Business in Brief

New Alcohol Watchdog

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has appointed Igor Chuyan head of the new Federal Alcohol Market Regulatory Service, the government said in a statement Wednesday.

The service, created by a presidential order effective Jan. 1 to combat illegal alcohol production, received some powers normally held by the Agriculture and Finance ministries, RIA-Novosti reported. Control of the Integrated Automated State Information System, a production monitoring system known by its Russian acronym EGAIS, will remain with the Federal Tax Service, the report said.

Chuyan was the chief executive of Rosspirtprom, the state's holding company for stakes in its various alcohol producers, including the Putinka brand. In 2007, Rosspirtprom introduced an SMS service allowing consumers to verify the authenticity of bottles using their brands.(MT)

Putin Nixes Nickel Tariffs

The government will issue an order Wednesday abolishing a 5 percent export tariff on nickel and cutting substantially a 10 percent tariff on some copper alloys, news agencies reported.

"This should apply not only to Norilsk Nickel, but to all companies which work in this sector," Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said, RIA-Novosti reported.

At the end of December, a government commission responsible for drafting orders on customs tariffs recommended that the duties on nickel and refined copper be scrapped.(Reuters)

Kazakhstan Raises Fees

ASTANA, Kazakhstan -- Kazakhstan has raised the fee for the transit of Uzbek and Turkmen gas to Russia by 21 percent from the beginning of 2009, Energy Minister Sauat Mynbayev said Wednesday.

State oil and gas company KazMunaiGaz and Gazprom signed a deal Dec. 31 raising the fee to $1.7 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers, from $1.4, Mynbayev told a government meeting. (Reuters)

Putin's Japan Visit

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will make a visit to Japan "early this year" for talks on measures to overcome the global financial crisis, a Japanese Embassy official said Wednesday, Interfax reported.

Embassy Minister Akira Imamura told reporters that a recent increase of import duties on cars "contradicted" agreements reached at a G20 summit in November and that they also weren't in the spirit of World Trade Organization membership. No date for the visit was announced.(MT)

Nekrasov to Remain in Jail

Moscow City Court on Wednesday approved a request to extend until March 23 the detention of Vladimir Nekrasov and Semyon Mogilevich, also known as Sergei Shnaider, over charges of tax evasion at cosmetics retailer Arbat Prestige, Interfax reported.

Investigators requested the time to allow the defense to study materials relating to the case and to finalize charges, the report said. Defense lawyers contested the ruling, however, saying they had declined the additional time and requested that ex-chief executive Nekrasov and Mogilevich, in detention since late January 2008, be each released on 20 million rubles ($600,000) bail. The defense denies that Mogilevich, on the FBI's most-wanted list for fraud and racketeering, has any ties to Arbat Prestige.(MT)

Unimilk Closes 3 Factories

Unimilk, the country's second-largest dairy producer, has closed three milk factories that employed a combined 330 people, Interfax reported Wednesday.

Company spokesman Pavel Isayev said the closures were tied to "the negative situation on the dried-milk and cheese markets," the agency reported. In December, the company said it was freezing plans to invest $500 million in new factories because of higher borrowing costs.(MT)

33 Licenses Pulled in '08

The Central Bank retracted licenses from 33 banks in 2008, 19 of which were taken because of liquidity problems, a bank official said Tuesday in Tula, Interfax reported.

He said 21 of the banks qualified for insurance from the Deposit Insurance Agency as of Oct. 1 and that they had a combined 744.4 billion rubles ($22.6 billion) of outstanding obligations, or 3.7 percent of the total covered by state insurance. (MT)

Kazakh Central Bank Head

Kazakhstan named Halyk bank CEO Grigory Marchenko as central bank chairman on Wednesday, returning the reformer to a post he held from the late 1990s as it struggles to deal with a weaker ruble.

