August 22, 2010 / 12:02 PM / in 8 years

Putin to inspect Norilsk amid shareholder row

* Shareholders likely to be absent during Putin’s visit

MOSCOW, Aug 22 (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will visit mining giant Norilsk (GMKN.MM) next week amid a dispute between two powerful tycoons who each own a 25 percent stake in the company, the government said on Sunday.

The dispute between billionaires Vladimir Potanin and Oleg Deripaska flared up in June after Potanin won more Norilsk board seats than Deripaska’s RUSAL (0486.HK), the world’s largest aluminium producer. [ID:nN28272122]

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the tycoons were unlikely to be present at the plant during the visit.

“Their participation has not been planned, we are not aware of their plans. The format of the visit envisages meetings with Norilsk workers and in that sense the presence of the chief executive officer is more expedient,” Peskov said. Last week Deripaska filed an arbitration request to the London Court of International Arbitration against Potanin’s Interros International Investments Ltd in an effort to regain board parity after several failures in Russia.

Putin, Russia’s paramount leader, is believed to personally oversee all significant business deals in Russia and his visit may finally bring a solution to the conflict.

    Commenting in 2008 on a shareholder conflict in the Russian subsidiary of the British oil major BP (BP.L) TNK-BP, where BP and a trio of Russian-born billionaires held 50 percent stakes, Putin said equal ownership did not work.

    “I told them: ‘Don’t do it. Agree to one of you having a controlling stake,’” Putin said at the time.

    Rumours about the state buying Norilsk — the world’s top nickel and palladium producer with a market capitalisation of $32 billion — have hit the market regularly over the past decade as the Kremlin tightened control of natural resources. (Writing by Gleb Bryanski; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)

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