Moscow eyes bigger Sibir stake amid shareholder probe

MOSCOW, July 17 Fri Jul 17, 2009 12:03pm BST

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MOSCOW, July 17 (Reuters) - The Moscow city government may boost its stake in oil firm Sibir Energy SBE.L, a deputy mayor said on Friday, the same day that Sibir's stakeholder, Shalva Chigirinsky, was summoned by Moscow police in a criminal probe.

"We will not sell our stake. But we may, if necessary, come to an agreement to increase our stake. We will talk to Gazprom Neft," Vladimir Silkin told reporters.

Gazprom Neft (SIBN.MM), the oil arm of the world's largest gas company Gazprom (GAZP.MM), has amassed a stake of just under 49 percent in mid-sized oil producer Sibir Energy in recent months while the Moscow city government, which together with the Bank of Moscow, holds a 19.3 percent stake.

Sibir became Gazprom Neft's acquisition target after Chigirinsky, one of Sibir's main shareholder, was forced to put up his stake as collateral with state bank Sberbank SBER03.MM to meet obligations on Western loans.

Earlier on Friday Interfax news agency reported that Chigirinsky, who fled from Russia this year, had been summoned for questioning by Moscow police in connection with a probe into alleged tax evasion.

Trading in Sibir's shares was suspended in February on London's AIM after it was revealed that Chigirinsky's debt from controversial property deals was higher than had previously been announced. [ID:nLJ308825]

"If the company will be public, we would be satisfied with our 19.3 percent. If it will be delisted, we would need a blocking stake," said the Moscow deputy mayor.

A so-called blocking stake of more than 25 percent gives a shareholder the right to veto key strategic decisions.

Sibir has Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) as a partner in the development of the Salym field in Siberia, and together with Gazprom Neft controls Moscow Refinery, with a capacity of 200,000 barrels per day.

It is suing Chigirinsky for at least $325 million over a failed bid to sell his real estate assets to the company [ID:nL7380603].

Last week Russia's law enforcement agencies searched the offices of a firm belonging to Sibir Energy and the Moscow Refinery. [ID:nL812243] (Reporting by Katya Golubkova; writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Mike Nesbit)

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