May 18, 2018 / 8:01 PM / a month ago

Former Petropavlovsk CEO hopes to return after shareholder shake-up

LONDON (Reuters) - Pavel Maslovskiy, one of the founders of Petropavlovsk (POG.L), hopes to return as CEO later this year in the latest twist in a long-running battle for control at the Russian gold miner.

Maslovskiy stepped down last year after a shareholder revolt ousted another co-founder, British businessman Peter Hambro.

But the company’s shareholder base has since changed and two investors have written to the board, asking for a vote on bringing back Maslovskiy as CEO at the next annual general meeting (AGM) set for June 21.

Kazakh entrepreneur Kenges Rakishev, who is now the company’s largest shareholder after buying a stake from Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg in December, also wants Maslovskiy back at the helm.

According to Reuters’ calculations, investors owning more than 40 percent of Petropavlovsk stock are expected to support Maslovskiy’s return.

This would come at a crucial time as the firm approaches the end of a decade-long quest that will allow the extraction of previously trapped gold.

“The invitation (from some shareholders) to come back was attractive to me because I always thought the company was undervalued,” Maslovskiy told Reuters.

Petropavlovsk’s share price has collapsed from highs in 2008, although it has rallied from the trough of 2015-16 when commodity markets crashed.

‘SHALE GOLD’

But it is unclear whether Maslovskiy will be able to return.

One company source, who asked not to be named, said more changes at the top would send a negative signal and Petropavlovsk’s board was seeking details on the two investors lobbying for the AGM vote.

CABS Platform and Slevin together own just over 9 percent of Petropavlovsk’s stock and have offshore addresses in Panama and Anguilla, according to Thomson Reuters data. They did not respond to attempts to contact them.

Rakishev, who controls more than 20 percent of shareholder votes at Petropavlovsk, and Maslovskiy both say they are not connected to the two investors.

Separately, former chairman Hambro said he was not about to rejoin the board: “Nobody has asked me to do anything and I have not agreed to do anything.”

Petropavlovsk describes itself as “one of Russia’s leading gold mining companies” and says it is building a state-of-the-art pressurised oxidation (POX) plant in Russia’s far east to process the company’s “substantial refractory resource base”.

Refractory gold, which takes the form of gold particles disseminated throughout an ore body, rather like shale oil, is very difficult to extract using conventional methods.

Once completed, the plant could be a processing hub for gold from other companies, analysts say.

Maslovskiy said that Petropavlovsk had looked into buying a company called Amur Gold, which says it is one of Russia’s 20 biggest gold miners, but Vekselberg had opposed this and it was no longer clear whether a deal was possible.

But Petropavlovsk had great growth potential through the POX project, he added.

“It’s advanced and complicated technology,” he said, “because you have to create a hot and pressured environment to do what was done over millions of years in a few hours – like God’s work.”

Editing by Mark Potter

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