THE NEW RUSSIAN EMPIRE – 6
The fifth part is here.
Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman, under pressure from the U.K. government, is preparing to sell his recently purchased North Sea gas fields, a spokesman said Friday.
"We are still reviewing all options, including preparing for a sale, or swap, of our U.K. assets and are soliciting offers—and looking at investment opportunities elsewhere," said a spokesman for Mr. Fridman's LetterOne Group. "Our focus—given circumstances—is to achieve an agreed sale on commercially acceptable terms and conditions."
The 13 gas fields became the subject of an international controversy in March when LetterOne bought Dea, the oil-and-gas arm of German power giant, RWE AG. The U.K. government said Mr. Fridman one day could face Ukraine-related sanctions, which would imperil up to 5% of Britain's North Sea gas output if he held on to the fields. Last month, the government gave Mr. Fridman up to six months to sell.
It wasn't disclosed whom Mr. Fridman has talked to about buying the fields, or how the government's sudden interest in them would affect who puts in a bid.
Mr. Fridman had been reluctant to sell the gas fields and threatened the U.K. government with legal action in March. Mr. Fridman isn't known to be a close confidante of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose alleged actions in Ukraine have led to damaging sanctions against wealthy Russians connected to the government.
A press officer for the U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change, which had ordered the fields sold, didn't immediately have a comment Friday evening.
Mr. Fridman's $5.7 billion purchase of Dea was his first move in an attempt at a comeback in the energy business two years after he sold his stake in TNK-BP to Rosneft, a sale that provided almost $14 billion. He has said he wants to build a new international oil company, and losing the North Sea assets, which made up about 20% of the Dea purchase's value, wouldn't stop him.
Mr. Fridman also has considerable businesses in telecommunications, banking, retail and water utilities.
The clash between Mr. Fridman and the U.K. government highlighted concerns in Western Europe over Russian ownership of gas assets. Europe receives nearly a third of its natural gas from Russia, through Ukraine as a transit hub, one factor fueling the tensions between Moscow and the West over the conflict there.
Legal experts had said LetterOne could face an uphill battle in a court proving that the U.K. government's decision was unreasonable based on the information currently available.
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