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Rosneft Lining Up $24.5Bln in Loans

Rosneft is in negotiations for a record $24.5 billion in loans from a consortium of international banks, including Citigroup, banking sources said Thursday.

A Rosneft source confirmed the talks but said it was too early to give details.

The loans would serve as bridge financing to fund Rosneft acquisitions of Yukos assets, a banking source said, speaking on condition of anonymity, as Rosneft continues its drive to gobble up Mikhail Khodorkovsky's former oil empire.

The financing would be the biggest-ever to a Russian company and put Rosneft in pole position to swallow the remains of Yukos, which are to be auctioned next year to pay off the company's $21.5 billion in debt. Rosneft, which initiated Yukos bankruptcy proceedings, is the company's main creditor, owed $9.5 billion.

Bloomberg, citing unidentified bankers involved in the talks, reported Thursday that Rosneft had won $24.5 billion in commitments this week. ABN Amro, Barclays, Credit Agricole's Calyon, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley have each offered $3.5 billion to Rosneft, the agency said.

Rosneft spokesman Nikolai Manvelov said no loan deal had been reviewed by the board.

The Rosneft source said the loans had yet to be finalized. "We are in the midst of negotiations for financing for general corporate purposes and potential mergers and acquisitions next year," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. "We don't have anything signed yet. It really is too early to talk about."

He declined to give further details.

State-controlled Gazprom has been seen as a potential rival bidder, openly expressing an interest in Tomskneft, a major Yukos production unit.

Yukos owns a 9 percent stake in Rosneft following the consolidation of Rosneft subsidiaries including the former Yukos production unit Yuganskneftegaz that Rosneft won in a forced state auction for a knockdown price in December 2004. The banking source said Rosneft was aiming to buy that stake back, now worth some $8 billion, and sell it on to international markets.

"The highest priority is getting their own shares back and getting their hands on the downstream assets," the banking source said.

"This is a further indication that Rosneft is behaving like a private company and not as an agent of the state," the source said. "It will sell more shares. This isn't nationalization. It's a privatization."

The loans to Rosneft would carry maturities of 18 months and be paid back partly through the further sale of Rosneft shares on international markets, the source said. An international consortium including Citigroup, ABN Amro, Barclays, and Goldman Sachs has agreed to put up most of the cash, the source said.

The international banks could lend up to $15 billion, the source said, while the rest could come from Russian banks and other sources.

Some investors believe the Kremlin is using Rosneft and Gazprom as proxies for a renationalization of oil assets privatized in the mid-1990s. Gazprom became a major player in the oil industry after it bought Roman Abramovich's Sibneft for $13 billion last year.

Both Gazprom and Rosneft are believed to be eying a participation in Russian-British oil venture TNK-BP. Rosneft bought Yukos' major production unit Yugansk when Gazprom, the expected buyer, pulled out at the last minute after a U.S. court issued a temporary stay on the sale.

The banking source said Gazprom was still wary of buying any Yukos assets because of the legal risks.

"There is a high degree of conservatism at Gazprom about exposing themselves to Yukos risks," the source said. "Gazprom is a unique asset. There is nothing like it on planet Earth. It holds one-fifth of the world's gas reserves and is a huge part of Europe and Asia's strategic energy balance."

Yukos' main shareholder GML, formerly known as Group Menatep, has promised a "lifetime of litigation" for any buyer of Yukos assets. It has filed a $28 billion suit in The Hague under the terms of the Energy Charter for what it claims was the illegal expropriation of Yugansk.


(The Moscow Times 06.xi.06)

 
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