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The Guardian: Abramovich windfall hints at permanent move to UK

The Guardian: Abramovich windfall hints at permanent move to UK

“Anglo-Dutch oil group Shell is one of the names linked with purchasing Sibneft, perhaps working alongside the Russian government-owned energy giant, Gazprom.”

Tuesday 5 July 2005

Terry Macalister

Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea football club, yesterday received a payout worth up to £780m from his oil empire in Russia stoking speculation he might be heading to Britain for good.

The cash – which will come in useful if Chelsea wants to buy players such as Steven Gerrard – came from the oligarch’s Sibneft oil company which announced a record $2.29bn (£1.3bn) annual dividend.

Financial experts in Moscow suggest that the decision to pay out 90% of the income to shareholders is a sign that the company is preparing for sale.

Anglo-Dutch oil group Shell is one of the names linked with purchasing Sibneft, perhaps working alongside the Russian government-owned energy giant, Gazprom.

Mr Abramovich, Russia’s richest man, has already sold off many of his assets in that country as President Vladimir Putin consolidates power and cracks down on oligarchs.

Sibneft is 34% owned by Yukos, the country’s largest oil company whose assets are being sold off while its founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky serves a prison sentence for fraud.

Mr Abramovich seems to have obtained his Sibneft payout – higher than the company’s profits for the whole of 2003 – after refusing to turn up to an annual general meeting last week.

The board of Sibneft had recommended there be no dividend payment but changed its mind after big shareholders such as Mr Abramovich boycotted the meeting.

Sibneft is 57.5% owned by investment firm Millhouse Capital – widely accepted as a front for Mr Abramovich’s interests. But he has never publicly declared his exact holding in Sibneft which some believe could be as low as 30%.

John Mann, a Sibneft spokesman, said last night there was nothing peculiar about the scale of the payout. “We have paid similar percentages of net income over the past four or five years.”

Asked whether it signalled the sale of Sibneft and the start of a move from Russia by Mr Abramovich, he said: “There are rumours of this kind every month now. There is nothing more we can say.”

But Moscow financial analysts were in no doubt about its meaning. “Sibneft, clearly is signalling by decapitalising the firm – that it is for sale,” said Adam Landes, oil analyst with Renaissance Capital bank.

Mr Abramovich paid £140m to buy Chelsea two years ago and has helped build a Premiership winning team by spending £220m on new players.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1521466,00.html

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