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Gazprom Eyes 'Big Acquisitions'

Gazprom shareholders on Friday approved a dividend payout of one-sixth net income as the company reaped a record profit last year.

The vote was taken at the annual shareholder meeting, where First Deputy Prime Minister and Gazprom chairman Dmitry Medvedev said the company planned "big acquisitions" in Europe and hoped to work with BP on liquefied natural gas projects in a joint venture worldwide.

The meeting approved a payout of 2.54 rubles (10 cents) per ordinary share, or 17.5 percent of last year's net income, the company said in an e-mailed statement Friday.

Gazprom said Thursday that profit increased 97 percent to 613.3 billion rubles ($23 billion).

Shareholders also approved a change to the company charter allowing dividends to be paid quarterly, the company said.

Gazprom may seek "big acquisitions" in Europe to sell fuel directly to consumers, First Deputy Prime Minister and company chairman Dmitry Medvedev told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting.

"As far as big projects, big acquisitions are concerned, they are possible as long as our partners are ready," Medvedev said.

"We would be happy about such acquisitions because they unite us" with consumers, he said.

"The first results" of the 900-kilometer South Stream pipeline under the Black Sea planned by Gazprom and Italy's Eni will come in three to four years, Medvedev told reporters.

Leonardo Maugeri, director of strategy and development at Eni, Europe's fourth-largest energy company, said Wednesday that link might become operational by 2010.

Gazprom is considering "both upstream and downstream projects, including liquefied natural gas" as part of a global venture it plans to form with BP, Medvedev told reporters.

"They are certainly a very serious player in the LNG market," Medvedev said. "So far, we are only considering their proposals."

TNK-BP last month agreed to sell Gazprom its stake in the Kovykta gas field in eastern Siberia. As part of the deal, BP and Gazprom said they would form a venture pooling assets worth at least $3 billion. BP has LNG projects around the world, including Trinidad and Tobago and Indonesia.

On domestic issues, Medvedev also said Gazprom was not seeking to become the dominant player in the country's power industry after national utility Unified Energy System is broken up and sold off.

"Gazprom isn't seeking a monopoly or even a leading position in the power sector," Medvedev told reporters after the meeting.

Vedomosti reported in May that Gazprom wanted to control one-fifth of Russia's electricity capacity, citing two unidentified members of UES' board. Gazprom already owns 10.5 percent of UES directly and controls Mosenergo, the dominant supplier to Moscow.

"Gazprom considers power a core business alongside oil and gas," Medvedev said.

Medvedev was reelected chairman, as were the other board members.

He addressed reporters instead of CEO Alexei Miller, who is suffering from a kidney ailment.

Miller was quoted in an interview with Kommersant, published Friday, saying Gazprom would consider using as much as 25 percent of its oil unit to form a "new international alliance."

Gazprom will first exercise an option to buy 20 percent of Gazprom Neft from Eni, Miller told the newspaper.

Gazprom Neft will remain a publicly traded company, Miller said in the interview.

Gazprom could become a participant in the Nabucco gas pipeline, a rival project to South Stream, "in the future," Miller told the newspaper.

The Russian company is in "constant" contact with the partners in the Nabucco project, Miller told the newspaper.

Gazprom may form a joint venture with Rosneft to develop the Sakhalin-3 offshore oil and gas project, Medvedev told reporters.

"Everything is going forward," Medvedev said. "There will be joint ventures. We're thinking about Sakhalin-3 and other projects, including offshore projects."

(The Moscow Times 02.vii.07)

 
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