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Abramovich Allowed to Sell $1.5 Billion Nornickel Stake, for Now

Updated on
  • Soccer team owner will undo sale if later found impermissible
  • Challenge to Abramovich’s sale to be settled in May trial
Roman Abramovich

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

United Co. Rusal’s Oleg Deripaska agreed to let rival Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich sell a $1.5 billion stake in MMC Norilsk Nickel PJSC, providing that the sale is reversed if a London judge later finds that a shareholder agreement doesn’t allow it.

Judge Christopher Butcher on Thursday approved the agreement, which includes Vladimir Potanin, a third Russian billionaire who has agreed to buy Abramovich’s stake. Whether the sale is permissible under the terms of a shareholder agreement will now be debated at a trial set for May 14.

The agreement brings a brief hiatus in a decade-old battle of wills between Deripaska, the outgoing president of Rusal, and Potanin for control of the company known as Nornickel. The two came to a truce in 2012 after the intervention of Russian President Vladimir Putin and with the introduction of Abramovich as a mediating shareholder. The soccer club owner’s aim of selling most of his stake back to the feuding billionaires has inflamed tensions once more.

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The problems started in February when Potanin, the largest shareholder in the nickel producer and Russia’s second-richest man, proposed buying the stake for $1.5 billion, more than 20 percent above the average market price for 90 days. Abramovich countered with an offer to sell at the same price to both Potanin and Deripaska. While both accepted in a bid to maintain their influence, Deripaska had also filed for the injunction to prevent the sale.

Through their companies, Deripaska controls about 27.8 percent of Nornickel, which operates some of the richest platinum, palladium and nickel mines. Potanin owns 30.47 percent. The deal with Abramovich, whose holding is via his company Crispian Investments Ltd., would raise those to 29.73 percent and 32.56 percent, respectively.

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