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LSE Chief Says Visa Ban May Hurt IPOs

Barring William Browder, chief of Russia's largest foreign investment fund, from entering the country could make it harder for Russian companies to attract investors, the head of the London Stock Exchange wrote in a letter to President Vladimir Putin this week.

Browder, CEO of the $4 billion Hermitage Capital Management fund, has been prohibited from entering Russia since Nov. 13 on grounds that he poses a threat to national security.

"If the single largest investor in the Russian market can be arbitrarily denied entry into the country, that would send a very negative signal to other parties seeking to invest in Russian companies," LSE chief Clara Furse wrote to Putin in the letter, which was published by the Financial Times on Thursday.

The Kremlin press service declined to comment Thursday, saying it had no information about the letter. A LSE spokeswoman also declined to comment, saying the LSE considered "this to be a private matter."

Russian companies, including state oil giant Rosneft, are gearing up for a flurry of initial public offerings this year. They are expected to far surpass the record $5.1 billion raised by Russian companies on the LSE in 2005.

Browder has criticized corporate governance abuses at heavyweights such as Gazprom and Surgutneftegaz. But otherwise he has been upbeat about investing in Russia, leaving many puzzled about his problems at the border.

Russian companies are still undervalued on an asset basis, Browder said Thursday by telephone from London. The valuations take into account "arbitrary acts," such as his barring from Russia, he said.

Economist Anton Struchenevsky of Troika Dialog expressed doubts, however, that Browder's murky problems or letters on his behalf would have a serious influence on investors. "If there is an opportunity to make money, investors will be interested," Struchenevsky said, adding that Russian companies still looked like an attractive bet.

(The Moscow Times 02.v.06)

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