Deripaska Feud With Old Rival Revived in London Court Hearing
(Bloomberg) -- In his first public appearance in London since being hit with U.S. sanctions, Oleg Deripaska revived a decade-old feud with rival Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin.
Deripaska appeared in a London court on Monday for a hearing on a case to stop Roman Abramovich from selling a stake in Russia’s largest mining company -- MMC Norilsk Nickel PJSC. Both Potanin and Deripaska have long jostled for power at the company, which operates some of the richest mines in platinum, palladium and nickel.
For the past five years, the relationship between the two billionaires has been peaceful, with Abramovich buying a stake in exchange for working as a mediator. But the Chelsea football club owner now wants to sell his shares, setting off the simmering tensions between Deripaska and Potanin.
Adding to Deripaska’s problems, the billionaire and his aluminum company United Co. Rusal are now under U.S. sanctions. Deripaska told the court that the basis for the sanctions were groundless.
Deripaska called Potanin “evasive” in open court and alleged that he sought to inflate expenditure as a way to cut dividends, which are paid to shareholders including Deripaska.
“We had some unpleasant 10-year-old experiences dealing with them,” said Deripaska after being told Potanin plans to buy Abramovich’s stake. “I thought it would result in the total collapse of the partnership.”
The court also heard evidence from Rusal Director Maxim Sokov who described a February meeting with Potanin at his home. Potanin engaged Sokov in a game to convey a "veiled threat" designed to pressure Rusal into waiving its right of first refusal on the Nornickel shares, Sokov said.
Whiteleave Holdings Ltd., which is owned by Potanin, denied the allegations. Potanin will testify in the case on Tuesday, his spokeswoman said.
The main disagreement between the two billionaires is what happens to Abramovich’s stake. Deripaska says only a third party should be permitted to own the shares.
Earlier this year, Abramovich offered to split the stake between Potanin’s company and Rusal. Potanin completed his side of the deal, but Deripaska failed to meet a deadline to buy the shares.
In court documents on Monday, Crispian Investment Ltd., the company representing Abramovich, argued it’s now entitled to sell the Nornickel stake to someone else.
Deripaska’s persistence in the Nornickel court case shows he believes the sanctions against Rusal will be lifted, according to Kirill Chuyko, an analyst at BCS Global Markets in Moscow. If the sanctions remain, it’ll be impossible for Deripaska to increase his stake in Norilsk Nickel, he said.
While Deripaska is under U.S. sanctions, Abramovich won’t be allowed to sell him shares, said two people with knowledge of the matter earlier this month. Additionally, Potanin is blocked from negotiating new terms of a shareholder accord or offering larger dividends to Rusal, they said.
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