Russian oligarchs consider MG Rover purchase

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The Independent Online

Two of Russia's richest oligarchs are considering bids for MG Rover, the insolvent UK car maker, increasing the chances that the company will be bought outright from its administrators, PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Two of Russia's richest oligarchs are considering bids for MG Rover, the insolvent UK car maker, increasing the chances that the company will be bought outright from its administrators, PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Nikolai Smolenski, the 24-year-old millionaire who bought the British sports-car maker TVR last summer, is thought to have opened talks with PwC with a view to buying the group and recommencing manufacture of all models.

Meanwhile, Oleg Deripaska, the billionaire owner of the Russian car manufacturer Ruspromavto, is also reputed to be planning a bid. Reports in the Russian media said Mr Deripaska, a close friend of Chelsea Football Club's owner Roman Abramovich, is keeping a close eye on the situation, and believes the firm could fit well with his car businesses. Speaking to the Russian newspaper Pravda, Alexander Yushkevich, chairman of Ruspromavto, said: "MG Rover has a range of very interesting models - the 35, 45, 75. There are a lot of them in Russia in comparison with Italy's Fiat, for example."

Mr Yushkevich added there were many questions to be answered before any bid would be forthcoming. "Will the company be put up for auction with its debts? How heavy will the debt burden be? Will the company's team of managers and engineers stay? It will probably take a year to find answers to all those questions," he said.

Mr Smolenski is believed to be more committed to a bid, and is thought to be one of just two serious contenders talking to the administrators. Last week he visited Rover's Longbridge manufacturing site near Birmingham to inspect the facilities.

The other serious contender is believed to be Khodro, the Iranian state car manufacturer. It remains uncertain, however, whether the administrators will succeed in selling the whole company outright.

Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC), the Chinese company that pulled out of talks with Rover in March, is claiming to own the rights to two models - the 75 and 25 - as well as to two of its Powertrain engines.

SAIC told the administrators it would like to buy the equipment needed to manufacture these models. However, PwC believes this will not hinder the sale, revealing that it has retained the rights to several variants of all Rover models, which would allow any buyer to continue producing the entire range. But SAIC is insistent that it has exclusive rights.

Meanwhile, it emerged that the Phoenix Four, who bought Rover five years ago, are to lose the vast majority of their pensions. The four directors built up a fund of about £16.5m for themselves and some 85 senior employees, but let the main fund run up a deficit of more than £70m.

The executive pot is to be put into the Pensions Protection Fund, along with the main fund, ensuring the directors will receive no more than £25,000 a year.

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