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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 July, 2005, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
Abramovich firm in $2.3bn payout
Sibneft and Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich
Will Mr Abramovich's stake in Sibneft be put up for sale?
Sibneft, the Russian oil firm in which Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich owns a majority stake, is to pay a $2.29bn (1.3bn) dividend.

The payout has triggered speculation that Sibneft could be sold.

Russian newspaper Kommersant said two state-owned firms - gas giant Gazprom and oil firm Rosneft - were interested in buying the company.

The paper said Gazprom could sign an $8bn deal this week to buy Mr Abramovich's stake.

Track record

Sibneft, Russia's fifth-largest oil company, is 57.5%-owned by Mr Abramovich through one of his investment vehicle, Millhouse Capital.

Figures for 2004 have yet to be released to international accounting standards, but its profit in 2003 was $2.28 bn.

Sibneft has an established track record of returning profits to shareholders over several years
John Mann, Sibneft spokesman

"Sibneft had a successful year in 2004 and it is proper that we share that success with all of our individual shareholders and institutional investors," said Sibneft president Eugene Shvidler in a statement.

A Sibneft spokesman told the Reuters news agency that the payout was part of the company's ongoing strategy.

"To read too much into this is like reading tea leaves," said Sibneft spokesman John Mann.

"Sibneft has an established track record of returning profits to shareholders over several years."

However, analysts took the move as a sign that Sibneft was preparing itself for a sale, after having earlier said it would pay no dividends.

"It's a return to the glorious past of distributing pretty much every dollar they earn," said Adam Landes, oil and gas analyst at Renaissance Capital bank.

"Sibneft, clearly, is signalling - by decapitalising the firm - that it's for sale.".

Gazprom, which is seen as a potential suitor, is due to receive $6.35bn when the Russian state increases its stake in the company from 38% to 51%.

The Kommersant newspaper said on Monday that Gazprom could launch a joint bid for Sibneft with Royal Dutch Shell. Royal Dutch Shell described the article as rumour.

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