Billionaires in Russia's Nornickel dispute agree to delay stake sale

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LONDON (Reuters) - Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin's Cyprus-based firm Whiteleave, aluminium giant Rusal 0486.HK and Roman Abramovich's Crispian have agreed to delay a sale of a 2 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel GMKN.MM by Abramovich to Potanin, a lawyer for Whiteleave said.

Chelsea soccer club owner Abramovich’s Cyprus-based Crispian on Tuesday sought a London court’s permission to sell the stake, a move Rusal is trying to block.

The ownership dispute is part of a long-running battle for control of Nornickel, a $33 billion mining company which competes with Brazil's Vale SA VALE5.SA for the rank of the world's top nickel producer and is the world's largest palladium producer.

The parties in the dispute have agreed to delay the sale until after another court hearing on March 8-9, Daniel Toledano, the lawyer for Whiteleave, told the London court on Tuesday.

“We do have essentially an agreed order,” he said.

Potanin had offered to buy a 4 percent stake in Nornickel from Abramovich for $1.5 billion. But Rusal 0486.HK, which is controlled by billionaire Oleg Deripaska and also owns a stake in the mining group, is seeking a court injunction to block the deal.

An earlier agreement involving Potanin, who owns a 30.4 percent stake in Nornickel, and Rusal, which holds 27.8 percent, allowed them to share Abramovich’s stake on a pro rata basis if they both wanted to buy it.

Abramovich stepped up as a “white knight” minority shareholder to act as a buffer between Potanin and Deripaska in 2012, but a five-year lock-up period, during which they could not sell most of their Nornickel stakes, ended in late 2017.

Abramovich and his partners hold a 6.3 percent stake in Nornickel, of which 4.2 percent is owned via Crispian.

Reporting by Peter Hobson; writing by Polina Devitt; editing by Alexander Smith and Jane Merriman