Rosneft Distraction

I got another notification in my Google Alerts yesterday about the Rosneft “privatization” scheme. According to the Russian press, the money for the purchase of the 19.5% stake in Rosneft came from Russian bank VTB:

But this just raises more questions, as Russia’s former deputy Finance Minister Sergei Aleksashenko points out.

First, Aleksashenko points out, despite the Russian government’s claims to the contrary, the money from the “sale” did not reach the federal budget last year. Of course, we already knew this based on both the statements of Glencore and Qatar, and on the filings I shared in my last post on this subject.

But a government official lying about something in Russia is nothing new, and you can’t fire them for it. So there cannot be “any political continuation of this story”.

Then there is still confusion about how the money is supposed to be transferred to the federal budget. Technically, the money should be paid to Rosneftegas, then paid to the budget as a dividend on profits earned from the sale. But that would not equal the full 692 billion roubles. And it would not show up on the books until this year or even next year.

But nobody in Russia cares about any of this, Aleksashenko says. Rosneftegas won’t be audited, and won’t be investigated. And these are all just “technical details” anyway. The main question that nobody seems to be able to answer is “who is the real buyer of the 19.5% stake in Rosneft?”

“The official version of a parity partnership of Glencore and QIA (Qatar investment fund) does not maintain the minimum checks on plausibility. Indeed if the partnership is created on the principle of 50/50, then why do the financial contributions of the participants differ by an order? The Qatar foundation paid 2.5 billion euros, and Glencore only 300 million [euros]?”

And then there is the question of why Glencore got a contract for gas deliveries, and Qatar didn’t. “Where is the equality there?” Aleksashenko asks.

Note: this is not entirely true. As I wrote last week, the deal on the gas deliveries was with QHG Trading LLP (which is equally split between a QIA subsidiary and Glencore Energy UK).

“Continuing on. We still do not know who Intesa’s partner is and who lent the buyer [Qatar] 2.5 billion euros.”

Then Aleksashenko casts doubt on the ability of the “borrowers” [Qatar & Glencore] to repay the loan. He also notes that the terms of the loan from Intesa are still a mystery.

But this is also not quite true. The paperwork for the three loans (possibly only two?) has been uploaded on the website of Companies House in the UK, but I am having difficulty making any sense of them. The numbers don’t match what we were told, and the participants are still murky. Who is QHG Cayman, for example. And Intesa is still listed as the lender.

Even so, Aleksashenko writes, if the “borrowers” (QHG Investment & QHG Holding) cannot repay the loans, then the “lender” (technically still Intesa) will own the shares.

“And that, it seems, is the essence of the transaction.”

He then reminds his readers that the initial proposal was for Rosneft to “buy” its own shares from Rosneftegas and then sell the same shares to an outside buyer at some later date. But this idea was allegedly rejected by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But, Alexsashenko continues, that it seems likely that Sechin’s original plan was implemented, but “with modifications”. And he alleges that VTB’s role here was to distract from this fact.

Central Bank Scheme

In February of last year I started to list the banks that had been shut down (retroactive from 1 January 2016) by Russia’s Central Bank. The idea was to see if they could beat their own record from 2015. Last week the final bank was closed for the year and when tallied the Central Bank did indeed beat their own record from 2015: 97 banks shut their doors in 2016 as compared to the 93 closed by the Central Bank in 2015. To put that in perspective, 32 Russian banks lost their licences in 2013, and 86 in 2014.

In December 2015, Sberbank’s German Gref predicted that 10% of Russian banks would have their licences pulled in 2016. That would have been approximately 70. The Central Bank exceeded that.

Gref said that he supported the revoking of licenses from banks that are involved in “anything other than banking activities,” Interfax reported.

In May this year the Russian news agency Rosbalt reported:

The Central Bank is selling this process as an anti-corruption campaign to clean up the banking sector. There are too many banks, the narrative goes. Thus it is necessary to close the weaker players, many of whom are using their clients’ money to make bad loans to themselves and their cronies, and moving the money offshore. See, for example, billionaire Alexander Lebedev’s version of events here.

Former deputy chairman of Russia’s Central Bank Sergei Aleksashenko wrote in October that the scheme:

“…has already cost over one and a half trillion rubles and, taking into account the interest to be paid, the federal budget is going to have to shell out considerably more than two trillion rubles.”

It does not appear that this process will end anytime soon. In July of 2015, VTB’s Andrei Kostin “…predicted that 500 Russian banks will be shut down over the next 5 years…”

“There are too many banks in Russia now — about 800 institutions. In five years, this number may be reduced by 500, but we could achieve a steady level even with 100 banks,” Kostin said in an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, according to Interfax.

Rosneft Privatization

Contrary to rumors, Rosneft has not bought its own 19.5% stake in the company from Rosneftegaz. Instead the privilege has gone to commodities trader Glencore and Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund. Each will own half of the stake, according to Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin.

The discussions were kept very quiet. There was no hint in the media at all that Glencore was even interested. I personally still have questions about the legality of the transaction, since Rosneft is (technically anyway) under sanctions. But I doubt that Glencore would have gone through with the deal if there had not been guarantees that they would not be taken to court or fined for participating. They have managed to keep to the letter of the sanctions, but not the spirit. But we are talking about Glencore, after all, as many Russians were quick to point out on Twitter.

So the deal has gone through, Sergei Aleksashenko writes on his blog, and the Reserve Fund can “sit untouched for another couple of months.”

There are four main takeaways from the deal, he says.

First, Igor Sechin came out the winner in this round. It is clear that Prime Minister Medvedev and his government knew nothing and had no involvement in the transaction. As a result, “we need to expect some external manifestation of this.” That is, Rosneft may win in other conflicts as well. For example the ongoing legal battle to access of Gazprom’s Sakhalin-2 pipeline.

That being said, it does appear that Sechin did lose on at least one of his preconditions for the sale to “outsiders”: that new shareholders would have to wait to get seats on Rosneft’s board of directors. But, Aleksashenko writes, “…judging by the words of the president… this condition has been removed, and, to some extent, Igor Sechin will be forced to live by the rules and not by concepts.”

“Third, we won’t know the whole truth about this deal for a long time. At least as long as it [Rosneft] is headed by Igor Sechin. And the main thing here is the unknown question: did the new shareholders receive any other benefits as part of this transaction or not? With Glencore it is easier. The company could be satisfied with the long-term contract with Rosneft to sell a substantial portion of its oil [220,000 barrels per day – ed.], perhaps even at about market conditions – as one of the world’s largest traders, Glencore can earn on sales of oil, and its purpose is to hold the maximum share of the market.”

But with the Qataris it is more difficult to say, Aleksashenko continues, “…they don’t need oil”, but they’re businessmen and don’t want to take a loss on their purchase.

“And, judging by how all the other transactions of Arab funds in Russia are structured, we can assume that Rosneft (or Rosneftegaz) issued the sovereign fund a protective option in case of falling prices, pledging in this case to buy back the shares.”

And finally, but not the least important, Aleksashenko concludes: “the privatization of Rosneft has not happened.” The State (in the form of Igor Sechin) is still calling the shots, with nobody to check it, “and will continue to do so.”