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Russian authorities to scrutinize Norilsk Nickel deals - paper


MOSCOW, March 24 (RIA Novosti) - Russian authorities have decided to examine the financial position of Norilsk Nickel and its transactions carried out in favor of shareholders, a business paper said on Tuesday.

According to Vedomosti, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, who oversees Russian industry, has along with the country's Audit Chamber, state-controlled Vnesheconombank and VTB Bank raised questions over the metal giant's transactions. Billionaire Alisher Usmanov, the owner of Metalloinvest, has threatened to sue Norilsk Nickel.

Sechin's letter to Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, general director of Norilsk Nickel, was received by the company in early March, two sources close to the company and its shareholders told Vedomosti.

In his letter, the deputy premier requested that the Norilsk Nickel management disclose the company's current budget and details of several large transactions with shareholders that began in the second half of 2008 and were concluded in early 2009, the paper said.

According to the paper, Norilsk Nickel spent about 86 billion rubles ($.26 billion at the current exchange rate) to purchase shares and assets from its shareholders.

Government officials stressed the strategic importance of Norilsk Nickel, which provides large numbers of jobs in several Russian cities, and concerns that the value of the company's stake pledged to the government amid the financial crisis may further decline, the paper said.

Also, the government wants to check information that the company's entrepreneurial activities serve the interests of a narrow group close to the Norilsk Nickel management, and also reports that the metals giant is illegitimately spending money and assets, the paper said.

Norilsk Nickel said in its reply to Sechin's letter that all transactions had been performed in compliance with legislation and the company's charter, Vedomosti reported.

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