Gazprom in Talks to Buy Abu Dhabi's OMV Stake

Source: Reuters 6/26/2014, Location: Middle East

Gazprom is in talks to buy a 24.9 percent stake in Austrian oil and gas firm OMV, a source familiar with the talks told Reuters, a deal that would deepen already controversial Austro-Russian ties if it comes to fruition.

Buying the stake would give state-controlled Gazprom a beachhead in the European Union, which has serious issues with its planned gas pipeline through central Europe to Austria and has imposed sanctions over Russia's annexation of Crimea.

"Talks were held but they have yet to decide on pricing," the source said.

Austrian state holding company OIAG, which holds 32 percent of OMV in a shareholder pact with Abu Dhabi's International Petroleum Investment Co (IPIC) and coordinates any shareholding changes, said it had seen no sign IPIC wanted to exit.

"It's news to me," Siegfried Wolf, an Austrian businessman with close ties to Russia who was elected OIAG chairman on Thursday, told a news conference.

But he said OIAG, which has right of first refusal to buy the stake from IPIC, would not necessarily know about any such talks until the point at which IPIC was ready to sell. He added he had not spoken to IPIC about the issue.

A Russian gas industry source dismissed as "rubbish" prospects that Gazprom would buy the stake in OMV, with whom it signed a pact this week to build a branch of the disputed South Stream pipeline to Austria.

Veteran Austrian opposition lawmaker Peter Pilz told Kurier newspaper and Reuters he had "concrete indications" that IPIC and Gazprom had held discussions on the issue.

Gazprom and IPIC declined to comment, while OMV referred questions to its major shareholders. Shares in OMV closed up 2.9 percent at 33.085 euros, making a 25 percent stake worth around 2.7 billion euros ($3.7 billion).

"As a shareholder of OMV, Gazprom would get closer control over the construction and operations of the South Stream pipeline," said Mikhail Korchemkin, director of U.S.-based consultancy East European Gas Analysis.

"However, there may be a conflict of interests, because Gazprom would be buying gas from itself."

Another analyst said: "Strictly from the share-price point of view, I don't see much difference whether IPIC or Gazprom would hold the stake. But if Gazprom were to make an offer for the whole company, of course that would be a different story."

The analyst did not want to be named because of the political nature of the issue.

OMV was the first western company to sign a long-term gas-purchasing contract with the then-Soviet Union in 1968 and is still a major Gazprom customer.

Pilz said he was concerned about creeping Russian influence in Austria, whose president defended hosting a controversial visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin this week, saying talks were more fruitful than sanctions.

IPIC, which has held its OMV stake for 20 years, owns stakes in a number of European companies, including Spain's Cepsa. It also owns part of Italian lender UniCredit through its Aabar Investments unit.

The fund is part of a stable of government-owned investment funds tasked with aiding the diversification of the Abu Dhabi economy away from hydrocarbon revenues.

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