Sibir investors want suspension explained

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Sibir Energy was yesterday under pressure from its shareholders to make a formal statement regarding the status of its joint venture with Roman Abramovich's Sibneft, called Sibneft-Yugra.

A dispute between the company and Sibneft was behind Sibir's request last week for the suspension of shares at 28p on the junior stock market, AIM.

Since the suspension, Sibir, one of AIM's biggest companies, has been inundated with calls from anxious institutional shareholders who called for the group to issue a statement to the Stock Exchange as soon as possible. "I am hoping that Sibir will soon let investors know exactly what has happened to its shareholding in its Sibneft-Yugra joint venture," said one top 10 institutional shareholder at Sibir. He believes a statement is likely some time next week.

Sibir is facing a £100m hit from its joint venture. Its 22.5 per cent stake in the venture has been mysteriously diluted and its current interest is said to stand at less than 1 per cent.

Sibir's UK-based institutional shareholders were last night outraged that such a thing could have happened. One said: "I thought the days of Western investors being left out of pocket by mysterious dilutions of their stakes in Russian enterprises were long gone."

The joint venture was established in 2000 to explore the oil reserves of the Priobskoye field in Siberia. Sibir owns its stake in the enterprise via its shareholding in Moscow Oil & Gas Company, which owns 50 per cent of Sibneft-Yugra. Sibir owns 45 per cent of MOGC, while the remaining 55 per cent is held by the Moscow city government, which seems also to have been left out of pocket by the dilution.

Sibir and its partner in the Priobskoye field, Sibneft, are believed to have had been at loggerheads over their Sibneft-Yugra collaboration for some time. Similarly, Sibneft's largest shareholder, Mr Abramovich, and Sibir's biggest single stakeholder, the Russian businessman Chalva Tchigirinsky, who owns 36 per cent of Sibir, came head to head in a battle for control of the lucrative Moscow Oil Refinery two years ago.