£7.4bn sale of stake in Sibneft doubles Abramovich wealth

By Andrew Osborn
Wednesday 05 October 2011 20:46

Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club, yesterday sold off the entirety of his oil interests in Russia, practically doubling his personal fortune to an estimated £15.9bn.

In what was Russia's largest corporate deal to date, he and his associates sold their controlling stake in the oil giant, Sibneft, to the Kremlin-controlled energy behemoth, Gazprom, for $13.1bn (£7.4bn).

Analysts estimated that 75-80 per cent of the controlling stake, which in itself represented almost 73 per cent of Sibneft's shares, was personally owned by Mr Abramovich, 38.

That means he stands to gain almost £5.9bn in cash on top of a proportional share of Sibneft's dividends for 2004 (his share is estimated to be almost £1.7bn) making him £7.6bn richer overall. According to Forbes magazine, he was already worth about £8.3bn before the deal. If that figure is accurate, he is now worth somewhere in the region of £15.9bn.

Russian media called the transaction "his best ever" reminding the long-suffering Russian public that Sibneft was sold for just $100m in 1996 - eventually ending up in the hands of Mr Abramovich and his associates.

The deal marks his exit from the volatile Russian market, something he has long sought. Indeed he has progressively sold off his interests in Russia, in the process building up a war chest to buy more players for his beloved Chelsea.

Analysts speculated that he was anxious to divest his interests before 2008, when President Vladimir Putin is expected to stand down - since Mr Putin was widely seen as the guarantor of Mr Abramovich's property rights. The deal gives the Kremlin control of one-third of Russia's oil output and is in line with Mr Putin's oft-stated policy of seizing back control of the country's "commanding heights", many of which were sold off in dubious privatisation deals.

Gazprom is already the world's largest gas producer and will now become a serious player in the oil market, pumping more than one million barrels a day.

The jailing of the former Yukos chief executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky for various white-collar crimes had cast a pall over Russia's business climate, but news of yesterday's deal sent the benchmark stock exchange index through the 1,000 point barrier for the first time in its 10-year history.

"Mr Abramovich is getting enough money to keep 15 generations of Abramoviches," the Sovlink analyst, Eric Kraus, quipped.

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