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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Gazprom signs Eni stake deal, delays asset buyback

MOSCOW, April 7, 2009 (Reuters by Alberto Sisto) - Russia's Gazprom signed a $4.2 billion deal to reacquire a stake in its oil arm from Italy's Eni but delayed the buy-back of Russian gas assets from Italian companies to end April. The buyback of Gazprom Neft will help Eni convince investors it has enough cash to continue paying its dividend and advance the Kremlin's strategy of bringing key resources back under state control. Eni, the biggest Western buyer of Russian gas, acquired a 20 percent stake in Gazprom Neft and some gas assets at a state auction of bankrupt oil firm YUKOS in April 2007 and immediately agreed a buyback option within two years with Gazprom. Analysts believed Russia devised the arrangement to secure the assets for state-controlled Gazprom even though it was deemed politically difficult for Gazprom to bid in the auction, which YUKOS shareholders dismissed as a sham. Sources told Reuters in March Gazprom was lining up Russian state bank financing for the buy-back, which would mark the first major refinancing help provided by the Kremlin since it abruptly suspended direct industry bailouts in February. Gazprom's chief Alexei Miller and Eni's chief Paolo Scaroni signed the final deal on Gazprom Neft's buy-back at a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Enel's chief executive Fulvio Conti said the repurchase of gas assets by Gazprom from Eni and Enel would take place later in April. "The accord will be signed by the end of April when the prime ministers meet," said Conti. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi cancelled his trip to Moscow this week because of Monday's earthquake in central Italy which has so far killed 179 and injured about 1,500. Eni and Enel paid a total of $5.8 billion for the stake in Gazprom Neft and gas assets at the auction and agreed to resell the Gazprom Neft stake for around $4 billion. Gazprom also had the right to buy back a 51 percent interest in the gas assets. A fifth of Gazprom Neft is worth around $2.6 billion at today's market prices. Russia is one of the few countries with very large oil and gas reserves where international oil companies can invest, and other companies have also entered into unconventional deals with Russian state companies to secure access to Russian fields. Gazprom currently owns 75 percent of Gazprom Neft and many analysts had expected Gazprom to ask Eni to extend the deadline for the buyback as the gas monopoly faces record debt repayments this year amid a steep decline in gas prices.

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