Business World

Wednesday 17 October 2018

Aughinish's Russian owner at odds with US sanctions stance

Billionaire Oleg Deripaska. Photo: Bloomberg
Billionaire Oleg Deripaska. Photo: Bloomberg

Yuliya Fedorinova and Jack Farchy

The Russian billionaire whose business empire includes the Aughinish Alumina plant in Limerick sees US demands for lifting sanctions on aluminium maker United Company Rusal as unacceptable, complicating talks with the US Treasury Department, according to people familiar with his thinking.

Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska's view shows that talks with the US Treasury aren't going entirely smoothly, even though the global aluminium market has returned to pre-sanctions levels - a sign that traders assume a deal is imminent.

Mr Deripaska believes the US demands make no economic sense and are close to "enslavement," said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are confidential. A spokeswoman for Mr Deripaska declined to comment.

There's still time for the two sides to find common ground.

Greg Barker, the chairman of En+ Group, is leading the talks with the Treasury and has travelled to Washington in hopes of reaching a deal, according to one of the people. The negotiations are ongoing and making progress, said the person.

Last month, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Treasury was in "productive discussions" with Rusal to resolve the issues.

Even so, the Russian billionaire's hard stance raises the possibility of no agreement before October 23, when the full force of US sanctions is scheduled to take effect - a situation that could unleash chaos once again in the aluminium market.

The US Treasury has the option of simply extending the deadline to allow more time for talks.

Without sanctions relief, En+, which controls 48pc of Rusal, would have to consider a sale to China or nationalisation, according to a filing last month by the company's lobbyist, Mercury.

Russian Industry Minister Denis Manturov said in April that the possibility of a temporary takeover of Rusal by the state or a government-owned bank can't be ruled out.

To persuade the US to lift sanctions, Mr Barker has proposed a plan that would require Deripaska to step away from his businesses, but still keep some ownership.

Mr Deripaska has agreed to cut his stake in En+ to less than 50pc - from 66pc - and appoint a majority of independent directors to the board.

The Treasury has indicated it may allow him to keep ownership of En+ in the mid-40pc range, people said in May.

En+ has identified potential new directors, and Deripaska and his family members are planning to transfer some shares to a trust, which would reduce his stake to less than 50pc, according to its lobbyist Mercury.

To implement the plan, En+ last month asked the Treasury to temporarily lift sanctions.

Instead, OFAC extended the deadline, an indication that it's ready to continue talks, but unwilling to accept Deripaska's proposals. (Bloomberg)

Irish Independent

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