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Gazprom Seeking $12Bln for Sibneft

LONDON -- Gazprom, Russia's state-run natural gas producer, raised its loan request by 20 percent to $12 billion as part of its plan to buy a controlling stake in Roman Abramovich's Sibneft, bankers involved in the deal said Friday.

ABN AMRO and Dresdner Bank agreed to underwrite about half of the amount, clearing the way for Gazprom to bid for Russia's No. 5 oil producer at any time, said the bankers, who declined to be identified.

Citigroup, Credit Suisse First Boston, Goldman Sachs Group and Morgan Stanley were asked to help raise the rest by this week, signaling Russia's biggest acquisition may be days away, the bankers said.

Gazprom is closing in on an acquisition that will give the government control of 30 percent of the crude oil pumped in Russia, the world's second-largest supplier.

Gazprom already holds the world's largest natural gas reserves, and the government through Gazprom and the state oil company will pump more crude than Kuwait.

"Gazprom is pushing aggressively and putting all its ducks in a row to get Sibneft," said Chris Weafer, head of strategy at Alfa Bank.

Sibneft spokesman John Mann declined to comment in a telephone interview from Omsk, where the company is holding 10th anniversary celebrations.

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov declined to comment, as did ABN AMRO spokesman Mark Bennewith. Dresdner spokesman David Waller could not be reached.

Sibneft shareholders last week eased the way for a takeover by rejecting a proposal to force any company buying more than 30 percent of Sibneft to make an offer to buy the rest.

Abramovich, Russia's richest man, with a $14.7 billion fortune, has been reducing his business holdings, mostly in Russia. The government sold 51 percent of Sibneft for $100 million at the end of 1996 before it changed hands and ended up in Abramovich's control. It is not publicly known how much of Sibneft Abramovich owns personally and how much he paid for the shares.

Abramovich and his partners control 72 percent of Sibneft. Another 20 percent is held by Yukos, which is struggling to survive some $28 billion in back tax claims. Yukos' own $15 billion takeover of Sibneft failed in 2003 after the government arrested Mikhail Khodorkovsky, then Yukos' chief executive.

Putin is tightening his grip on the energy industry and creating government-run companies big enough to compete with ExxonMobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell. Buying Sibneft will more than quadruple Gazprom's crude oil output to 1.17 million barrels per day. The Kremlin controls another 1.5 million bpd through state-owned Rosneft. Combined, that is more oil than Kuwait sells.

Gazprom is expanding into oil after the government raised its stake to a majority in June. In addition to crude oil production, Gazprom's oil-refining capacity will rise almost sixfold, including at its Omsk plant, Russia's second-biggest refiner in the first half of this year.

Sibneft will bring about 910,000 barrels of daily oil production under Kremlin control, representing about $50 million per day in revenue based on export prices for Russian crude.

President Vladimir Putin said in July that Gazprom had held talks to buy Sibneft.

Gazprom shares on Friday rose 2.5 percent, giving the company a market value of $103 billion. Sibneft has a market value of about $16 billion.

The financing package for Gazprom's acquisition will probably be split into three portions, the bankers said. A $12 billion loan would be the country's biggest, leapfrogging a $7.5 billion loan state-owned Rosneft got earlier this month.

The company is likely to borrow $7 billion from banks, about half of which will be repaid from a bond sale. The rest of the financing, about $5 billion, will be a short-term bridge loan until Gazprom receives funds from Rosneft, which is due to pay for a 10.7 percent Gazprom stake by the end of the year.

Russia decided to have Rosneft buy the Gazprom shares after an earlier plan collapsed for Gazprom to acquire Rosneft.

"There is a lively debate in the Kremlin over whether the state's oil and gas assets should be kept in separate structures," Weafer said. "You have to remember what happened with the Gazprom takeover of Rosneft."

(The Moscow Times 19.ix.05)

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