with his Cote d’Azur villa and a London mansion.
Russian media had reported he sold his stake.
Sibir is suing Chigirinsky to return the funds he received as part of a failed deal to sell his Russian real estate portfolio to the company.
The Moscow city government owns a further 18 percent.
Renaissance did not announce a price for the share purchase.
“The price at which shares will be purchased will reflect the level of interest shown by Sibir shareholders,” Renaissance Capital said. “All purchases need not be at the same price.”
Sibir, whose shares are currently suspended, issued a statement noting that the previous tender on behalf of Gazprom Neft was conducted at 500p per share and encouraged shareholders to seek that price.
Gazprom Neft, like its Russian peers, is pursuing new assets to expand its influence at home and abroad. Already this year the company has bought Italian assets from U.S. oil major Chevron CVX.N, as well as Serbian oil refiner NIS.
VTB Capital said a potential takeover attempt would be a “good use of cash” to invest at low values.
“Consolidating Sibir will allow Gazprom Neft to maximize the value from Sibir’s potential production growth and robust downstream exposure,” VTB Capital said in a note to clients.
Sibir's main assets include a joint venture with Royal Dutch Shell RDSa.L to operate the Salym fields in western Siberia. It also owns the Koltogorsky exploration blocks and the Yuzhnoye and Orekhovskoye fields in the same region.
Downstream, it already shares ownership of the Moscow refinery with Gazprom Neft and Tatneft TATN3.MM.
Additional reporting by Tom Bergin in London and Robin Paxton in Moscow; editing by Simon Jessop and Karen Foster
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