EXPLORATION tycoon John Teeling has teamed up with a €6bn state-owned Russian giant in a move to find diamonds in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana.
Mr Teeling's AIM-listed Botswana Diamonds has agreed an exploration joint venture deal with Swiss firm Sunland Holdings Sa (Switzerland). This company is a subsidiary of Russian state monopoly OJSC Alrosa, which is the world's largest rough diamond producer.
The move is highly significant as it gives Teeling's company valuable links to Russia's power base, which is expanding its influence across southern Africa.
Alrosa is extremely close to Russian president Vladimir Putin's inner circle. Former finance minister Alexei Kudrin (inset) chaired the company ahead of its semi-privatisation. Mr Kudrin served as Mr Putin's finance minister for more than 11 years until stepping down in September 2011.
The vast state monopoly is managed by Fyodor Andreev, a former banker who worked with oligarchs Vladimir Potanin and Mikhail Prokhorov.
The new exploration venture in the heart of the Kalahari Desert will see Botswana Diamonds use new diamond exploration technology which has been developed by Alrosa.
"Applications have been lodged for licences in the Orapa region. The first ground has been obtained and work is expected to commence in Q3 2013," according to Botswana Diamonds.
"The agreement requires equal contributions from each party. The joint venture will utilise and merge the exploration technology available to Sunland with the on-ground expertise and extensive diamond database held by Botswana Diamonds," according to Teeling's company.
Shares in Botswana Diamonds have risen by 50pc since May.
Teeling's new partner Alrosa is partially owned by the Russian state and the local government of Yakutia – a district in north-eastern Russia. Norwegian sovereign wealth fund Norges Bank is one of the largest private shareholders in the company.
Russia is set to sell off more of the company later this year as part of a programme to divest state assets. The €6bn-plus-valued firm is expected to place a 14pc stake on the Moscow stock market later this year, including a 7pc government stake and 7pc controlled by the Sakha (Yakutia) republic.