Business in Brief

Initial Pipeline Deal Signed

ATHENS -- Transneft, Bulgargaz and Hellenic Petroleum signed an initial agreement on creating a joint venture to build an oil pipeline from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, the Greek Development Ministry said in a statement late Thursday.

The 285-kilometer pipeline will link the Bulgarian city of Burgas with the Greek port of Alexandropoulos, bypassing Turkey's crowded Bosporus and Dardanelles straits. It will be able to carry 35 million tons of oil per year. (Bloomberg)

Gazprom Neft Investigated

Omsk customs officials have initiated an investigation into thirteen instances of contraband involving over 40,000 tons of oil products worth more than $21 million, the Federal Customs Service said Friday, Interfax reported.

A preliminary investigation indicated that Gazprom Neft's permit in the second half of 2006 to deliver the fuel to Kazakhstan was obtained on the basis of invalid documentation, the statement said, Interfax reported. (MT)

Gazprom to Enter Ireland

DUBLIN -- Gazprom secured a license to enter Ireland's 2 billion euro ($2.96 billion) gas market and plans to begin supplying customers by the end of the year, the Irish Independent reported, citing an executive at the company.

The company would target high-end commercial customers and power stations, said Jon Feingold, the retail director of British subsidiary Gazprom Marketing and Trading Retail, the newspaper reported. (Bloomberg)

Belarus to Raise Transit Fee

KIEV -- Belarus will increase fees for pumping Russian oil through its territory to Europe by 15.7 percent starting Feb. 1, Ekonomicheskiye Izvestia reported, citing the government.

Belarus will raise the tariff to 2.8 euros ($4.14) per ton of crude pumped via the Druzhba pipeline and earn the country an extra $31 million a year, the newspaper reported.

The former Soviet republic transports 70 million tons of Russian crude per year to Europe, Ekonomicheskiye Izvestia reported. (Bloomberg)

Rosneft Seeking $2Bln

Rosneft is consulting with banks about taking a $2 billion loan in January or February, Vedomosti reported Friday, citing an unidentified company executive.

The loan will be secured by the producer's oil exports, the newspaper reported. The company is seeking an interest rate of 0.5 percent above the London interbank offered rate for the first three years of the loan, and 0.575 percent above Libor for the next two years, Vedomosti reported. (Bloomberg)

Captial Inflow $82.3Bln

Net capital inflow reached $82.3 billion in 2007, compared with $42 billion the previous year, the Central Bank said in a statement Friday.

Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin last year said the inflow would be $75 billion to $80 billion. (Bloomberg)

November Trade Surplus Up

The country posted its biggest surplus for more than a year in November as global oil prices boosted the value of exports.

The trade surplus rose to $13.5 billion from $12.8 billion in October, the most since August 2006 and the second consecutive monthly increase, the Central Bank said in a statement Friday. (Bloomberg)

Toyota Adds Low-End Line

Toyota may build a low-cost car at a new plant in Russia, said Tadashi Arashima, president and chief executive of its European unit, the Financial Times reported Friday.

The Japanese carmaker may add a second production line to its plant in St. Petersburg to build a car priced at between $7,000 and $10,000, the daily said. (Bloomberg)

Belarussian Protesters Guilty

MINSK -- Several organizers of a protest by businessmen were convicted Friday by a Belarusian court on charges of staging an unsanctioned rally, including Alexander Lebedko, head of the opposition United Civil Party, Perspektiva leader Anatoly Shumchenko and several other activists, and were each sentenced to 15 days in jail and a fine.

Thursday's demonstration attracted about 2,000 entrepreneurs who protested new legislation forcing them to reregister their ventures and doubling the amount of taxes they have to pay.

Businessmen who want to avoid the new terms will be restricted to hiring their relatives to keep their ventures within the family. (AP)

Anheuser-Busch Offers Help

LONDON -- Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Budweiser beer, has offered to join Scottish & Newcastle's bid for Russian brewer Baltic Beverages Holding, the Sunday Telegraph reported, without citing a source.

Scottish & Newcastle is seeking to increase its stake in the largest Russian beer maker to bolster its defense against an unsolicited bid from Heineken and Carlsberg, according to the report.

Buyout firms Blackstone Group and TPG have also approached Scottish & Newcastle, the newspaper said. (Bloomberg)

Exxon Wants to Lead

ROME -- ExxonMobil wants leadership of the Kashagan oil field in Kazakhstan in return for giving the state-controlled producer a larger stake in the deposit, Il Messaggero newspaper reported, without citing a source

Kazakhstan's KazMunaiGaz may pay about $2 billion to raise its Kashagan holding to 16.5 percent as part of a settlement to a dispute between the government and oil companies over delays and rising costs there, the newspaper said.

Exxon is the only holdout among the group of international oil producers led by Italy's Eni, now the field's operator, Il Messaggero reported.

The terms offered to the Kazakh company are considered too generous by Exxon, Il Messaggero reported. (Bloomberg)

Kashagan Meeting

ROME -- Eni, ExxonMobil and partners in the Kashagan oil field met Saturday to find a joint negotiating position before meeting Kazakh officials Sunday, Il Giornale newspaper reported, without saying where it got the information.

Exxon had not agreed to plans to sell a stake of about 8 percent of the development to Kazakhstan's state-controlled oil company for $1.5 billion to $2 billion, the daily reported, without saying whether the companies had reached an agreement. (Bloomberg)

Sotheby's, Christie's Record

NEW YORK -- The world's top two auction houses, Christie's International and Sotheby's, profited from an expanding Russian economy with its growing ranks of newly rich collectors to score a record year in Russian art sales.

Their combined 2007 global Russian sales totaled $324.9 million, up 45 percent from a total of $223.6 million in 2006. All figures include buyer's premium.

Sotheby's, the market leader in Russian art for the past decade, said its 2007 total grew 18 percent to $180.9 million. Christie's said its 2007 Russian art total increased 87 percent to ?71.2 million ($144 million). (Bloomberg)

For the Record:

Chevron's Caspian Pipeline Consortium increased oil shipments by 4.7 percent in December after storms closed the port of Novorossiisk for several days in November, the company said Friday. (Bloomberg)

Gazprom has held talks about becoming an official sponsor of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the Evening Standard reported. (Bloomberg)

The government approved the first of four casino zones to be opened July 2009, Vedomosti reported. (Bloomberg)

Eni acquired 77 Percent of Burren Energy, bringing the company closer to its takeover of the explorer, the company said Friday. (Bloomberg)

Norilsk, Severstal and Oleg Deripaska's Basic Element will bid for exploration and mining rights to Iisko-Taigulskoe, a Siberian nickel field, Vedomosti reported Friday, citing unidentified officials at the companies. (Bloomberg)

VTB said Friday that profit according to Russian accounting standards rose 6.1 percent to 18.23 billion rubles ($750 million) in 2007. (Bloomberg)

Renova Holding, the investment company controlled by Viktor Vekselberg, hired five banks to raise $500 million in a sale of bonds, Interfax reported, citing unidentified bankers. (Bloomberg)

Kazakhstan may pay about $2 billion to raise its Kashagan oil field stake as part of a settlement to a dispute over delays and rising costs, Il Sole/24 Ore reported, without citing a source. (Bloomberg)

Group Menatep, which used to control Yukos, will sell its telecommunications unit in Central Europe, Kommersant reported Friday. (Bloomberg)

The Baltic port of Vysotsk boosted coal shipments 5.5 percent to 4.3 tons in 2007, terminal operator Rosa Holding, said Friday. (Bloomberg)