Russia's Prokhorov may up RUSAL stake -paper

MOSCOW Mon Dec 29, 2008 7:20am GMT

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MOSCOW Dec 29 (Reuters) - Mikhail Prokhorov may increase his take in RUSAL to 19 percent if the aluminium major issues shares to repay some of its $3 billion debt to the Russian billionaire, Vedomosti business daily reported on Monday.

The deal would then enable a complex chain of debt repayments and stake reshuffling between three tycoons, the paper said, citing unnamed sources.

Prokhorov currently holds 14 percent in RUSAL, and the company owes him money. In October, it deferred the payment of a $700 million tranche as it could not meet the deadline on it.

Vedomosti said the tranche was then split into two, and RUSAL missed the Dec. 1 new deadline on the first half of it. It added that the money was part of a total $3 billion owned by the company to Prokhorov.

RUSAL, controlled by another billionaire Oleg Deripaska, has been forced to divest assets under margin calls, while the financial crisis prompts it to cut output and staff.

As the company is unable to pay him, Prokhorov is open to the idea of it issuing around 5 percent in new shares, which would then increase his stake to 19 percent, Vedomosti reported citing acquaintances of Prokhorov, his former business partner Vladimir Potanin and Deripaska.

Such a deal would make Prokhorov RUSAL's second largest shareholder after Deripaska, who will retain control, it said.

The rest of RUSAL's debt could be bought out by Potanin, who in turn could fund the purchase by selling his 35 percent in Polyus Gold (PLZL.MM) to tycoon Suleiman Kerimov, Vedomosti said, adding that such a possibility had been confirmed by a source close to the gold company.

Potanin could then take RUSAL's debt to VTB bank (VTBR.MM). According to earlier press reports the state-controlled bank holds around 18 percent of his Norilsk Nickel (GMKN.MM) shares as collateral for a loan, on which margin calls have been missed.

The newspaper cited a source as saying the complex deal would only be possible if RUSAL, its shareholders, Prokhorov, Potanin, Kerimov and VTB all agree. The parties involved declined to, or were unavailable for comment, it said. (Reporting by Toni Vorobyova; Editing by Mike Nesbit)