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'Oligarch' Involvement, Kremlin Interest in Gazprom Breakup Rumored

CEP20021002000191 Moscow Kommersant-Dengi in Russian 01 Oct 02

[Yelena Kiseleva report: "Gazprom Will Be Torn Into Three Parts"]

[FBIS Translated Text]
    There's no need to explain how milch cows are treated in normal countries. With us they would probably be allowed to go for meat. If we are to believe the rumors, this is how the authorities intend to treat the milch cow of the Russian budget--Gazprom. Would the budget benefit from this monopoly being broken up, I wonder?

    The rumors that the authorities intend to break up Gazprom have been stirring up the oil and gas community for two weeks now. The gas monopoly, it is rumored, will be broken up into three parts--extractive, gas-transportation, and marketing. This idea is not new, as a matter of fact. Five years ago it was actively promoted by the World Bank with the aid of Anatoliy Chubays, a federal government official at that time. But it did not carry on account of the resistance of the gas lobby led by Viktor Chernomyrdin, prime minister at that time.

    This time everything is, seemingly, in earnest: the Kremlin has taken a serious interest in the plans to divide up Gazprom. Local gossip-mongers are ascribing their authorship to Sergey Pugachev, the senator from Tuva. He himself, it has to be said, makes no secret of his interest in Gazprom's financial flows. The ex-banker Pugachev recently reached agreement with Aleksey Miller on wide-ranging cooperation (financial, of course, with the participation of Mezhprombank, which he continues to control).

    The intrigue surrounding Gazprom is developing surprisingly quickly. Until recently only Gazprom's top managers and the upper stratum of the administration knew about the plans to divide up Gazprom. But a couple of weeks ago rumors about this went beyond the tight circle of initiates. They say that it has reached the point where Gazprom's security service has even launched its own inquiry to find out who leaked confidential information.

    You don't have to go to a fortune-teller to find out which of the three parts of Gazprom will enjoy the greatest popularity. Everyone wants to control the gas pipe--the counterpart of Transneft. If the rumors are to be believed, interest in the latter is being displayed, aside from the ex-banker Pugachev, by Mikhail Khodorkovskiy and Mikhail Fridman. It is being said in the Kremlin, though, that the oligarchs need not trouble themselves. If Gazprom is divided up, the gas pipe will probably remain in the power of the state.

    About competitors, incidentally. We should always be ready for them taking extreme action. It is said that the Alpha Group is preparing an attack on Gazprom... from America. It is here, it is rumored, that the latest corruption scandal with the participation Gazprom's chief partner--Itera--will be starting in the very near future. The choice of location is no accident, incidentally: the head Itera is registered in the state of Florida. The intention is, it is rumored, to accuse the "sweethearts" of having created a criminal organization for the removal of Gazprom assets. I don't know about criminal but it is a fact that a whole 130 Iteras have been created worldwide.

    They say that Alpha has decided to hire one of America's most influential lobbying firms. Its top managers were recently seen in New York, if we are to believe the rumors, in the company of a well-known specialist in Russian criminal matters--ex-FBI officer Robert Levinson. He, I recall, is known for his participation in the abortive case against the authoritative businessman Sergey Mikhaylov.

    Six months ago the co-owners and top managers of TNK   [Tyumen Oil Company], which is a part of Alpha, were themselves in a similar situation, incidentally. They (there are among the high-ranking "tankmen" many US citizens) were being sued in an American court on a charge of racketeering and the creation of a criminal international network. So it is not inconceivable that the "tankmen" will surrender Itera in exchange for a dismissal of the prosecution in the United States, by no means from a desire to get the better of Gazprom.

    No less interesting rumors are stirring the orderly ranks of our defense industry. They say that Rosoboroneksport has decided to register a middleman in Greece (Greece is the sole NATO member that purchases weapons in Russia). This is to be handled, it is rumored, by a local broker, the Palestinian Fuad Zayat, and Mikhail Vorobyev, former deputy CEO of the Antey concern. The piquancy of the situation is that Mr Vorobyev was this spring at Rosoboroneksport's prompting dismissed from Antey. At the April session of the Military-Technical Cooperation Commission Rosoboroneksport First Deputy CEO Sergey Chemezov publicly demanded his resignation, accusing him of having made a mess of the Greek contracts. In actual fact, though, Rosoboroneksport, it is rumored, simply wanted to promote Antey on the Greek arms market.

    And, to close, sports news. Last week all of Moscow was discussing the Mayor's Association Football Cup 2002 competition, which took place 7-14 September. Its winner, rather. It was once again, something that is now traditional, the Moscow Government team. They say that on the eve of the final, in which teams of city hall and Vneshtorgbank met, the captain of the latter was approached by fixers: "We hope you understand that first place is already taken. Let's think together about how we can get out of this situation." Whether the bankers proved to be slow on the uptake or whether this was how luck would have it, the result of the hard-fought contest was a 4:4 tie. Of course, the bankers could have tried even harder and lost, but such a sacrifice was not required. According to the Olympic system adopted at the tournament, it is sufficient for the winner to have won the overall event.

[Description of Source: Moscow Kommersant-Dengi in Russian -- Weekly magazine devoted to economic and business issues, published by the Kommersant publishing house.]


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