Rusal calls in mining's big hitters in battle for Norilsk

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The Independent Online

United Company Rusal, the world's biggest aluminium producer, has shortlisted six candidates to take board positions at Norilsk Nickel, in which it holds a 25 per cent stake.

The move is the latest in the battle for Norilsk, which like Rusal is based in Russia. Rusal is putting a list of independent candidates to minority shareholders to see whom they would like to sit at the head of Norilsk. Former chief executives of Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, two of the world's biggest miners, are thought to have been suggested.

Rusal would ultimately like to merge to create a Russian mining champion, but leading shareholder Interros is resisting the move. All parties are advised by leading bankers in London.

On Thursday, Rusal called an extraordinary meeting of Norilsk to take place next month. Rusal wants to replace Norilsk's board, which was elected only in June, arguing that Interros's owner, Vladimir Potanin, has hijacked it with his own supporters.

Rusal's director of corporate strategy, Artem Volynets, said that the company would not cede ground to its rival, even if the battle were to escalate.

"We are not going to sell our shares any time soon," he said. "Norilsk is a strategic investment for us and we are in advanced talks with several potential candidates [to become independent directors]."

It is also understood that Rusal has delayed its flotation on either the London or Hong Kong stock exchanges until next year. A banking source said that Rusal would leave the listing until 2009 due to the market turbulence.

Rusal must list by next November under an arrangement with its leading shareholders.