Chamber to Oversee VEB Loan to RusAl

The Audit Chamber will oversee the use of $4.5 billion in financing that Vneshekonombank loaned to United Company RusAl, the chamber said Friday on its web site.

Auditors Valery Goreglyad and Mikhail Beskhmelnitsyn will carry out a review in November, the chamber said without elaboration.

The announcement comes amid speculation that the government might informally seek more active oversight of the miner after VEB broke lending rules to help RusAl pay off its debt to a syndicate of foreign banks.

Audit Chamber spokespeople were unavailable for comment Friday.

A RusAl representative, who declined to be identified in line with company policy, said Friday that the company could not comment on the loan issue until VEB itself reported the figure.

VEB, which has not confirmed giving a loan to RusAl, did not respond to e-mailed requests for comment.

RusAl, the world's biggest aluminum producer, owned by billionaire Oleg Deripaska, borrowed $4.5 billion, according to the Russian press, from VEB earlier this week to repay a loan to a syndicate of foreign banks, including Royal Bank of Scotland and Merrill Lynch, newspapers reported.

The financing is part of a $50 billion bailout package provided to VEB by the Central Bank to refinance the foreign debt of domestic companies. The bank had said the maximum loan for any one company would be $2.5 billion and must be returned by Dec. 31, 2009.

RusAl had borrowed the money from the foreign banks to buy 25 percent of Norilsk Nickel, the country's biggest miner, from Mikhail Prokhorov in April. The shares were pledged as collateral for the loan, which had to be repaid Friday.

The loan agreements required the assets to be valued at least $6.75 billion to serve as collateral, media reports said.

Norilsk shares have fallen 75 percent since May, leaving the value of the stake well below the collateral requirements.

One of the conditions for VEB granting the over-the-limit loan might have been for VEB to gain access to RusAl's stake in Norilsk, said Mikhail Styskin, a metals analyst at Troika Dialog.

A planned board expansion from nine to 11 members could be put to a vote at the next shareholders meeting on Dec. 26, adding to speculation that VEB might be trying to gain influence on the board.

"VEB representatives could get into the Norilsk board," Styskin said.

Such an arrangement would have to be informal, however, as it would not be possible from a legal standpoint, said Dmitry Zelensky, a managing partner at Dia Law International.

"If a stake is used as a collateral, the lender has no rights to its use until the borrower breaks the credit agreement conditions," Zelensky said.

A source close to the Basic Element, Deripaska's investment vehicle, said last week that the government was going to intervene in the long-standing conflict between Deripaska and Vladimir Potanin, 30 percent shareholder and chairman of Norilsk.

Norilsk closed up 13.5 percent at 2,651.34 rubles on the MICEX, while its Global Depositary Receipts finished up 8.8 percent in London on Friday.