May 11, 2018 / 2:58 PM / 2 months ago

Russian billionaires' Nornickel tussle to go to trial on Monday

LONDON, May 11 (Reuters) - A London High Court trial over the legality of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich’s sale of a stake in Norilsk Nickel will start on Monday, part of a long-running battle for control of the miner.

Rusal, which is controlled by Oleg Deripaska, is trying to stop Chelsea soccer club owner Abramovich selling Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel) shares to billionaire Vladimir Potanin, arguing that it violates a 2012 shareholder agreement.

Court listings published on Friday showed the case is due to be heard at 1030 a.m. (0930 GMT) in London on Monday. Potanin’s Interros Holding and Rusal have declined to comment.

Interros said in March it had completed the purchase from Abramovich of a 2 percent stake in Nornickel.

However, the transfer of shares will be reversed if the court rules in favour of Rusal. Before the deal, Potanin had 30.4 percent of Nornickel, while Rusal owns 27.8 percent.

Since the case was last in court, Deripaska and Rusal have been hit with U.S. sanctions, which some analysts have said increases the uncertainty over Rusal’s stake in Nornickel.

Nornickel is a $31 billion company that competes with Brazil’s Vale for the rank of the world’s top nickel producer. It is also the world’s largest palladium producer.

Deripaska and Potanin have periodically been at loggerheads since Rusal bought a stake in Nornickel just before the 2008 global financial crash.

Abramovich stepped up as a “white knight” minority shareholder, to act as a buffer between Potanin and Deripaska in 2012.

The peace deal involved a five-year lock-up period, during which they could not sell most of their Nornickel stakes. That ended in late 2017. (Reporting by Alistair Smout; Additional reporting by Peter Hobson in London and Polina Ivanova in Moscow; Editing by Mark Potter)

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