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The Guardian: Shell sells plastics unit to Russian billionaire

The Guardian: Shell sells plastics unit to Russian billionaire

CHARLOTTE MOORE

May 06, 2005

Shell yesterday sold its plastics business for euros 4.4bn (pounds 3bn), appearing to bow to American pressure against selling the group to Iran.

Basell, the world’s largest producer of plastic polypropylene, is owned 50-50 by Shell and Germany’s BASF. The consortium buying the plastics manufacturer is headed by Access Industries and includes Chatterjee Group, a United States-based investment company with a presence in India.

Access Industries is run by Leonard Blavatnik, a Russian-born billionaire who made his fortune in the oil industry. Blavatnik once outbid Roman Abramovich by paying pounds 41m for a house in Kensington Park Gardens, London. “I’m very pleased we are the successful bidder for Basell. We believe Basell is an attractively positioned global business with an excellent future,” he said.

The Chatterjee group has a controlling interest in Haldia Petrochemicals. It was rumoured this week that Haldia would be the successful bidder for Basell.

Iran’s National Petroleum Company said earlier in the week that it had been in talks with Shell about buying Basell. But NPC said it had been told unofficially that it could not buy the company because of pressure from the US.

The US has expressed its concerns to Shell and BASF that Basell technology could be misused if bought by Iran.

Shell was keen to sell Basell since it was an important part of a strategy to dispose of up to $15bn worth of assets as it restructures following the oil reserves scandal last year.

Last year, it emerged that Shell had overstated its reserves by almost a quarter, resulting in the departure of chairman Sir Philip Watts and a pounds 17m fine from the Financial Services Authority for misleading the markets.

Basell is based in the Netherlands and was formed by a joint venture between Shell and BASF in 2000 to consolidate their global polyolefins business. The sale is subject to approval by the relevant antitrust authorities and expected to be closed in the second half of this year.

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