Novatek's workaround allowed France's Total to buy stake in Arctic LNG 2: Ifax

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s Novatek used a special scheme, via Sberbank, to expedite French energy major Total’s acquisition of a stake in its Arctic LNG 2 project, Interfax news agency reported on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of French oil and gas company Total is seen on a truck transporting fuel in Durban, South Africa February 7, 2019. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

The scheme allowed Total to buy a 10 percent stake from Novatek in the project without needing the approval of Russian government agencies that monitor foreign investment, though the workaround was itself approved by officials.

Should any of the scheme’s arrangements change, Total’s newly-acquired stake in the major project - which is forecast to require a capital expenditure of up to $21 billion - would have to be scrutinized by Russian authorities, the head of one of the state authorities was cited by Interfax as saying on Thursday.

Total, Sberbank and Novatek were not immediately available for comment.

In recent years, foreign investments in strategically important Russian industries and companies must be disclosed and approved by the Russian government if the foreign-owned stake is higher than 25 percent.

Total’s acquisition of a stake in Arctic LNG 2, when combined with its prior 19.4 percent in Novatek itself, would have brought it over this mark, and triggered a need for approval, Igor Artemyev, head of Russia’s Federal Anti-monopoly Service, said.

His agency had previously declined to approve the deal independently, referring it up to a government commission, Kommersant reported last week, adding that this could delay the deal’s closure.

But the two parties developed a workaround, which Artemyev’s agency approved, that brought Total’s stake back below the 25 percent mark and meant referral up to the special government commission was not required.

“For various reasons they wanted to get this deal done more quickly and chose to change the scheme,” Interfax news agency cited Artemyev as saying.

The workaround required Novatek to pledge 15 percent of its own shares in the Arctic LNG 2 project to Sberbank as collateral for a credit line.

With Sberbank’s name now on some of Novatek’s shares, Total’s stake was considered to have shrunk.

“As long as these shares continue to be held as collateral... everything is fine,” Artemyev was cited as saying.

But once the shares are returned by Sberbank to Novatek, the deal, Total’s acquisition, will have to be reviewed by a government commission, Artemyev said.

“But at the moment, they could sign this deal, and we understand that it is within the law,” he added.

Reporting by Katya Golubkova and Maria Kiselyova; Additional reporting by Felix Bate in Paris; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Alexandra Hudson