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28 Feb, 2009 08:07

Deripaska empire strains under debt burden

Oleg Deripaska has slipped in the latest list of Russia's richest men from first to eighth. Researchers say his fate now lies in the hands of the man who replaced him at the top, and their relations are not good.

Oleg Deripaska admits he can't repay debts put at $30 billion, he's lost his stake in multinationals Magna and Hochtief, on Tuesday his book chain went into administration. Jewel in the crown, Rusal, has been hit by six-year aluminium price lows. If that isn’t enough his dream of resurrecting Russian carmaking has been hit with costly new models, Siber and LDV, stopping production according to Elena Sakhnova, Analyst at VTB .

“Both projects were, I would say, under huge question to us. Both of them required very high investment.”

Russia's new richest man is Mikhail Prokhorov. He has a put option to force Deripaska to repay $7.8 billion. Oleg Anisimov, Editor of Finance Magazine which compiled the new Rich List, says this gives him the whip hand.

“The fact is he cannot pay his debts. He now relies on the goodwill of his creditors. If Prokhorov takes a hard line, he can take control of Rusal, and relations between the two are already tense.”

Deripaska is fighting back. On Friday his co-owners gave him another month to pay off his debt in construction giant Strabag, and Chris Weafer, Chief Strategist at Uralsib thinks creditors are unlikely to pull the plug him.

“Deripaska is in a good position simply because of the amount he owes, to negotiate extensions and restructuring. So I doubt we will see any banks pulling the plug, because they would be the losers as much as Deripaska.”

Weafer adds Deripaska will come out of the crisis with a shrunken empire. But the 41-year-old still claims by June he can restructure all his debts.