Insight: Russian bid for UK refinery brings controversy

Fri Jun 15, 2012 6:44am EDT
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By Douglas Busvine and Simon Falush

MOSCOW/LONDON (Reuters) - A former Russian energy minister has emerged as sole bidder for a bankrupt British oil refinery, and controversy over his past deals with distressed assets may be overlooked in last-ditch efforts to rescue the plant and up to 900 jobs.

Igor Yusufov remains interested in buying the Coryton refinery in Essex, say people close to both sides of the talks. The plant, a unit of bankrupt Swiss oil firm Petroplus, has run out of oil and its workers will be laid off if no deal can be reached.

Coryton is one of only seven working refineries in the UK.

Yusufov, who was energy minister during Vladimir Putin's first term as president, has faced questions about a past deal involving the purchase of a Norwegian shipyard group that he helped finance.

It subsequently failed, although before it went bankrupt some assets were transferred offshore in a transactions deemed illegal by the official receiver. The group's former owner died in a shooting last year that remains unsolved.

Yusufov denies any role in the alleged asset stripping or the killing, according to someone familiar with his thinking.

His investment vehicle, Fund Energy, is the only bidder left seeking to operate Coryton as a refinery, and has been asked by administrator PricewaterhouseCoopers to submit a best and final offer.

"We are still having discussions but there has not been an acceptable economic proposal, and until there is, I don't expect a sale," Steven Pearson of PwC said last week.   Continued...

The Coryton oil refinery is seen in south-eastern England, in this file picture taken January 24, 2012. Picture taken January 24, 2012. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/Files