Qatar steps in to buy US$9 billion Rosneft stake left by fallen Chinese oligarch Ye Jianming

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 May, 2018, 1:45pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 May, 2018, 11:23pm

Qatar emerged as a major shareholder in Rosneft on Friday after a US$9 billion deal to sell a stake in Russia’s state-run oil producer to China’s troubled CEFC Energy collapsed.

Qatar Investment Authority stepped in after the sellers - a consortium of QIA itself and mining giant Glencore - told CEFC it wouldn’t proceed with the original deal announced in October. A statement issued by Glencore didn’t explain why they were cancelling the sale, but CEFC has been struggling with debt.

The sudden change cements Doha’s links with Moscow at a time when Qatar is facing isolation from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. The Kremlin loses the prospect of China becoming a major shareholder in the country’s largest oil producer, however.

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After the new deal, Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) will own 18.93 per cent of Rosneft, making it the third-largest shareholder after the Russian state, which holds 50 per cent, and UK oil major BP with 19.75 per cent.

CEFC, a sprawling conglomerate with big interests in oil and gas, has come under increasing government scrutiny in Beijing amid concern rapid international expansion had stretched the group financially. Chinese media has reported that Ye Jianming, the founder and chairman of the rapidly expanding Chinese company, has been investigated by government authorities.

Under Ye, CEFC has been transformed from an obscure conglomerate focused mainly on the former Soviet Union into a conspicuous player on the world energy stage, mixing with the likes of mining giant Glencore. Starting as a small trading company in 2002, CEFC bought assets including storage, terminals, refineries and oilfields, as well as financial units.

“CEFC’s purchase of a stake in Rosneft has ended in a debacle,” said Christian Boermel, senior research analyst of Russia Upstream. “The collapse of the CEFC China deal leaves all involved battered and bruised. It marks a new low in a series of never-materialised deals by Chinese companies in Russia’s upstream. It is certainly not the simple privatisation deal that was envisaged back in December 2016.”

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Led by Igor Sechin, a former deputy prime minister and a long-time associate of President Vladimir Putin, Rosneft produces more oil than any other publicly traded company in the world, about 4.5 million barrels of crude a day.

Rosneft said in an email that it looked forward to “new mutually beneficial bilateral and international projects with our Qatari partners.”

Rosneft also signed a five-year oil supply agreement with CEFC last year, but that contract remains in force, Rosneft spokesman Mikhail Leontyev said. China will continue to remain a strategic market for Rosneft, the company’s press service added.

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The Glencore-QIA consortium agreed to jointly acquire a 19.5 per cent stake in Rosneft in December 2016, helping the Russian government to meet a target for privatisation proceeds. They then cut a deal to sell most of those shares on to CEFC.

The Glencore-QIA venture will now be dissolved and Glencore will retain a 0.6 per cent holding in Rosneft, according to Friday’s statement. Qatar will pay Glencore about 3.7 billion euros (US$4.4 billion) for the shares it’s acquiring, but Glencore will use that cash to repay money it borrowed to buy its original stake.

A deal Glencore struck to buy 220,000 barrels a day of crude from Rosneft remains in place.

With additional reporting by Eric Ng