October 22, 2007 / 6:08 PM / 12 years ago

Mystery bidder emerges in battle for Russneft

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s anti-monopoly agency has received a second application to buy oil firm Russneft, industry sources said on Monday, signaling a new round of bidding for the embattled firm.

The sources declined to disclose the name of the firm, which will be competing with billionaire Oleg Deripaska for Russneft. State-controlled oil firm Rosneft (ROSN.MM) and gas export monopoly Gazprom (GAZP.MM) denied being behind the mystery bidder.

“There is a second bid. That is all I can say for the moment,” one industry source said.

“All we know is that Deripaska is facing competition,” said another source.

The previous owner of Russneft, billionaire Mikhail Gutseriyev, has accused the state of putting him under unjustified pressure and fled Russia following accusation of tax evasion and illegal business activities.

He agreed to sell Russneft to Deripaska for $3 billion cash shortly before fleeing Russia, but the deal is bogged down in legal complications as Russneft shares have been seized by the state as part of court suits.

Deripaska’s investment vehicle Basic Element (BasEl) has filed for permission with the antimonopoly agency to buy Russneft, but the clearance, which rarely takes more than a month, has remained without an answer for over two months now.

Officials have said it may take until the end of November to give a final decision.

Deripaska, Russia’s second richest man, is seen a close ally of President Vladimir Putin. But market players have suggested there could be other contenders to buy Russneft, including Rosneft or Gazprom, as the Kremlin is seeking to widen its control over the lucrative energy sector.

“Our position has not changed and we are not interested,” said Rosneft’s spokesman Nikolai Manvelov.

“It is not us,” said Gazprom’s spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov.

Russneft produces 300,000 barrels of oil per day, has two refineries and recoverable oil reserves of around 4.6 billion barrels.

The firm was set up five years ago from scratch when Gutseriyev, formerly the head of state-controlled oil firm Slavneft, bought some Slavneft assets at knock-down prices soon after its privatization.

Russneft also has a debt of around $3 billion, including to global commodities trader Glencore.

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