Russia Sells Nearly 20% of Rosneft to Investors

31.01.2017 -

More than a month after Russia announced one of its biggest privatizations since the 1990s, the true identity of the buyers of a 19.5% stake in its national oil company Rosneft has not yet emerged, according to media reports, Russian news agency Sputnik said the government sold the stake for €10.2 billion to a Singapore-based investment vehicle, ostensibly a 50:50 joint venture between the government of Qatar and Swiss oil trading firm Glencore, without revealing further details. In addition to the buyers, much of the attention to the deal revolves around the question of whether the EU and US sanctions against Russia were violated.

The news agency Reuters said it has learned that the Singapore investment company, QHG Shares, belongs indirectly to an array of investment vehicles. It is held by a London-registered limited liability partnership, QHG Investments, which lists as one of its two owners another London-registered limited liability partnership, QHG Holding, created on Dec. 5. One of the partners in QHG Holding is thought to be QHG Cayman Limited, registered at an address of the Cayman Islands office of Walkers, an international law firm.

Rosneft is the world's biggest listed oil company by output and, along with natural gas export monopoly Gazprom is regarded as one of two economic “crown jewels” of the Russian state. The sale of the stake was the largest privatization deal, the largest sale and acquisition in the global oil and gas sector in 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin is quoted as saying in a televised meeting with Igor Sechin, Rosneft's principal, in December.

Putin reportedly also called the transaction a “sign of international faith in Russia, despite US and EU financial sanctions on its firms including Rosneft.” He said also that Glencore and Qatar had been invited to participate in Rosneft’s exploration projects.

Identifying the other parties is especially difficult, Reuters said, as the sale was wrapped up through a number of shell companies. While Italian bank Intesa SanPaolo officially lent the Singapore firm €5.2 billion toward the financing, and Qatar contributed €2.5 billion, the origin of more than half the funding is still in the dark. According to Reuters, Singapore public records show that VTB, the Russian government’s official bank, actually lent the full sum to QHG, though VTB said it was a temporary ploy to avoid volatility.

If the circumstances of the financing sound like a “cloak-and-dagger” affair, some of the other information dug up by international media – including a number of tabloids – may sound like a soap opera-cum-spy novel. Some claim that the so-called Steele Dossier (compiled by a former British secret service agent and supposedly including compromising videos of US President Donald Trump) contains evidence that Rosneft had offered one of the now-president’s business associates a 19% brokerage of the company if Trump was elected president and removed sanctions against Russia. 

However accurate or inaccurate that information may be, the journal Business Insider said that in October, “when it looked like Trump no longer had a chance to win the presidency,” Sechin contacted other unidentified business interests about purchasing a stake in the oil company.  Rosneft then “scrambled to find a foreign investor,” holding talks with more than 30 potential buyers from Europe, the US, Asia, and the Middle East. A deal was signed on Dec. 7, 2016.

Intesa told Reuters that “the financing was completed with strict adherence to the regulations applicable to embargoes and that Italian authorities found nothing that would prohibit such an operation.” The news agency said the deal came as a surprise to some of Rosneft’s existing shareholders, including British oil giant BP, which holds a 19.5% stake.