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Russian Billionaires Said to Discuss Norilsk Chairman Job

Vladimir Potanin, a billionaire investor in OAO GMK Norilsk Nickel, has been proposed to become chairman of the world’s biggest producer of the metal as a step toward resolving a four-year shareholder conflict, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

Potanin’s potential return to the board may put some accountability for management on the businessman, and was proposed as an alternative to dismissing his ally Vladimir Strzhalkovsky from the post of Norilsk chief executive officer, the people said, asking not to be identified as the talks are private. Rusal’s billionaire chief Oleg Deripaska has been demanding the CEO’s ouster, they said.

The possible move is one step in negotiations about management and strategy that also cover an increase in dividend payments from Norilsk, which would help Rusal manage its own debt burden, the people said.

Deripaska, whose Rusal holds 25 percent of Norilsk, has criticized Strzhalkovsky’s team and opposed the executive’s appointment in 2008. A London court is set to hear a claim in December from Rusal against Potanin about an alleged breach of their 2008 shareholder agreement on board representation at Norilsk.

The businessman’s Interros Holding and Rusal resumed talks after holding separate meetings with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev this month, the people said. Potanin’s potential role as chairman was first raised several months ago before talks broke down in the summer, they said.

No Sales

Potanin and Deripaska have been battling at Norilsk since Rusal bought its stake from Mikhail Prokhorov, a former partner in Interros. Since October 2010, Rusal has rejected three offers to sell out of Norilsk, rebuffing an approach of $8.75 billion for a 15 percent stake in September 2011.

There are no talks on selling shares in Norilsk, the people said.

Interros is preparing to ask the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service for permission to boost its stake in Norilsk Nickel to as much as 75 percent plus one share from 28 percent, Larisa Zelkova, an Interros director on Norilsk’s board, said by phone today. Interros wants clearance in case an opportunity arises to buy stock, she said.

Vera Kurochkina, Rusal’s spokeswoman, declined to comment on the talks, as did Interros’s press service. Kommersant reported earlier today that Rusal and Interros had resumed talks.

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