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Rosneft goes after 'British' oil

Two days after Britain's counterintelligence officials rifled through his corporate papers at a London airport, Rosneft president Sergei Bogdanchikov moved to snap up one of the kingdom's oil companies for $72 million.

Russia's last fully state-owned oil major offered Friday to pay Anglo-Siberian shareholders twice the market value of their shares in a bid to gain control over the company's licenses for the Vankor and North Vankor oil fields in western Siberia.

Rosneft Investments Limited, the company's offshore investment vehicle, offered to buy Anglo-Siberian stock at 100 pence per share -- double the closing share price on April 2, two days before. The offer values the company at about ?46.3 million ($72 million).

London-based Anglo-Siberian had no comment on the offer.

Its board must meet soon to decide whether to recommend to shareholders that they accept the offer or opt to fight it off, but in the meantime it has advised its shareholders against taking any action.

Anglo-Siberian holds the license for the Vankor field through Yeniseyneft, a Russian-based entity in which it owns a 59 percent stake. Aton brokerage said the field has estimated recoverable reserves of 906 million barrels of oil and 73 trillion cubic meters of associated gas.

It also fully owns the license to develop North Vankor, a field with 274 million barrels of recoverable reserves.

French oil and gas giant TotalFinaElf has been in talks with Anglo-Siberian to develop the fields.

TotalFinaElf wanted to pay $27 million for a 52 percent stake in Yeniseyneft, together with an option to buy 60 percent of Anglo-Siberian's North Vankor license, Reuters reported.

Reached by telephone Friday, TotalFinaElf spokesmen in Paris declined to comment on Rosneft's pre-emptive offer.

Some local media have speculated that Rosneft's intentions may have been revealed when counterintelligence officers from Britain's Special Branch photocopied documents belonging to Rosneft president Sergei Bogdanchikov when he was searched at an airport upon his entry into Britain last Wednesday.

Gazeta.ru conjectured Friday that Anglo-Siberian managers who were interested in selling out to TotalFinaElf may have wanted to know whether Rosneft had a counteroffer they could use to boost their asking price with the French. And once its intentions were known, Rosneft had to issue its offer before TotalFinaElf had a chance to raise its bid, the online newspaper wrote, "in order for its own plans not to fall through."

Rosneft's lucrative offer was backed by more than 40 percent of Anglo-Siberian shareholders, including Lynminster Limited with its 29.9 percent stake and two London-based investment funds, which, combined, own 11.2 percent.

"The high level of support received to date reflects the generosity of our offer," Bogdanchikov said Friday in a company statement.

"We believe this offer gives Anglo-Siberian shareholders immediate certainty in an otherwise uncertain situation. The significant premium represents more than fair value for any potential upside in Anglo-Siberian's asset base, given the group's lack of progress to date in exploiting its assets," he said.

Gazeta.ru reported that Anglo-Siberian shareholders who advocate a deal with Rosneft have requested that managers who would prefer a deal with the French, including board chairman David Boyd and CEO Robert Kennedy, be replaced.

Rosneft is rich in cash, having prepared to bid in the Slavneft privatization auction last year, and it has been on the prowl for ways to spend it. The company in February gobbled up Severnaya Neft and its license for the Val Gamburtseva oil field for $600 million.

Nonetheless, Rosneft is still unlikely to be capable of footing the expensive bill for developing the Vankor field on its own, said Leonid Mirzoyan, oil and gas analyst with Deutsche Bank.

TotalFinaElf's estimates put the cost of exploring and developing the Vankor field at $2.4 billion.

But costs could go down, Mirzoyan said, if the project is granted production-sharing agreement status, something Anglo-Siberian managers have long sought because of the significant tax benefits they bring, though the government plans to scrap all but five PSAs signed over the last decade.

Yet if Anglo-Siberian has state-owned Rosneft on board, the odds that the government could be persuaded to grant a PSA for the Vankor fields are significantly increased.

(The Moscow Times 07.iv.03)

 
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