Exclusive: Kazakh mining company ERG looks to spin off and list assets - sources

LONDON (Reuters) - Kazakh mining company Eurasian Resources Group (ERG), formerly known as ENRC, is working on a plan to eventually spin off and list some of its assets to help repay debt, three banking sources said.

FILE PHOTO: Kazakhstan's national flag is displayed in this illustration taken January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo

The company, then called Eurasian National Resources Corporation (ENRC), was taken private by its three founders and the Kazakh government in 2013 in a $4.5 billion buyout, six years after listing on the London stock exchange.

While listed in London, the company was dogged by boardroom battles, weak commodity prices and an investigation into fraud and bribery at some of its subsidiaries.

ERG, which is registered in Luxembourg, has ferrochrome, aluminum, iron ore and energy operations in Kazakhstan, copper and cobalt assets in Africa and iron ore mines in Brazil.

The assets sales will help ERG pay off some of its debt, the sources said. VTB agreed last year to extend the terms covering $3 billion of ERG's debt to 2022. As of July 2016, ERG owed $5.8 billion to its main creditors, VTB VTBR.MM and Sberbank SBER.MM.

“The company needs to raise cash and is looking to spin off some of its assets, most likely the ferrochrome and power ones, and list them,” another banking source said.

The sources said VTB Capital and Rothschild ROTH.PA were working on the plan.

ERG was not immediately available to comment.

VTB Capital and Rothschild, which is a long-term adviser to the Kazakh government, declined to comment. The government holds a 40 percent stake in the company.

One of the banking sources said ERG was looking to bring in Japanese or Chinese shareholders to invest in a stake of up to 20 percent in the assets it plans to spin off.

Documentation will be sent to potential investors over the next few weeks, the source said.

Sources said ERG would probably aim to list the spun-off assets in London or Hong Kong, which would be a turnaround after it quit the FTSE 100 index .FTSE under a cloud.

Britain’s Serious Fraud Office launched an investigation into ENRC in 2013, the year it became ERG following the buyout. The company denies it committed any criminal offence and none of its employees or consultants has been charged or prosecuted.

The company raised 1.4 billion pounds ($2 billion) when it listed in London in 2007 but its shares fell 60 percent during its six-year listing, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Minority shareholders were left with heavy losses and the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority changed its rules after ENRC quit the exchange to make majority shareholders more accountable.

ERG has sold assets worth about $1 billion in the past few years and is developing large-scale investment projects worth more than $2 billion with China as part of Beijing’s “Belt and Road” initiative, a project to build a modern-day Silk Road trading route extending to Europe, southern Asia and Africa.

Kazakhstan, Central Asia’s biggest economy, has also started an ambitious privatization program after being hard hit by the slide in world oil prices since 2014.

The country’s $67 billion sovereign wealth fund Samruk Kazyna has sold more than 120 small and mid-sized firms.

It is also preparing to privatize larger firms such as oil producers KazMunayGaz (KMG) KMGZ.KZ and Samruk Energy, uranium producer Kazatomprom and national carrier Air Astana.

In a bid to build commercial ties with Chinese businesses and gain access to Chinese investors, some of the state-owned firms are expected to list in Hong Kong as well as Astana when they are privatized, industry sources said.

($1 = 0.7157 pounds)

Reporting by Clara Denina and Dasha Afanasieva; additional reporting by Barbara Lewis in London, Mariya Gordeyeva and Olzhas Auyezov in Almaty; editing by David Clarke