Rosneft chief boasts 'theft' claims fail to put off the British

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The Independent Online

British investors have bought more shares in the flotation of Russian oil giant Rosneft than those from any other country, shrugging off allegations that its biggest asset is "stolen goods".

Speaking on the sidelines of the G8 Summit in St Petersburg, the Rosneft president Sergei Bogdanchikov yesterday said foreign investors from 46 countries bought global depository receipts in a frenzied rush to own a slice of Russia's oil industry.

UK investors snapped up more than anyone else, he said, pushing US investors into second place, apparently paying scant attention to the fact that Rosneft stands accused of profiteering from the Kremlin's persecution of the jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his company Yukos.

Mr Bogdanchikov confirmed BP bought Rosneft shares worth $1bn (£540m), that Malaysia's Petronas invested $1.1bn, and that China's National Petroleum Corporation ploughed $500m into the sale. A mystery buyer who acted through a bank which he declined to name bought shares worth about $3bn. making it - or him - the single largest investor.

The billionaire Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich bought shares worth about $300m.

Trading in Rosneft shares is due to begin on the London Stock Exchange and on two Moscow exchanges on Wednesday. But today, the High Court in London will hear a Yukos request to block the float on the grounds that its biggest asset, Yuganskneftegaz, was stolen and is now part of Rosneft. Yukos contends the listing would amount to money laundering.

Yukos wants the judge to rule that the London Stock Exchange and the Financial Services Authority should not have authorised the shares' listing. Yukos hopes he will grant an injunction stopping the IPO pending a full judicial review later in the year.

A buoyant Mr Bogdan-chikov appeared unfazed by the court case. He claimed UK and US interest proved investors were not put off by negative publicity surrounding the $10.4bn float, Russia's biggest initial public offering and the world's fifth-largest.

Mr Bogdanchikov said 115,000 ordinary Russians bought shares, investing an average sum of 160,000 roubles (£3,200). He said he spent a third of his own savings on his company's shares.

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