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Friday, July 14, 2006

Guardian Slams the ROSNEFT Sham

The Guardian's financial columnist Julia Finch lays bare the outrageous sham that is the Rosneft IPO, a perfect bookend to the Steven Pearlstein piece which appeared on La Russophobe several days ago. Anyone who buys into this garbage gets what they deserve. One regularly sees reports on America TV about hucksters who bilk old ladies out of their life savings by singing them sweet songs, but that doesn't mean the hucksters have viable, valuable income that can stand the test of time.

A Russian monster called Rosneft arrives in London tomorrow - and its arrival is not to be applauded. Conditional dealings in the oil giant will get under way on the London Stock Exchange - despite the fact that Rosneft's main assets were seized from a rival by Vladimir Putin's government and it may not therefore legally own its assets, that it faces years of litigation in many countries and that the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate governance rules in the US mean it would not have been allowed anywhere near Wall Street.

But, it is now clear, the City of London and the FSA, through its listing authority, has lower standards. The FTSE 100 may once have been reserved for blue-chip companies worthy of inclusion in our pension funds, but with Rosneft among the biggest UK-listed companies, that is obviously no longer the case.

It is a vast business: it is raising some £6bn and will have a market capitalisation of more than £40bn - making it substantially bigger than Tesco, Sainsbury and Wm Morrison added together.

The corporate governance teams working for UK fund managers have made their distaste clear. They like to engage with the companies they invest in - and the big tracker funds will have no option but to buy in - but there is little chance of that here. Will they follow the combined code? About as likely as Russia banning vodka.

Instead Rosneft's biggest customers have been coerced into buying shares, and investment banks won over by wads of cash shared out for advisory work.

Obviously, no Russian mega corp could possibly come to London without a high-profile Western face on the board to lend an air of respectability. In the case of Rosneft this is provided by German-born Hans-Jorg Rudloff, a former chairman of Credit Suisse whose other boardroom credentials include drugs giant Novartis and Barclays Capital.

In an interview yesterday Mr Rudloff admitted that when he was approached he had to "inhale deeply", but he accepted the job - naturally - for the greater good of building business bridges with Putin's Russia.

As for allegations about the provenance of Rosneft's assets? Mr Rudloff is concerned with the future, not the past. And lawsuits challenging Rosneft's ownership of assets? No different, he reckons, from German companies that have to deal with litigation dating back to the misdeeds of the Third Reich.

Had Mr Rudloff turned it down, however, Rosneft would have had no problem finding an alternative. According to one leading UK headhunter who places businessmen in non-executive roles, there is a long queue of executives willing to take jobs with Russian companies, even though, as the headhunter, said: "It is the wild west out there".

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