Lai See

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 August, 2010, 12:00am

Russians in a pickle over battle for nickel

Aluminium oligarch Oleg Deripaska is getting bent out of shape over his row with Interros, a fellow - and, it has to be said, rival - shareholder in Norilsk Nickel, the world's largest nickel producer.

Interros, which is controlled by billionaire Vladimir Potanin, and Deripaska's Rusal each owns 25 per cent of Norilsk and has been battling the other for control.

The Kremlin imposed a truce on the two oligarchs, but this fell apart in June when Rusal suffered a setback at Norilsk's annual general meeting and was only able to secure three of the four board seats it was entitled to, while Interros secured four, enabling it to install its favoured chairman.

Deripaska (pictured) has not taken this lying down, claiming there had been impropriety on the part of Interros and Norilsk management, and recently filed a request for a ruling on the dispute in the London court of Arbitration, according to a statement released to the Hong Kong stock exchange.

The irony of this move will not have been lost on those who have been following Deripaska's legal travails over the past few years.

It will also have amused Michael Cherney, who says he is a former business partner of Deripaska and has been trying to sue his fellow Russian in the London courts for a 13 per cent stake in Rusal that he claims to be owed. Deripaska has been fighting tooth and nail, albeit unsuccessfully, to avoid the suit by arguing that the court has no jurisdiction over the case since the alleged events occurred in Russia.

In the meantime, Deripaska was ticked off by Russian President Medvedev during a televised forum of oligarchs after he said it was impossible to get a fair hearing in a Russian court without paying a mediator. Medvedev replied that it was business that bred corruption in the courts.

The upshot of all this is that London appears to be a good place for Russians who want to sue but not so good if you are being sued.

Learning difficulties

To learn from one's mistakes is a good thing. To learn from other people's mistakes is infinitely better.

Armed with this thought, it is baffling as to why Hong Kong representatives to the National People's Congress advised Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen yesterday that he should press the mainland to secure a Suzhou Industrial Park arrangement for Hong Kong.

Readers may recall the history of the China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park, which was an unmitigated disaster ... for the Singaporean government.

The project was conceived in the mid-1990s as a joint effort with the Singaporean government owning 65 per cent and the Suzhou city government 35 per cent. It appeared to be a match made in heaven with China eager to learn Singapore's much-admired modern management style while the Singaporeans were eager to invest overseas.

However, as so often happens, the China dream rapidly turned into a nightmare as not long after work started on the park, work also began on the Suzhou New District industrial park in which the Suzhou city government had a major stake.

To cut a long story short, the original park incurred losses of US$90 million over five years and the Singaporeans gave up the struggle, reducing their stake to 35 per cent as the Chinese side took control.

So, quel surprise when one year later, the park made its first profit of US$3.8 million.

So why on earth would anyone want to advise the Hong Kong government to pursue the same obviously disastrous path.

Unfortunately, the answer would appear to be because the government is only too happy to blow vast sums of Hong Kong's money in the mainland's direction - a mere HK$67 billion for a highly questionable high-speed railway link and billions on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.

Research redux

UBS is attracting attention again, but this time it's not for attempting to smuggle diamonds into the United States or advising clients on how to avoid taxes.

It is being sued for allegedly copying articles from oil and gas publications and reprinting them in their investment research distributed to clients, Bloomberg reports.

Energy Intelligence Group, based in New York, said its publications, which include International Oil Daily, World Gas Intelligence and Petroleum Intelligence Weekly, were copied by UBS at least 10 times during 2006 and 2007, according to the lawsuit.

Energy Intelligence articles or portions of them were reprinted in UBS' own investment research publication, Daily Oil News, according to the suit filed in a London court last month and made public this week.