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News // Oil and gas worldwide

Fyodorov comes under attack again

13 March 2001 , 08:22316
Russian investment group UFG has denied press reports that it is under police investigation over alleged involvement in ?grey? trade of Gazprom shares.
The company says the claim is the latest step in a smear campaign directed against its shareholder, Boris Fyodorov, who represents minority shareholders on Gazprom?s board. The claims first surfaced last month after Fyodorov?s recent outspoken attacks on Gazprom?s management and calls for an independent investigation of the gas giant?s links with trader Itera.
UFG head Ilya Scherbovich, tells Argus: ?A representative of the Moscow Northern Region prosecutor?s office ... told us there is no criminal investigation against UFG or its clients.? Russian newspaper Vedemosti said the accusations centre around claims that offshore companies owned by UFG had illegally bought shares in Gazprom on behalf of foreign investors through Russian-registered companies.
Russian firms are allowed to buy Gazprom shares but not if they are majority (50pc or more) owned by foreign shareholders. But Scherbovich says that UFG acted as a broker for Russian firms whose foreign shareholdings did not exceed the approved limits. Gazprom told Vedomosti that UFG owns 6.2pc but that if a court decided these shares had been acquired illegally then Fyodorov would no longer be a legitimate board member.
?Now that Fyodorov is being very active, someone wants to compromise us,? says Scherbovich. He adds that according to UFG?s information there is ?no danger? to UFG clients? assets, but admits ?we can?t be sure how far the pressure on Fyodorov might go.?

Analysts claim non-residents now own 8-10pc of Gazprom?s ?domestic? shares bought in ?grey schemes?, and that UFG controls 80-90pc of the market. But they add that it will be difficult to prove UFG was involved in illegal activity unless the government, as well as Gazprom boss Rem Vyakhirev, wants to silence Fyodorov.
Separately, Gazprom says it is ready ?under conditions? to support plans by a group of the international investors, including international financier George Soros and CNN-founder Ted Turner, to buy a stake in the NTV TV channel. Last month, Soros expressed interest in joining a consortium to buy 25pc of NTV for $300mn.
Vladimir Gusinsky?s embattled Media Most group controls NTV, but Gazprom holds around 46pc. It received the stake in a debt-settlement deal last year, widely seen as part of a Kremlin strategy to stifle criticism of President Vladimir Putin by NTV and other Gusinsky-controlled outlets.


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