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Russia: American Banker Reluctant To Lend To Kremlin

  • John Helmer

Prague, 5 December 1997 (RFE/RL) - American banker, Boris Jordan, an ally of one of Russia's largest banks Uneximbank, has said he aims to enter the bidding for Rosneft, the Russian state oil holding company. But Jordan also says his Moscow business unit, the soon to be merged Renaissance Capital and MFK Bank, does not want to act as an interim lender to the government on the deal - before the privatization is complete.

Last week, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais said an interim loan might be sought before the end of the month, in exchange for Rosneft shares. It is believed the government would like to borrow $1 billion this month, in the expectation of raising $2 billion, when 63 percent of Rosneft's shares are privatized by tender in the first quarter of 1998.

This idea, Chubais has acknowledged, is "one variant" for raising emergency cash to pay the government's wage arrears bill by January 1, as pledged by President Boris Yeltsin. Chubais this week summoned top Western and Russian bankers for what reports say were talks on a 2,000-million-dollar emergency loan to pay the arrears.

Loans-for-shares deals have been declared unlawful by the Accounting Chamber, Russia's independent state auditor, which reports to Parliament.

Payments of $90,000 each to Chubais and four of his ministerial colleagues by Uneximbank, which has benefited from several of the loans-for-shares deals already, were the reason Yeltsin dismissed the four, and Chubais was forced late last month to give up his Finance Ministry post.

Jordan helped arrange several of the early loans-for-shares deals. But his spokesman tells RFE/RL that Jordan concedes that there would be a serious conflict of interest, if Jordan and the Renaissance Capital-MFK organization were to give the government a cash advance, before bidding in the tender for Rosneft shares.

The Rosneft deal will be the largest privatization of a state asset to be held in Russia, so far. By proposing a $1 billion advance payment - before the privatization actually takes place, Chubais has drawn fresh criticism for paving the way for another Uneximbank takeover.

What makes the Rosneft privatization so controversial now is not only the value of the assets it controls, industry analysts say, but, also the influence-peddling scandals associated with earlier privatization decisions.

"The fact is that Chubais and the bankers are exploiting the failure of the government to meet its obligations, and pay wage arrears," a veteran Moscow analyst (anonymous) tells RFE/RL. "The financial crisis has left the government desperately short of cash. Chubais and his allies are offering to come up with some of this cash, in exchange for control over Rosneft shares."

Western bankers and lawyers say they are skeptical that a $1 billion loan can be negotiated without violating Russian law.