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Daily Telegraph: Market profile: Henry Cameron: Scot in Siberia

By Ben Bland
Last Updated: 12:39am BST 08/10/2007

With Russian resource nationalism rearing its ugly head again, you might think that these are not the best times to be a Western-backed, UK-listed oil company with all of its assets in Siberia. Royal Dutch Shell handed back control of Sakhalin II, the world’s biggest liquefied natural gas project, last year after pressure from Russia’s environmental watchdog.

Aim market

Other Western resource companies operating in Russia have also had their licences threatened on environmental grounds – although most analysts believe nationalism is the real driving force.

But, as an old Russia hand, Henry Cameron, the veteran chief executive of Sibir Energy, is undeterred by these events.

“Perception and reality are not always the same thing,” he explains from his office in Moscow, where he has lived for the last six years. “Resource nationalism as I see it has come from the way the state dealt with Yukos [the bankrupt oil company that was broken up by the Russian government after founder and vocal government critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky was jailed for tax evasion]. And that was an internal Russian matter.”

Besides, Mr Cameron claims, most of the Russian government’s moves to regain control of lucrative oil, gas or mining assets have seen a fair market rate being paid.

Sibir Energy, which plans to list on the main market in June, remains the biggest company on Aim for now, with a market capitalisation of £2bn.

The company, which doubled its profits to £45m last month, has an exploration and production division in western Siberia and refining and petrol station operations in Moscow.

But Mr Cameron is confident that Sibir will not be singled out for the sort of treatment that has left some investors in Russia with seriously burnt fingers.

“Eighteen per cent of the company is effectively owned by the Russian state through the city of Moscow,” he explains.

A crucial 47pc stake is also controlled by two Russian billionaires, Chalva Tchigirinsky and Igor Kesaev.

Mr Cameron says these investors play a key role in reassuring Sibir’s Western shareholders that the company is not about to have its assets stripped by the government.

“We deliberately aligned ourselves with Russians who were enlightened and understood the Russian markets as well as the needs of Western investors and the importance of good corporate governance,” he notes.

Mr Cameron, a 67-year-old Scot, set up Sibir in 1996, just as Russia was beginning to open up after more than 70 years of Communist rule and a state-managed economy.However, he was doing business in Russia as a commercial lawyer long before Perestroika and the eventual fall of Communism.

Although he was a relative latecomer to the oil industry, Mr Cameron appears to have got Sibir into pretty good shape – so much so that he now visits Sibir’s oil fields in Siberia only a couple of times a year.

As a Scot, you would imagine that he could acclimatise to the Siberian winters better than most. However, Mr Cameron insists it is the Siberian summers that are really to be feared.

“If you go in the summer, there are mosquitoes the size of wasps,” he says.

“And, in any case, you can cover more ground in the winter when the ground is frozen, because Siberia is totally waterlogged in the summer.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/money/main.jhtml?xml=/money/2007/10/08/cxmktrep208.xml

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