December 22, 2017 / 4:17 PM / 7 months ago

Russia's Rosneft reaches $1.7 billion settlement with Sistema

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s largest oil producer Rosneft said on Friday it has reached an amicable agreement with the Sistema conglomerate, which will pay out 100 billion roubles ($1.7 billion) to resolve a dispute over the Bashneft oil company.

FILE PHOTO: A logo of Russian state oil firm Rosneft is seen at its office in Moscow, October 18, 2012. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

Shares in Sistema, which groups the assets of Russian businessman Vladimir Yevtushenkov and includes the country’s largest mobile operator MTS, were up 17.73 percent in Moscow and 18.2 percent in London after Rosneft said the sides have agreed to drop all legal proceedings.

Sistema declined comment on the agreement which requires approval from the Russian regional court.

Rosneft said Sistema must pay the damages no later than March 30, 2018.

The dispute centres on mid-sized oil company Bashneft and has pitted powerful Rosneft chief executive Igor Sechin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, against Yevtushenkov, a billionaire who some media reports suggest is close to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

The way the battle was fought - via lawsuits and counter lawsuits - and the high value of the assets involved, rekindled concerns about Russia’s investment climate and raised questions about the Kremlin’s oversight of business.

Russia’s largest lender Sberbank, along with the state-run Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), will assist with raising funds for Sistema to compensate Rosneft for losses, Rosneft said.

Sberbank declined to comment.

The compromise achieved with RDIF’s assistance “meets both sides’ interests, sends a positive signal to the market and improves the investment climate in Russia”, RDIF said in statement.

The Russian government seized Sistema’s stake in Bashneft in 2014, saying its privatisation had been illegal. Rosneft later bought a controlling stake in Bashneft and in May filed its first lawsuit, alleging Sistema had removed assets from the company - something Sistema denies.

In a second claim, Rosneft was also seeking the return of dividends paid out by Bashneft between 2009 and 2014, when Sistema was its controlling shareholder.

The legal claims made against Sistema by Russia’s top oil producer totalled $4.5 billion, prompting Sistema to retaliate against Rosneft by filing a $5.6 billion lawsuit.

A possible amicable agreement in a row between Rosneft and Sistema was a topic of Putin’s informal meeting with businessmen on Thursday.

“Putin has repeatedly said that he would support an amicable settlement between Rosneft and AFK Sistema,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters on Friday.

The logo of Russian conglomerate Sistema is seen on a board at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2017 (SPIEF 2017) in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 1, 2017. Picture taken June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Reporting by Denis Pinchuk, Anastasia Teterevleva and Tatiana Voronova; writing by Denis Pinchuk and Vladimir Soldatkin; editing by Adrian Croft

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