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Deripaska Proposed for Norilsk Board

Potanin and Deripaska in 2008 when they settled differences over Norilsk. Igor Tabakov

United Company RusAl's largest shareholder, Oleg Deripaska, could return to the board of Norilsk Nickel, perhaps to raise the question once again of a possible merger of the two Russian metals giants.

Wednesday was the final day to propose candidates for Norilsk's board of directors, which will be determined at the company's annual shareholders meeting. The miner's largest shareholders — Vladimir Potanin's Interros holding and RusAl — proposed nine and 11 candidates, respectively, for the board's 13 seats, two sources close to Norilsk told Vedomosti.

RusAl's list was led by Deripaska, the aluminum producer's largest shareholder and chief executive, the sources told Vedomosti. The list also includes Dmitry Razumov, president of Mikhail Prokhorov's Onexim Group (a RusAl co-owner), and current Norilsk chairman Alexander Voloshin, they said.

Voloshin, a former chief of Yeltsin's and Putin's presidential administrations, was nominated under an agreement with Vneshekonombank, RusAl's largest creditor.

Potanin was not in the list of Interros candidates, which was topped by the holding's vice president, Andrei Klishas. Candidates from Interros also include current Norilsk board member Vasily Titov, a deputy chief at VTB, whose bank is a major Interros creditor, one of the sources told Vedomosti. A spokesperson for Interros confirmed those nominations.

Potanin has a complicated relationship with RusAl's largest shareholders.

After the aluminum giant bought 25 percent of Norilsk in the spring of 2008 from Prokhorov, Potanin's former business partner, RusAl managers repeatedly expressed their interest in merging the two companies and criticized Norilsk's management.

But in November 2008, Potanin and Deripaska announced that beneficiaries of Interros and RusAl would not be included on Norilsk's board of directors, and they agreed that a merger of the two companies would not be discussed for the next three years.

A source close to Interros stressed that the agreement had not changed and that beneficiaries of the two shareholders could not serve on Norilsk's board. Until the shareholders vote, there's no reason to criticize partners at Norilsk, the source close to Interros said.

A spokesperson for RusAl declined comment.

Immediately after RusAl's successful initial public offering in January, managers and co-owners of the company indicated that they would not be opposed to discussing once again a merger with Norilsk.

Deripaska's nomination to the nickel and palladium producer's board could suggest that the issue is once again of interest to RusAl, suggested Mikhail Stiskin, an analyst at Troika Dialog.

Norilsk Nickel is Russia's largest mining company, with a market capitalization of roughly $35.1 billion. It had profit of $439 million in the first half of 2009. Norilsk's largest shareholders are Interros and RusAl, with 25 percent each, while Alisher Usmanov's Metalloinvest has about 4 percent. VEB has a stake of 3.7 percent.

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