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Shuvalov Says State Will Sell Off Rosneft

Kremlin aide Igor Shuvalov on Sunday said state-controlled oil firm Rosneft would be "fully privatized" within the next three to 10 years.

His comments appeared to contradict previous statements by officials, who have said the company would definitely remain under state control.

"Within three to 10 years [Rosneft] will become completely privately owned," Shuvalov said, Interfax reported. He added that Rosneft shares would be sold through public equity offerings.

Rosneft will become a "public company owned by portfolio and strategic investors with stakes not larger than 10 percent each," he said, adding that he was voicing his "own expert opinion."

"The nationalization story will turn into complete privatization," he said.

The comments by Shuvalov, Russia's envoy to the Group of Eight, appeared to be at odds with the Kremlin's policy of boosting state control of the oil industry.

Rosneft this summer held the country's biggest-ever initial public offering, selling 15 percent of its stock for $10.6 billion. Nearly half of the stock went to four strategic investors -- foreign oil majors BP, Malaysia's Petronas, China's CNPC and a mystery buyer.

Some two-thirds of Rosneft's production comes from Yukos' former main production unit, which was acquired for a bargain price in December 2004 amid a legal onslaught on Yukos and its founder, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The sale was followed nine months later by the purchase of Sibneft by Gazprom, boosting the state's share of oil production to about one-third.

Following this trend, proposals in a bill on subsoil resources use and regulations on state control of strategic sectors suggest that the Kremlin would be unlikely to relinquish majority control of Rosneft, said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Alfa Bank.

Rosneft CFO Peter O'Brien last week dismissed speculation that more shares in the company would be sold anytime soon. Rosneft would seek other options for attracting funds, O'Brien told reporters.

The government, however, appears not to be united in its view of the state's role in key industries. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref and other liberal officials and politicians have long argued against growing state control in oil and other key sectors.

Meanwhile, some officials in the Kremlin, including President Vladimir Putin's deputy chief of staff, Igor Sechin, who also serves as Rosneft board chairman, have pushed for a stronger role for the state and more direct access to the oil sector for themselves.

Last week, Kommersant reported that Federal Security Service director Nikolai Patrushev's son Andrei had been appointed an adviser to Sechin at Rosneft. The FSB and Rosneft did not confirm or deny the report.

It was not clear Sunday whether Shuvalov's comments were aimed at further stirring debate among Kremlin factions over the fate of Rosneft and the state's role in the oil sector.

"It seems that Shuvalov's statements are more of a case of wishful thinking," Weafer said Sunday, adding that it would take Russia considerable time to become that open to investors.

(The Moscow Times 18.ix.06)

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