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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Interros Considers Offer by Usmanov

Vladimir Potanin's Interros, a key shareholder in Norilsk Nickel, said Wednesday that it was considering a possible "white knight" bid to merge its metals assets with those of Alisher Usmanov's Gazmetall, as Norilsk Nickel struggles to fend off a merger with RusAl on unfavorable terms.

"We are considering this idea," said Anton Muravyev, a spokesman for Interros, which holds a blocking stake in Norilsk. "[This proposal] is aimed at strengthening Norilsk's position in the business environment."

Oleg Deripaska's United Company RusAl, which is close to completing the acquisition of 25 percent plus one share in Norilsk from Mikhail Prokhorov, has said it would like to merge fully with Norilsk to create a $100 billion company, capable of challenging global metal giants in the hunt for assets.

Potanin, who has been mired in a protracted assets split with his former business partner Prokhorov, has been trying to prevent a takeover of Norilsk on unattractive terms.

None of the parties involved would provide any further details on what kind of deal is on the table. Norilsk said in a statement Wednesday that an investment bank had submitted a "preliminary inquiry" on Feb. 19 and that the board had asked management to consider the offer. "Norilsk would like to stress that at this time it has not had any contact nor proposal from the party referred to in the letter," the statement said.

Igor Lojevsky, chairman of global banking at Dresdner Kleinwort in Moscow, confirmed Wednesday that the bank submitted a proposal to Norilsk at the end of last week. "They have asked us to come and talk with their advisers," Lojevsky said, declining to divulge on whose behalf the bank is acting.

Usmanov's bid is his latest across a range of industries. In September 2006, he bought Kommersant from the late Georgian businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili, and last year he bought minority stakes in Telekominvest, a shareholder in MegaFon, and London football club Arsenal.

Metalloinvest and RusAl declined to immediately comment Wednesday.

Deripaska, scheduled to speak at a business roundtable Wednesday, at the last minute asked the organizers to exclude the media.

Potanin, who failed in his bid to buy out his former partner's stake in Norilsk at the end of last year, is said to be unhappy with the terms RusAl would likely offer in the event of a full takeover.

Analysts say a reported valuation of $45 billion for RusAl and $55 billion for Norilsk overvalues RusAl, raising concerns that minority shareholders would receive unfair terms.

Norilsk has said it is considering buying back shares from minority investors, a move that would give management an edge in talks with RusAl. Analysts said Gazmetall's offer would force RusAl to defend the attractiveness of its own takeover bid to minority shareholders.

"Potanin wants to make it harder for RusAl to merge the two companies," said Olga Okuneva, of Deutsche Bank. "By bringing Gazmetall to the table, it changes the balance of power ... it puts RusAl on the defensive."