Russia: Third player joins Norilsk battle
Metalloinvest backs mega merger; Deripaska refuses to sell stake
Two is company, three’s a crowd. (l–r) Oleg Deripaska, Vladimir Potanin and Alisher Usmanov
The battle for control of Norilsk Nickel took an unexpected turn last month when Alisher Usmanov, the oligarch at the head of iron-ore producer Metalloinvest, announced that he was joining forces with fellow minority shareholder UC Rusal, raising the prospect of a three-way merger that would create a national metals and mining champion. Rusal, the aluminium company controlled by Oleg Deripaska, has been embroiled in an escalating dispute over Norilsk with fellow shareholder Vladimir Potanin’s Interros since acquiring a 25% stake in 2008. The latest round of hostilities began in June last year, when Potanin persuaded Norilsk’s management to vote Interros an extra seat on the board, ending the parity between the two oligarchs.
The ensuing conflict has been acrimonious. Rusal launched a PR campaign against Interros and Norilsk’s management in an attempt to sway the remaining minority shareholders. Its opponents responded by engineering the sale of an 8% stake in Norilsk to Trafigura in December and a $3.47 billion share buyback the following month, while Potanin increased his own holding in Norilsk from 25% to 30%.