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Deutsche Bank, UFG Near Deal

Germany's largest bank, Deutsche Bank AG, is closing in on the purchase of a significant stake in United Financial Group, people familiar with the talks said.

Reports that Deutsche Bank is interested in buying at least a blocking stake in UFG have been circulating since last year, but over the past week the deal has been the talk of the market.

If concluded, it would be the first major Western investment in the investment banking sector since it was gutted during the 1998 economic crisis.

Both sides of the deal declined to comment, but a top manager with a major investment bank said a deal between Deutsche and UFG, one of the few investment houses to survive the 1998 crisis and preserve its independence, is close.

A source familiar with the negotiations said the deal would give Deutsche Bank more than a blocking stake, but less than a controlling stake.

"They are selling a blocking stake at least," said an analyst with another major investment company. "If they haven't closed the deal already then they have at least reached an agreement."

Boris Fyodorov, a former finance minister and deputy prime minister who founded and owns about 40 percent of UFG, has said he wants to leave the business and return to politics.

In May, the Republican Party, which Fyodorov co-chairs, announced the creation of a pre-election bloc with Viktor Pokhmelkin's Liberal Russia party and the Russian automobilists movement.

"I am thinking about moving into more state-related activities," Fyodorov said at the time. He could not be reached for comment.

Created in 1994, UFG, which regularly ranks among the best investment banks in Russia in industry polls, posted a net profit of $11 million last year and has assets estimated at $127 million.

Analysts say a 40 percent to 50 percent stake in UFG could fetch as much as $60 million to $90 million.

NAUFOR, the National Association of Stock Market Participants, said such a deal -- assuming it takes place -- would have a healthy impact on the market. "We don't have enough players [like Deutsche Bank]," NAUFOR management chairman Alexei Savatyugin said.

For Deutsche, a stake in UFG would expand its equity activities in Russia as it moves to establish a presence in emerging markets such as Turkey, Mexico and the Philippines, Reuters reported.

UFG was No. 4 in terms of trade volume in the fourth quarter of 2002, handling 72.5 billion rubles' worth of transactions, according to NAUFOR.

Only Aton, Brokerkreditservis and Troika Dialog were busier.

UFG is the nominal holder of 6 percent of Sberbank and owns 6.9 percent of Gazprom in the interest of its clients. UFG acted as consultant for BP in its acquisition of 50 percent of TNK International and was the co-manager for LUKoil's ADR placement on the London Stock exchange last year.

(The Moscow Times

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