Former chairman Anvar Saidenov, who saw Kazakhstan's tenge currency break from its dollar peg last week, is moving to another job, President Nursultan Nazarbayev's press service said in a statement.(Reuters)

Belarus' Power Plant

Russia may build Belarus' first nuclear power plant after the two countries sign an accord on cooperation in civilian atomic energy.

Rosatom, the state-run nuclear holding company, held talks with Belarus and plans to sign the agreement this quarter, Rosatom said Wednesday. (Bloomberg)

State to Help With Housing

Regional Development Minister Viktor Basargin told the State Duma on Wednesday that the government was planning to allocate an additional 10 billion rubles ($303 million) to help young families secure housing.

The government would cover 40 percent of the costs, which would go toward a down payment, Basargin said, Interfax reported, The family would provide 10 percent, and the remaining 50 percent would be covered by a mortgage. The additional funds should help 36,000 families move into new homes this year, he said.(MT)

Inflation Up 1.2% This Year

Russian consumer prices rose 0.4 percent in the week through Jan. 19, the State Statistics Service said Wednesday on its web site.

Inflation has risen 1.2 percent since the start of the year, the service said. (Bloomberg)

Domodedovo Passengers

Domodedovo Airport said Wednesday that it had 20.4 million passengers in 2008, a 9 percent increase from 2007, Interfax reported.

The number of travelers on international flights rose 11.9 percent to just over 12 million, the company said, while it handled 5.1 percent more passengers on domestic flights.(MT)

Aeroflot Travelers Down

Aeroflot said Wednesday that fewer travelers flew in December than the month before as the country's economy weakened, although the company had 13.5 percent growth on the year.

The airline carried 666,000 passengers, with 65 percent of seats filled, Aeroflot said in an e-mailed statement.

Aeroflot said it carried 9.2 million passengers in 2008.(Bloomberg, MT)

No Deal on TNK-BP Post

TNK-BP failed to reach agreement on contract terms with Denis Morozov, a candidate for the post of chief executive, Vedomosti reported Wednesday, citing sources familiar with the negotiations.

The newspaper's sources said talks with the former head of Norilsk Nickel ended because of a failure to agree on compensation. Others said the talks ended because of disagreement on the CEO's powers to appoint managers. (Bloomberg)

VEB to Finance Sale

A U.S. Bankruptcy judge has approved the sale of Eclipse Aviation to an affiliate of the company's largest shareholder as the troubled Albuquerque jet manufacturer reorganizes under bankruptcy protection.

Vneshekonombank will help provide financing for the sale, including up to a $205 million loan.

Russian participation in the financing reflects Eclipse's plans to build an factory in Ulyanovsk, which could be completed as early as mid-2010.(AP)

For the Record

Sberbank sees retail deposits' growth in 2009 at least 16 percent and retail loan growth at 10 percent or more despite the crisis, Deputy CEO Dmitry Davydov said Wednesday.(Reuters)

Ford Motor announced Wednesday that it restarted work at its factory in the Leningrad region after halting conveyors Dec. 24, Interfax reported.(MT)

Ursa Bank said Wednesday that it boosted net profit last year to 2.97 billion rubles ($90 million), a 9.7 percent increase from last year, Interfax reported.(MT)

Russian Railway's lending arm, TransCreditBank, boosted 2008 profits 37 percent to 3.4 billion rubles, according to its results by Russian accounting standards, TCB said in a statement Tuesday.(MT)

MDM-Bank had a fourth-quarter profit of 166.7 million rubles ($5 million), bringing its 2008 profit to 3.5 billion rubles by Russian accounting standards, Interfax reported Tuesday. (MT)

Novorossiisk Commercial Sea Port, Russia's largest Black Sea port, said Wednesday that it increased cargo turnover by 2.8 percent to 81.6 million tons in 2008 thanks to the opening of new terminals.(Reuters)

Magnit, the country's second-largest food retailer, said Wednesday that it arranged to borrow as much as 11.25 billion rubles ($346 million) to help fund expansion. (Bloomberg)