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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia to Auction India's Debt

For the first time ever, the Russian government plans to auction off to local private companies part of another nation's debt to Russia. The Foreign Trade and Finance ministries are planning to sell off part of India's debt to Russia on the domestic securities market in an attempt to get some quick cash for the budget, officials said. Andrei Serazhetdinov, head of the securities brokerage firm Iskona-Biz, which initially worked out the plan, said it was "95 percent approved" by government officials and would probably only need the support of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to go through. "It took us ten months to get this far," Serazhetdinov said. "Now we can't improve on the plan anymore. It can only be spoiled now." Alexander Belikov, an official at the Foreign Trade Ministry's Asia department, said Friday the plan was to sell 13 billion rupees' ($417 million) worth of Indian debts to Russian businessmen. India owes Russia the equivalent of $10 billion, which it has been paying out in so-called clearing rupees that can only be used to purchase Indian goods and services. "It's getting harder to sell these goods on the domestic market since the prices are no longer as competitive as before," Foreign Trade Minister Oleg Davydov told a news conference Thursday. He said his ministry favored farming out the debt to private businessmen, providing the budget with instant revenues and the businessmen with the right to market Indian goods in Russia. "Securities brokers get work, exchanges get trading volumes, importers get business and the government gets money fast," as Serazhetdinov put it. He said the debt would be sold at the Moscow Central Stock Exchange, where he is a board member. The exchange, Serazhetdinov said, had worked out a mechanism for selling the clearing rupees and submitted it to the Finance Ministry for approval before other exchanges had time to jump on the bandwagon. Both Serazhetdinov and Foreign Trade Minister Davydov expected the debts to sell for about 80 percent of their nominal value. But the securities broker said that estimate would only be true if the government puts up all the debts for open auctions at the exchange. In the past, the government has allowed certain companies to act as its agent in importing and marketing the Indian goods, but Serazhetdinov said that such companies seldom returned revenues to the government. "They could go by the old scheme -- give privileges to some companies and let them use the debt," Serazhetdinov said. "That would affect the market price, of course, and, like in the past, the budget wouldn't profit from it either. "We are for openness, fairness and free access to the trading for everyone," he added. Belikov of the Foreign Trade Ministry said in a telephone interview Friday that the rules of the planned auctions had not yet been mapped out by the government. Officials at the Finance Ministry, which has to approve the trading rules, were not available for comment Friday because they were involved in negotiations with India's Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. The negotiations have so far failed to yield any results on India's debt to Russia.