Potanin, Prokhorov Dispute Split Status

An assets divorce between former business partners Mikhail Prokhorov and Vladimir Potanin appeared to be on the rocks Tuesday after the billionaires' holding companies made conflicting statements on the status of the split.

Potanin's Interros confirmed a report saying Prokhorov had announced that he would not observe a protocol on dividing their joint holdings. An Interros spokesman declined to elaborate.

Prokhorov told Potanin that he would not implement a protocol signed Sept. 14 on a split of their remaining shared assets because of a force majeure, Interfax reported Tuesday.

Prokhorov's Onexim Group brushed aside the allegations, however.

"Information on any force majeure on our side preventing us from reaching an agreement with Interros has nothing to do with reality," Onexim chief executive Dmitry Razumov said in an e-mailed statement.

Force majeure allows parties to an agreement to be freed from obligations in case of unforeseeable circumstances, like an earthquake or a revolution, that prevent either side from fulfilling the terms of the deal.

Under the protocol, which has not officially been made public but has been described in the Russian media, Prokhorov would get Potanin's stake of about 30 percent in Polyus Gold, the country's largest producer of the metal. Potanin would receive 2 percent in Norilsk Nickel in addition to the stake of around 30 percent that he already holds, as well as stakes in APK Agros and Rusia Petroleum.

Razumov, of Onexim Group, said Tuesday that the former partners had not agreed on what to do with Open Investments, a real estate investment and development company.

"To speak of a definitive deal without a decision on the fate of Open Investments is preliminary," Razumov said in the statement. "We made a proposal to Interros but have not yet received an answer. The ball is in Interros' court."

A source familiar with the situation said both sides were interested in keeping the developer.

Razumov added that a final division of Interros and Onexim's joint holdings "remains a priority."

Interros representatives were not available for comment on Razumov's statement late Tuesday.

Prokhorov and Potanin have been involved in a protracted divorce of their assets since January 2007.

In July, Prokhorov filed a lawsuit against Potanin and United Press, The Moscow Times' parent company, following claims made by Potanin in an interview in the newspaper in June that Prokhorov had reneged on an agreement to sell his stake in Norilsk to Potanin and Metalloinvest chief Alisher Usmanov. Moscow Times reporter Nadia Popova was later added to the suit.

A court hearing in the case is scheduled for Wednesday.