Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Gazprom share liberalization to end "gray schemes"
MOSCOW, December 7 (RIA Novosti) - The lifting of the "ring fence" around common shares in the Russian energy giant Gazprom, which will thereby allow foreigners to buy stock in the natural gas monopoly, will led to shares emerging from semi-legal "gray schemes", a senior Russia official said Wednesday. Oleg Vyugin, the head of the Federal Service for Financial Markets, said that the share liberalization would not affect the stability of the financial market. Estimates suggest that 10% of Gazprom shares are currently owned by foreign entities through "gray schemes" grudgingly tolerated by the government and Gazprom. Vyugin said some Gazprom shares had been placed with depositaries to pay for obligations under 'gray schemes,' but with the enactment of the liberalization law, owners of securities would obviously legalize these shares. "We will not hinder this," Vyugin said, adding that this was the crux of the liberalization process. The Russian parliament's lower house, the State Duma, approved in November amendments to the bill on Gazprom's share liberalization, which envision an end to the 'ring fence' around the energy giant's shares, allowing foreign entities to buy stock in the company. Vyugin said that the Duma would probably endorse the bill in its final reading by the end of the year, which should then be followed by governmental and presidential approval, and the "ring fence" could be lifted after the New Year's holidays on January 10. When that happens, up to 49% of Gazprom's common shares will be publicly traded with no ownership restrictions. The government wants to abolish several presidential and government resolutions dating back to the 1990s that impose restrictions on the number of stock exchanges trading Gazprom shares, their quota for non-residents and set out procedures for acquiring Gazprom shares for non-residents. The restrictions were designed to prevent a foreign takeover of Gazprom. The proposed legal acts would lift the "ring-fence" around Gazprom shares, allowing foreigners to buy the stock in Russia and abroad. The government will retain its recently acquired majority control of the company.