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Sibir investigates property dealings

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By Maggie Urry in London

Published: February 26 2009 02:00 | Last updated: February 26 2009 02:00

Sibir Energy yesterday suspended its chief executive and launched an investigation into property dealings that the London-listed Russian energy group agreed with one of its largest shareholders.

Henry Cameron, chief executive of the group, whose main asset is a half share in the successful Salym oil fields in western Siberia, was replaced by his deputy Stuard Detmer with “immediate effect”, Sibir said.

Sibir has asked Jones Day, its solicitors, and Ernst & Young, the accountants, to carry out the investigation into the property deals, which have astonished independent investors since they were first announced last October.

Trading in Sibir’s Aim-listed shares was suspended last week after Strand Partners, the group’s nominated adviser, discovered that Chalva Tchigirinski, a Russian tycoon who, with his business partner Igor Kasaev, holds 46.7 per cent of Sibir’s shares, owed the company $325m and not the $115m it had previously announced.

Sibir had agreed to buy properties from Mr Tchigirinski to provide him with funds to meet margin calls on his shareholdings.

Mr Cameron agreed to assist Sibir “on an ongoing basis to recover all monies owed by any Tchigirinski interest to Sibir,” said Sibir.

The original deal struck in October was followed in December by an agreement to buy $340m of properties from Mr Tchigirinski, a former billionaire whose fortune was hit by the turmoil in Russian stock markets as oil prices tumbled.

At that time, Mr Cameron said “difficult times call for uncomfortable decisions” and argued that it would be better for Sibir to buy the properties than to see Mr Tchigirinski sell off his shares.

However, minority shareholders reacted against the plan, which was dropped last month. But the group had already advanced money to Mr Tchigirinski in anticipation of the property purchase being approved. In a circular earlier this month, the group said it had advanced $115.4m, but last week this was found to be incorrect, leading to the shares’ suspension at 174¾p. The investigation is expected to take up to two months and the shares remain suspended.

Sibir’s shares reached a peak of 830p last summer, giving it a market value of £2.5bn ($3.6bn), and it was contemplating a move to the main market, while there was speculation that Royal Dutch Shell, its partner in the Salym fields, would bid for the group.

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