Russia's Deripaska exploring share buyback to escape sanctions: sources

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Russian metals tycoon Oleg Deripaska is considering having his En+ group company buy some of his shares so his stake is below the controlling level, a maneuver he hopes will remove his firms from a U.S. sanctions list, according to three sources familiar with the discussions.

FILE PHOTO: President of En+ Group, Oleg Deripaska attends an agreement signing ceremony with the Krasnoyarsk region's government, in Moscow, Russia December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin -/File Photo

Deripaska and the biggest companies in his empire were included on a U.S. Treasury Department sanctions blacklist in April. Washington said he and fellow tycoons were profiting from association with a Kremlin conducting “malign activities” around the globe.

En+ declined immediate comment.

His companies have been crippled by the sanctions, but Deripaska is seeking to persuade Washington to ease the sanctions on his businesses in exchange for him scaling back his association with his companies.

The maneuver under consideration, according to the three sources, would mirror steps taken by another sanctioned Russian tycoon, Viktor Vekselberg. His Swiss-based Sulzer company bought some of Vekselberg’s shares, prompting the U.S. Treasury Department to say that Sulzer was not at risk from sanctions.

Deripaska currently holds a 66 percent stake in En+, the vehicle through which he exercises control over Rusal, one of the world’s biggest aluminum producers, among other businesses.

The three sources, who asked not to be named, said that the share buyback maneuver was one of several options under consideration for reducing Deripaska’s stake.

Three of the sources said Deripaska’s representatives were in discussions with the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which oversees sanctions, to establish if the maneuver would be deemed enough to remove the companies from the sanctions blacklist.

“It’s one of the options being discussed now with OFAC,” said one of the sources.

A fourth source, also familiar with discussions, said that Deripaska initially resisted relinquishing control over his businesses, but had now accepted that this was inevitable for the companies to survive.

A U.S. Treasury official, asked about any discussions with Deripaska’s representatives on him reducing his stake, said the office does not generally comment on ongoing discussions about sanctions relief.

“OFAC reviews each request based on the facts and circumstances of the case and individual merits,” the official said.

Reporting by Katya Golubkova and Tatiana Voronova; Additional reporting by Polina Devitt in ST PETERSBURG and Lesley Wroughton in WASHINGTON; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Toni Reinhold