Russia's Rosneft, in U-turn, plans to bid for Alrosa's gas assets

File Photo: The logo of Russia's oil producer Rosneft is seen on a board at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2017 (SPIEF 2017) in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 1, 2017. Picture taken June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s top oil producer Rosneft said it had asked the country’s competition watchdog for permission to bid for gas fields put up for sale by diamond miner Alrosa, a day after saying it was unlikely to take part in the auction.

“Rosneft has filed a request to FAS (the Federal Anti-Monopoly service) for the purchase of Alrosa’s gas assets,” Rosneft spokesman Mikhail Leontyev said on Friday.

The move represents a U-turn for Rosneft, which said on Thursday it was unlikely to participate. The company had said the conditions were not transparent enough and did not give potential buyers enough time to prepare their bids.

The company did not explain the reason for the change of heart. Leontyev told Reuters the company still does not agree with the auction’s conditions.

Alrosa, the world’s largest producer of rough diamonds, plans to sell its gas assets in Russia’s Yamalo-Nenets region in an auction on Feb. 19 with a starting price of 30 billion rubles ($519 million).

Any potential deal at the auction is subject to the Anti-Monopoly Service’s approval. The Anti-Monopoly Service said it had yet to receive any requests from Rosneft.

Russia will mark New Year holidays from Jan. 1 to 8. Under the terms of the auction, a 21-billion-ruble deposit must be paid by Jan. 10.

Rosneft has said that the number of remaining working days did not leave enough time to make a decision and submit the deposit.

Russia’s top non-state gas producer Novatek has said it is interested in buying Alrosa’s gas fields. The Finance Ministry has said that seven bidders were expected to take part in the auction.

Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Andrey Kuzmin; writing by Polina Devitt; editing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Adrian Croft