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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sibir's CEO Suspended On Real Estate Probe

Sibir Energy, a London-based oil company, suspended chief executive Henry Cameron pending a probe into the real estate dealings of shareholder Shalva Chigirinsky that will take "months" to complete.

Cameron will continue to help the company "recover all monies owed by any Chigirinsky interest," Sibir said Wednesday. Cameron's deputy, Stuard Detmer, was named acting CEO.

Sibir was suspended from London trading on Feb. 19 after the company said businesses related to Chigirinsky owed the Siberian oil producer $210 million more than indicated in previous statements. A week earlier, Sibir said the former billionaire owed $307.4 million and agreed to sell an airplane and property in Russia, France and Britain to pay the debt by October.

"We don't know yet how long the investigation is going to take," Detmer said Wednesday. "We expect to get some pretty quick answers, in a matter of weeks, but the final report will probably take months."

Chigirinsky, who once had a $2.5 billion fortune, was one of 52 Russians dropped from Finans magazine's annual list of billionaires this year. The 59-year-old businessman halted work last November on the Russia Tower, a planned skyscraper in Moscow's new financial district designed by architect Norman Foster to be Europe's tallest building when completed.

"The board is satisfied" that the debt and related costs "will be recovered by Sibir in due course even if the properties are sold on a heavily discounted basis," Sibir said Feb. 11.

Chigirinsky couldn't be reached immediately for comment, and attempts to reach Cameron through Sibir's London office were unsuccessful.

Chigirinsky and his partner Igor Kesayev control 47 percent of Sibir through a holding company called Bennfield, and Moscow's city government owns about 18 percent. Institutions and individuals own the rest, according to Sibir's web site.

Kesayev supported the board's decision to suspend Cameron and investigate the property transactions, said Robert May, spokesman for Kesayev's Mercury Group holding company.

Sibir pumped 80,000 barrels of crude a day last month, mainly from its half of a joint venture with Royal Dutch Shell Group.

The Financial Times reported in October that Shell was seeking a "large" stake in Sibir, citing unidentified Shell executives. Chigirinsky said then that he wanted to expand cooperation with Shell, though he ruled out selling any part of his stake.

The investigation won't include the acquisition of stakes in two companies controlled by Chigirinsky and Kesayev, Avtocard and Korimos, which the board approved in December, Detmer said Wednesday.

Asked if the probe would affect Sibir's discussions with potential partners, Detmer said, "This certainly won't prevent people from talking."