Gazprom swells stake in Sibir

GAZPROM Neft, the oil arm of Russian gas giant Gazprom, yesterday moved a step closer to taking control of Sibir Energy, the oil firm embroiled in an investigation over loans to one of its major shareholders.<br /><br />Gazprom Neft launched a recommended cash offer at 500p a share for the rest of the outstanding shares in the company, barring those owned by three remaining powerful investors, valuing Sibir at around &pound;1.93bn.<br /><br />The move boosted Gazprom Neft&rsquo;s shareholding to around 33.5 per cent, though Sibir has waived its right to apply the rule that would usually necessitate an official takeover bid for the company if a single shareholder builds a stake of over 30 per cent.<br /><br />Gazprom Neft brought its stake in Sibir up to 27.5 per cent last week, after snapping up 16 per cent in April, when it won a bidding war with TNK-BP by paying a 70p premium to its larger rival&rsquo;s 430p-a-share offer.<br /><br />Yesterday&rsquo;s offer excludes shares owned by Bennfield Limited, the City of Moscow &ndash; which owns 18 per cent through Central Fuel Company and is thought to be an unlikely seller &ndash; and the Bank of Moscow. Bennfield represents the holdings of Chalva Tchigirinsky &ndash; the shareholder at the centre of the loan allegations &ndash; and Igor Kesayev, who together own around 47 per cent of Sibir.<br /><br />Sibir&rsquo;s shares were suspended on the Aim market in February, after the firm discovered it was owed around $325m (&pound;204m) by Tchigirinsky, almost triple the amount it originally disclosed.